Regressions and Sleep Disturbances in Children

Let’s Talk Sleep Regressions & Sleep Disturbances

Why Your Baby Stopped Sleeping Well

If you ever attended one of my classes or saw me at an event, you probably already heard me explain that humans (babies and children included) naturally wake several times through the night, whether you are aware of it or not. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, click here to read more about it. Now, how you or your child handle those wake-ups are a completely different story, but today we are going to look at reasons why babies and children can have sleep regression or sleep disturbances outside of the usual overnight wakings.

Every regression or developmental leap affects each baby and child differently. This is important to remember because some babies have a harder time than others during different leaps, so there is a wide variance in experience from family to family and even child to child. This means that just because your sister’s baby didn’t go through a sleep regression at 8 months doesn’t mean your baby won’t.

Being aware of all the potential things that cause sleep disturbances (including but not limited to developing leaps) can help you better navigate and handle the changes more smoothly. Let’s go over the list – shall we?

Things that can cause sleep disturbances in babies, toddlers, and children:

  • Developmental leaps: learning and discovering new skills and awareness.
    • Most often occurring around 4 months, 8 months, 12 months and 18 months (give or take a month or so).
  • Physical Leaps: learning and mastering a new physical skill, i.e.- rolling, standing, walking, etc.
    • Often coinciding with a mental/ developmental leap, i.e.- learning to roll around the 4 month sleep leap or learning to crawl during the 8 month awareness leap.
  • Teething: breaking a new tooth or molar.
    • This is the biggest parenting scapegoat! Teething is sometimes accompanied by other symptoms (i.e.- mild fever, excessive drooling, bright red cheeks, etc.) and can be uncomfortable. This is usually a very minor sleep disturbance (lasting 1-3 days) and mainly affecting quality or length of the naps or additional fussiness during the sleep routines.

*Important note, if you are seeing any symptoms going beyond 3 days, call your pediatrician!

  • Change of the primary caretaker: starting or changing daycares, starting or changing nannies, etc.
    • Often times, this change creates insecurities and possible separation anxiety as the baby or child has to acclimate to the new environment and/or bond to the new caretaker.
  • Moving to a new house or changing bedrooms: changing the baby’s sleeping quarters (i.e.- changing from a bassinet to a crib, crib to big kid bed or changing bedrooms), or moving to a new house or apartment with new sounds, smells, etc.
    • Depending on your child awareness, most babies before 7-8 months of age can be moved to different sleep quarters without much sleep disturbance. After the 8 month developmental leap, it will be significantly harder to change a baby’s sleep environment without some level of protest from the child.
  • Sickness: whenever a child becomes sick or falls ill.
    • Coughing, sneezing, stuffiness, running a fever and general discomfort can all cause sleep disturbances.
    • Depending on the severity of the illness, we bend the “rules” to make the child more comfortable and keep them happy. This will usually cause push back once they are feeling better and don’t want to go back to their old ways.
  • Travel: travel is stressful on the body and involves a lot of daily changes which can be difficult for some babies and children.
    • Traveling via trains, planes, and even long car rides puts stress on the mind and body. If time change is involved, it will cause some jet lag, naturally causing sleep disturbances.
    • A new sleeping environment, change in their daily schedule and additional stimulus can cause insecurities to form, which can cause separation anxiety and boundary testing. This change can happen when going to a new location and/or when coming home.
  • Family or friends visiting/staying with you: New guest in the house
    • Most children have FOMO (fear of missing out) which can lead them to protesting naps, taking short naps or protesting bedtime when there are new visitors.
    • Often times with the new guest, there will be a change in the child’s schedule with daily stimulus usually causing some boundary testing as well.
  • Bring home a new addition to the family: bringing a sibling into the house
    • This has many variables depending on the age of the child at home, the age of the child coming into the home and the support system you have in place to help your family during this major life shift. For some families, this can take 2-4 months of adjustment.

Of course, there are other things that can cause sleep disturbances and can be unique to your baby. In general, if your little one stopped sleeping well, one of these probably has something to do with it. Now, remember, some babies are more sensitive to certain regression points than others and maybe one of these affects your baby but not another.

The major takeaway here is to be aware of these milestones, regressions, and changing points, so you can adjust our expectations and act accordingly; assuring not to make any major adjustments prematurely (i.e.- dropping a nap too soon or changing bedtime dramatically).

How to handle one or more of these changes

In most of these cases, if you stick to your schedule and sleep routines, the child will settle back into their normal rhythm within a few days. However, there are times when they go through a leap and their needs change. For example, going through the 8-month leap, they can develop longer stamina for being awake and may be ready to drop their third nap. Keep a sleep log for 5-7 days to help you better assess their sleep needs and adjust accordingly.

If they are going through a physical leap (i.e. – rolling, walking, etc.), dedicating practice time multiple times a day can help them master the skill, ultimately helping them settle back into their sleep routine faster.

If they seem to be struggling with any of these major changes, I would recommend spending extra time snuggling and playing with them one-on-one. This will help re-establish a strong bond and create a source of comfort and reassurance at a critical point of uncertainly and vulnerability. Simple things like skin-to-skin snuggles, baby wearing for naps (or whenever possible), or simply dedicating 10 minutes every day before the bedtime routine, re-establishing your bond with child-lead play. This can make all the difference to help them feel safe and secure during major life changes.

Not sure if your child is going through one of these?

Have you been off track since one of these major changes and can’t seem to get back on track?

It’s okay, it happens to us all! The good news is that there is help and support just a phone call away – a customized support plan for all your sleeping disturbances!

Schedule your free sleep evaluation call today!