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What is baby sleep regression?

Sleep expert shares her top tips for parents

Author Emily Houltram
Categories   Sleep

The Edit

Although usually temporary, baby sleep regression can be a frustrating and stressful time for parents, especially when the change happens suddenly.

Emily Houltram, founder of The Sleep Chief, shares her top tips for managing sleep regression as your little one grows.

What is a sleep regression and why does it happen? 

A sleep regression is when sleep appears to take a backwards step. You feel like you have sleep figured out, but then suddenly it doesn’t flow as it did. Several things can throw sleep off track – teething, illness, travelling (particularly where there’s a significant time difference), clock changes, new siblings and nap transitions. A major one is simply that babies’ sleep needs change as they get older.

The only ‘regression’ with any actual science behind it is the one at around 4 months old, when sleep cycles change and become more like adult sleep. But even that one divides professionals! 
Between 4 and 6 months is one of the most popular stages for parents to seek support from us.

Spotting the signs of a sleep regression

Your baby could suddenly be fighting their naps or bedtime, not falling asleep at the same time as they were before, waking much more frequently overnight, or early rising. A disruption to their sleep can also mean their mood is affected. They could be crankier in the day, clingier and generally not as content.

4-month sleep regression

With the regression that happens around the four-month mark, my top tip is to teach your baby how to fall asleep independently and ‘self-settle’, alongside having a great routine. Once babies know how to get themselves to sleep and are not relying on something external, for example feeding or rocking, sleep generally improves quickly. 
If independent sleep is enabled before four months, often there is no difference in sleep at all at this stage. This is one of the reasons we love working with parents-to-be and newborn parents, so they can establish great sleep foundations from the beginning.

Stay ahead of the changes

Staying ahead of your baby’s changing daytime sleep needs as it reduces from roughly 5-6 hours per day as a newborn, to no nap as a 3-4 year old, is one of my top tips for avoiding sleep regressions generally.  

If there is no illness, teething or jetlag at play then a regression in sleep is often a sign that a tweak or change is needed with your little one’s daytime sleep or bedtime timings. 

Knowing how your little one’s naps will change through the first years can really help parents avoid panicking and feeling out of control when their babies’ sleep naturally changes, as well as giving them the confidence to tweak sleep when it’s needed.

Illness and holidays 

When babies get used to different circumstances – for example, sharing a room on holiday, or only napping on a parent whilst ill – there will be some adjustment to get back into their normal routine, or sleeping in a cot in their own room again. 
Whilst it might be obvious to us that we’re home from holiday and no longer napping in a travel buggy every day, it isn’t obvious to our little ones and may feel confusing without some reassurance. 
It’s our job as parents to support and comfort our little ones through these occasional bumps in the road, so they feel safe and secure and are able to get the sleep they need.

Setting boundaries

It’s common for sleep to regress in the toddler stage and this is often linked to boundary setting. I always tell parents that their bedtime routines have to evolve as their baby does. And what works when they are a baby often stops working so well when they mature into being a toddler – which is perfectly normal.

The most important adjustment at this stage is firm boundaries from parents, giving your toddler elements of control and decision making in their bedtime and naptime routines but within your set parameters. 

Author Emily Houltram

Emily is founder of The Sleep Chief and a Level 5 OCN qualified Sleep Consultant. The Sleep Chief’s mission is to help parents unlock predictable sleep so that they can reclaim their sense of identity, reconnect with their partner and have the freedom to enjoy life and parenting fully. The Sleep Chief provides sleep support to families of newborns and children up to four years old globally through one-to-one consultations and downloadable sleep programmes.


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