Posted in Amelia, Amelia on sleep, Baby sleep, Blog, Featured, Mother

This sleep regression will not stand, man

Sleep regression is the dirty secret no one ever tells you about before becoming a parent. Long before E was even a concept, I have a vague memory of my sister saying that my nephew had “forgotten how to sleep.” I had no idea what that meant or whether it was just his problem or something that affected all babies. Cut to E’s 3-month(ish) birthday and our little sound sleeper turned Sleep Terrorist who woke up 5,000 times a night. Now I knew what she meant. And I needed answers, dammit.

So I, like many people these days, took to the Internet to learn more about “sleep regression.” I found great information (and a lot of empathy) on the parenting advice website, Ask Moxie, among others, as well as the book “The Wonder Weeks”. The following is a synopsis of what I learned.

Basically, a sleep regression is when sleep falls apart due to your child’s working on a new physical or mental development. They can last anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months (I KNOW), depending on your kid. We found that during these periods of regression, because sleep isn’t “linear” per se (even as an adult I have bumpy patches of sleep), that we would have OK nights and naps as well as nights and naps From the Depths of Hell. But the latter were dominant—that characterizes a regression.

Here is a breakdown of when they happen (approximately):

4 months Why: waking up to the world, understanding that there are patterns to events, end of the “4th trimester.”

9 months Why: understanding that the world’s components can be fit into categories; gross motor skills development, like crawling.

13 months Why: understanding that things can take place in any number of sequences; here is where we dropped down to one nap—ouch.

18 months Why: understanding that there are many activities that can be undertaken and in a variety of different ways; language really taking off, including the discovery of The Tantrum.

24 months Why: understanding systems, choices, and consequences of choices.

Ways deal

During these regressive times (including now—we’ve hit the 18-month one), we found that NOTHING calms E down enough to sleep when she wakes in the night except coming into our bed (which, for the record, isn’t particularly restful for us, since she is a Thrasher and a Kicker). Trying to get her back down is futile—she’ll be completely asleep (and even sometimes snoring!) but the second we put her down, she is up and wailing. Repeat, ad infinitum (including me nearing spontaneous combustion out of frustration). So between being kicked and getting into a sleep battle, I’ll take being kicked. Really, “regression” is a good term. While we do try to adhere to our sleep routines as much as possible during these time, we often have to regress our getting-to-sleep techniques, using those from when E was much younger, such as rocking, bouncing on the ball, and if we’re lucky, nursing to sleep. And of course the good news is, it passes. You will gradually have fewer and fewer bad naps/nights and then you’re back on track.

In my opinion, I’d say forget re-sleep training (if you went that route to begin with) at this point. It’s not a sleep training issue, it’s a developmental thing and you really have little control over it. You will save yourself a lot of frustration if you just try to ride it out and do what you can to help everyone get as much sleep as possible. I speak from experience. E’s 13-month regression coincided with a trip we took where we were all staying in the same hotel room together (normally, she sleeps in a crib in her own room), and that certainly didn’t help things; plus, she was doing the One-Nap-Two-Nap Shuffle. When we returned home, we tried in earnest to re-Ferberize, to no avail—her crying just escalated, no matter how many comforting visits she got. We wound up doing a sleep consultation with Ann Keppler which did help us figure a few things out, but it also happened to fall at the tail end of her regression.

Sleep regressions are just one of those miserable things you Just Have to Get Through. As Moxie says,

…You’re going to have to accept that the kid just can’t sleep straight through until some of this [development] is over with. Which means your plan shifts from Get Kid To Stay Asleep to Maximize Sleep For Everyone Else. This is not the time to pretend you know what’s going on or that you have it all under control. This is not the time to say “your job is this and mine is that.” It’s the time to divide up the schedule so everyone gets 5 hours at a stretch if possible. If one of you has to go to sleep at 8 pm and take the 8–1 shift so the other has the 1–6 shift, do it. Here are the important things to remember: Lots of us have been through it. You will get through it. There is nothing inherently wrong with your child—this is normal. Hideous and demoralizing, but normal. You’re doing a good job.

Further reading

• Ask Moxie: moxie blogs and a reminder about sleep regressions; and techniques from readers.

• Surviving Motherhood: Sleep regressions and how to deal.

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  1. I was up at 4am after being up at 3 and 2 and 1 trying to fund how to cope. This post saved my sanity. Thank you for the reassurance that all is ok and this just has to pass.

  2. It really will pass! The good news is that soon you will have a vague memory that sleep *really sucked* for awhile, but the anguish is actually short-lived. 🙂 Take good care of yourself.

  3. I am going through the 13 month sleep regression…which seems to have hit as soon as the 9 month regression ended. This was a great post & made me feel SO much better. I’ve read all of the other sites before I found yours & I can say that this entry helped me more than all others combined! Seriously – thanks for this!

  4. On week two of the 18 month sleep regression. This one is every bit as brutal as the 4 month and way worse than the 9 or 13 month. Resorting to co-sleeping with a thrasher and nursing aaaaaaall night long. Ugh. How long did your regression last? Bracing myself for the long haul.

