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  • Erin Van Engen with Koality Sleep Consulting

Sleep Regression Survival

When I was pregnant I heard a newborn mother joking, "Am I getting enough sleep, well sometimes when I sneeze I get to close my eyes." We all know the struggles I faced when it came to bedtime from the Sleepless in Chicago blog post. Just when you think you have everything under control, here comes the beast known as sleep regression. She's terrible and can turn parents into sleep deprived walking zombies. Erin Van Engen from Koalaty Sleep Consulting gives us the run down of why sleep regression happens and how to tackle them like a pro!- X0 Katie

Regression- not a word any parent wants to hear in regards to their children’s sleep. However, they are a part of life that you most likely will face at some point. So what are regressions, and what can you do about them? I am going to focus on the 4 month regression because this is the biggest one, and briefly touch on some others.

4 Month Regression:

When we sleep, we go through several different stages:

Stage 1 is that initial stage we’re all familiar with where you can just feel yourself drifting off, but don’t really feel like you’ve fallen asleep.

Stage 2 is considered the first “true sleep” stage. This is where people tend to realize, once woken up, that they actually were sleeping. For anyone taking a “power nap,” this is as deep as you want to go, or else you’re going to wake up groggy.

Stage 3 is deep and regenerative. Also known as “slow wave” sleep, this is where the body starts repairing and rejuvenating the immune system, muscles tissue, energy stores, and sparks growth and development.

Stage 4 is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is where the brain starts to kick in and consolidates information and memories from the day before. It’s also the stage where we do most of our dreaming.

Once we’ve gone through all of the stages, we either wake up or come close to waking up, and then start over again until the alarm goes off.

Newborn babies only go through 2 stages of sleep; stage 3 and REM, and they spend about half their sleep in each stage. But at month 3 or 4, there is a reorganization of sleep, as they embrace the 4-stage method of sleep that they’ll continue to follow for the rest of their lives.

When this change takes place, baby moves from 50% REM sleep to 25% in order to make room for those first two stages. So although REM sleep is light, it’s not as light as these 2 new stages that they’re getting used to, and with more time spent in lighter sleep, there is a higher chance that baby is going to wake up.

That’s not to say that we want to prevent or avoid baby waking up. Waking up is absolutely natural, and adults wake up several times a night. However, we are able to realize we don’t need to be awake, roll over and fall back asleep. For 4 month old babies, when they wake up, they don’t know why and it can be alarming when they fell asleep in mom’s arms and now are somewhere different all alone. So they start crying and need you to come in and help them.

The other major contributor to this 4 month fiasco is that up until this point, parents have often been putting their baby to sleep with a pacifier, by rocking them, by breastfeeding them, or some similar technique where baby is helped along on the road to falling asleep.

Now that baby is spending more time in light sleep, and therefore has a higher probability of waking up, this suddenly becomes a much bigger issue. These sleep props or sleep associations can be very sneaky indeed, because although they may be helpful in getting your little one to that initial nodding off stage, the lack of them when they wake up means that baby is not able to get back to sleep again without some outside help. Cue the crying. When this starts happening every hour, parents can find themselves in a nightmarish situation.

But, the good news for anyone experiencing the dreaded Four Month Sleep Regression is that it’s not, in fact, a regression at all. A regression is defined as “reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level,” and that’s actually the opposite of what your baby is experiencing. This would be much more aptly titled the “Four Month Sleep Progression.

So, what can you do to help your little one adjust?

  1. Darkness: You want baby’s room to be as pitch black as possible. Any light coming in is going to stimulate them to wake up during these moments between sleep cycles. Black out curtains, garbage bags, hang blankets, whatever it takes!

  2. Noise: Since baby is now spending more time in lighter stages of sleep, noise is going to more easily wake baby up. Add a white noise machine to help drown out those background noises.

  3. Routine: Add a bedtime (and naptime) routine. This helps get baby ready for sleep. Keep the bedtime routine 20-30 minutes long with 4-5 steps. Put the bottle or breast feeding at the beginning of the routine to prevent baby from falling asleep while feeding. Then place baby into the crib still awake. Naptime routine will be more like 5-10 minutes.

  4. Schedule: Lastly, watch your schedule. If baby is getting extra fussy, you might have waited too long and now baby is overtired. Four month old babies should only be awake for 2 hours at a time before sleeping again and bedtime should be between 7-8 pm.

Now is the time to teach your little one healthy independent sleep skills. Get rid of any props (nursing, bottle, potentially pacifier, rocking, etc) so they are able to fall back asleep between their sleep cycles without needing your help.

8 Month Regression

Some people say there is an 8 month regression and this is because baby is learning new skills like scooting, crawling, pulling up to stand and cruising on furniture. These are very exciting for baby and they don’t want to sleep- they want to practice all night! Work on practicing these new skills frequently during the day so the novelty wears off (and their energy!) and make sure you don’t start any bad habits while trying to get baby to sleep.

12 Month Regression

Baby might face a 12 month regression, again this one is because of new motor skills- walking. Practice during the day and take a look at baby’s schedule. Even if baby is waking up early, or fighting naps, we want to keep a 2 nap schedule for a bit longer, so it might help to shift your schedule back by 30 minutes to help increase sleep pressure. Again, make sure you don’t start any bad habits by helping baby fall asleep.

18 Month Regression

This regression is typically because baby is becoming a toddler and starting to push boundaries. Don’t give in, stay consistent and baby will realize that fighting doesn’t work and accept the routine again.

Now, don’t let all this talk of regressions scare you or overwhelm you. First, not every child will go through every one of them. Second, if you teach your child how to fall asleep independently and stay consistent, they will get over any regressions quickly and continue sleeping well afterwards.

If you want help and guidance on how to lose the sleep props and teach independent sleep, reach out to me today! I would love to get you and baby sleeping better, through any regressions and help get those independent sleep skills going to last your little one the rest of their lives! Visit my website to schedule a free 15 minute phone call if you want to chat!

Sleep Well,

Erin Van Engen, Koalaty Sleep Consulting



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