Sleep regressions are truly wonderful beasts. Yes, you read that correctly, they are truly wonderful. While they can be incredibly frustrating for parents trying to navigate complicated sleep issues, sleep regressions are actually periods of huge cognitive and physical developmental leaps.
Before we talk about how to support your little one through periods of developmental change, let’s first go back to the beginning. What is a sleep regression?
Sleep regressions are periods of change in your baby’s sleeping patterns
Sleep regressions are periods of time where your baby who has previously been sleeping well, suddenly has difficulty sleeping. This can manifest in a number of different ways, but is typically characterized by a baby who suddenly:
- Has difficulty falling asleep at naps and bedtime
- Begins to wake frequently during the night
- Begins to wake from naps early or can no longer connect sleep cycles in naps
- Begins to wake early in the morning
- Is up for long periods of time in the night
Sleep regressions are complicated because they symptomatically appear to be very similar to a baby that is ready for a schedule change. If you transition and drop a nap too soon however, you might find your baby is overtired and begin to wake through the night and early in the morning. If this all feels a bit overwhelming, you can always get in touch to book a free discovery call. We love to help!
Skills based regressions
Skills based regressions differ from cognitive leaps in that they are typically caused by new motor skills. Generally caused by an Active REM cycle, babies will practice new skills and tend to get stuck in positions that are uncomfortable. These Active REM cycles are different from adult REM cycles, where babies do not experience the sleep paralysis that adults typically do during REM sleep.
Skills based sleep regressions differ from cognitive leaps, in that they are mostly entirely due to the development of a new gross motor skill. Where various leaps or cognitive developments cause night wakings for different reasons (like separation anxiety, fear, independence seeking and decision making), skills based regressions cause night wakings purely because of new and exciting physical skills.
Every baby is different, and your child may not reach all the milestones below at the times noted! That’s totally normal, each skill comes to each baby differently. In general however, these physical skills beging to develop at point similar to the following schedule:
Rolling Around 4 – 5 months
Sitting Around 6 months
Crawling Around 7 months
Pulling to standing Around 8 months
Cruising Around 10 months
Walking Around 12 months
*These milestones are taken from Baby Sleep Science
Ways to help your child sleep during skills based sleep regressions
Skills based sleep regressions are complicated, because there is no easy remedy. Until your child masters the skill they are working on, they are going to continue to wake through the night. So to remedy (and try to speed the process along), there are only a few things you can do.
- Practice, practice, practice new skills in the daylight hours. If your baby is trying to roll over, be sure to practice rolling in both directions, so they are less likely to be stuck. If your little one is pulling to standing, make sure to practice lying back down as well. Being sure to practice both directions of a new skill will help you avoid finding yourself in a place where your little one is stuck and unable to return to flat.
- If your baby does find themselves stuck in a position and needing your assistance to get back to a normal sleeping position, rather than stepping in and simply moving them back to a position in which they are comfortable, you can offer your little one gentle cues to help them learn how to move themselves back. This may take a few extra minutes at each waking in the night, but the idea is that you are teach them the skill faster.
- As will all regressions, remember that your little one is in a period of immense change and development. Rest assured that sleep will return to normal, and your once great sleeper will in fact sleep again. In times of sleep disruption, you may need to offer your sweet one extra grace and support to help them get the rest they need, and that’s okay.