Understanding Sleep Regression in Your Baby

Sleep regression isn’t really an official term, but you may have heard it from other parents or even your baby’s healthcare provider. Sleep regression occurs when your baby sleeps less well or for a shorter stretch of time than she did before. This type of disruption in your baby’s usual sleep routine can be triggered by a number of different things. Find out more about sleep regression and what you can do to help your baby get back to more restful nighttime sleep.

What Is Sleep Regression?

For weeks or even months, you may have the proverbial good sleeper on your hands, and then suddenly everything changes. It may be what’s sometimes called sleep regression if, out of the blue, your baby starts waking up during the night and has trouble falling back asleep.

How Long Does Sleep Regression Last?

Sleep regression is usually temporary. It may go away just as fast as it came on, or it may last for a few weeks or months. In some cases, sleep training may help get things back on track sooner. Sleep regression isn’t something that all babies go through, but most do experience it from time to time.

What Causes Sleep Regression?

Here are some of the things that may cause an episode of sleep regression:

  • Sore gums due to teething

  • A cold or another viral infection

  • A fever and/or pain, such as from an ear infection

  • An upset stomach or mild gastroenteritis

  • Colicky crying

  • A growth spurt

  • Stress in the home, such as a divorce; a change in the daily routine, like a family vacation; or the excitement associated with achieving a new developmental milestone, like crawling or walking.

At What Age Do Babies Typically Experience Sleep Regression?

Sleep regression can happen at any time while your child is a baby or even a toddler. In fact, older children and even adults have periods of restless sleep. Some parents have found that their baby’s sleep patterns tend to get disrupted between 4 and 7 months of age when babies tend to become more active. For example, the excitement of learning to crawl could make your baby more interested in exploring the world on all fours rather than settling down to sleep. Acquiring a new skill like crawling or walking can also make winding down for bed harder, and this can, in turn, affect sleeping through the night as well.

What Are Some Ways to Prevent, Manage, or Stop Sleep Regression?

Sleep regression isn’t something that you can necessarily prevent. Some babies are naturally great sleepers and stay that way; others have unpredictable biological rhythms that may lead to more easily disrupted sleep patterns. Some babies are sensitive to the slightest change in routine, whereas others roll with the punches. Each baby is an individual, and sometimes your little one’s ability to sleep through the night may even change with age and development. Although there is no surefire way to prevent or reverse sleep regression, here are some guidelines to help you manage it:

  • Stick to a balanced schedule of rest and play time so that your baby is not overtired or too well rested when it's time to go to sleep

  • Avoid rough play and turn off all screens, bright lights, and anything that may stimulate your baby in the hour before sleep

  • Give your baby a bath to help your baby relax and know that bedtime is coming

  • Read a book, sing a lullaby, or play soft music

  • Keep a regular bedtime

  • Put your baby in his crib when he’s a little sleepy but still awake

  • Make sure the temperature in your baby's room is comfortable but on the cool side

  • Use blackout curtains in your child’s bedroom to ensure light is blocked out—use a nightlight if he is scared of the dark

  • Ensure the bedroom is quiet or use a white noise machine to help lull your baby to sleep.

The Bottom Line

It’s normal for your baby to have occasional periods of sleep regression, such as when your baby doesn’t sleep through the night even though she had previously mastered that skill. It could be that a family vacation has disrupted her schedule, or that she’s got the sniffles and that’s keeping her up at night, or that she’s excited about learning a new skill and would rather be exploring than sleeping. Try not to worry: Your baby will return to her normal routine soon enough. In the meantime, to encourage your baby to get a better night's sleep, try to follow a consistent bedtime routine and help your baby wind down by keeping the environment calm and quiet. If you find that sleep regression isn’t disappearing or if you’re unsure what may be causing the change in your baby’s sleep pattern, reach out to her healthcare provider for advice. Eventually this period of sleep regression will subside, and you and your baby will both be back to getting a good night’s sleep.