  5. I have one kid in the 24 month category and one in the 9 month… AT THE SAME TIME. So just think. It could always be worse. Haha. Coffee is a good friend of mine. Both kids had been sleeping through the night perfectly for a long time. Now i feel like i run from room to room all night long. We will all survive. Maybe with some bags under our eyes and some tears on our pillows…

  6. We are in the mist of the 18 month sleep regression; week 2. It is not every night, but 2 to 3 nights a week of terrible sleep, so far anyway. He sleeps great at daycare for naps, not so great for naps on the weekends with us, and bedtime is hit or miss these days regardless of the same routine since 3 months old. When he wakes around the 1 to 3am window, it is loud crying and screams as if he is in pain, and its relentless until we intervene it seems. I now do not feel so bad breaking down and going in at night and resorting to holding/rocking until he is finally asleep, as long as it takes, and sometimes it is 4 hours before he is finally back to sleep in his own bed and sometimes that is only for an hour or two more like today and then the day begins. I have tried waiting to respond for 15 or so minutes, laying on floor next to the crib, pick up/put down, and going in/out at timed intervals, but these all seem to make it worse s the crying escalates. I am just so afraid of starting bad habits as he did not sleep though the night (and we are talking textbook 6 hours straight) until 13 months when we broke down and did CIO, which amounted to 2 weeks of 1.5 to 2 hours of crying while we listened and cringed in our room. Curious how everyone is handling the night wakenings and difficulty at bedtime and is everyone doing what it takes to get their LO back to sleep…and has anyone had to sleep train again to remove bad habits after it passes…

    • We sleep trained maybe 4 times? (Maybe more than that? The good news about all of this is that you won’t really remember, I swear!) My daughter is now 4 and even a few months ago we had to recalibrate our routine because it was just getting ridiculous. I think the bottom line here is that–like most anything in parenting–what you’re doing isn’t going to be forever. I would say do what you need to do to have everyone get some sleep until the regression evens out. And know that sleep is just one of those things that you will need to tweak again and again. Good luck to you!

  7. I’m so glad I found this! My 13 month old (that was nearly weaned) has begun waking up many times a night and most of the time I need to get up and nurse her a bit to relax her. She was going down without nursing. I found this just as I was starting to fray and it gave me reassurance that we will survive!

  8. My 18-month-old boy, who was previously a wonderful sleeper, has started this (well, I’m assuming it must be!). We are on to week 2.. arggh! It has also coincided with him not wanting to eat his lunch or dinner (which he used to wolf down). Neither my husband or I are wanting to create bad habits, so we go in the first time and give him a cuddle and settle him, the second and third times we go in and just lay him down. And after that, last night, we shut his door and shut our door and just let him cry! I was so over it! Hoping that it passes soon :S

  9. Reading this has made me feel so much better, I can now defintely say that we are in week 2 of the 18 month old sleep regression. The weird thing is that I had never heard of these regressions before now and not experienced any sleep issues with my 19 month old. He started sleeping through at 4 months old and that was that!!!!! I didn’t do any sleep training at all. He just decided very early on that he was quite happy to go to sleep on his own for his day nap and at night. Until 10 days ago!! I think I am still in shock and feel like someone had swopped my perfect child for some little terrorist. The only way I can now get him to sleep is by lying next to him on the spare bed in his room. I am terrified to take him to our bed as he has never been in it before and I don’t want to create a lasting bad habit. Does anyone know how long these regressions can last for? Having had no issues before makes it feel so much worse!!!!!!!

    • So tough, I’m sorry! I hope things even out for you soon. I think it sort of depends what is going on (i.e., teeth, new skill, both). For us, 18 months(ish) was undoubtedly THE WORST, which I attribute to the incisors coming in, and it lasted like 2 months. But it varies for every kid. Hang in there… You just have to get through it.

      I know this is [extremely] cold comfort, but the good news is that you won’t really remember the depth of your angst in a few months (or years!). I remember sleep for us was absolute shit for awhile, but I only have this vague sense of it now (my daughter is 4.5).

      Sending your kiddo sleepy vibes and hoping you get some good rest!

  10. Wow this is just what u needed to read tonight! Miss 13 months has never been a great sleeper (waking generally twice a night, but going straight back to sleep after a quick feed from me) but for the past 6 weeks she has been waking more frequently (up to 6 times a night) or not going back to sleep unless she’s brought into our bed ( I don’t mind the snuggles but do like some time to myself). I was even researching sleep schools today I’m that exhausted…

    It was really nice to read that I’m not the only one going through this and that even though it doesn’t feel like it right now there is a light at the end of this sleep deprived tunnel!

  11. My kid is only 16 1/2 months and has started waking up in the middle of the night screaming and does not stop until I go in there with him. Then he’s awake for 2 1/2-3 hrs straight. He doesn’t do it every night but I am freaking exhausted. How long is this nonsense going to last and why is he doing it now?

  12. Our 18-month is having a tough time with naps…it was suggested to me to have her switch to 1 nap to see if she would sleep in later in the morning (past 6) and now there is no napping at all! I’ve tried going back to her two naps but that isn’t working! Ive been trying to get her to take atleast 1 nap but not even that is working! Someday ill leave her in there up to 2 hours and she will just call my name and fall asleep standing up!! Anyone else having issues with naps around this age? I feel like she definitly needs a nap bc she will fall asleep in the car within minutes or if I bring her into my bed, she’s out very quickly!

  13. Oh I’m glad I found this! Our 20 month old had been shocking for the last 5 weeks, we have gone from a perfect sleeper to not being able to leave the room till he is sound asleep, then he wakes durning the night and the only thing that works has been co sleeping
    Please tell me I’m almost at the end of this, and that he will flick back to normal soon
    On very tired mummy 😔

    • Did you make it out alive? How long did it last? I’m in this exact same position now! M 23 month old refuses to go to sleep day or night. We have to sit with him until he falls asleep and then he wakes in between 12am and 2am screaming and ends up in our bed because NOTHING calms him down except lying directly on top of me, On every sleep site, all I’ve read, is that you must stay consistent, don’t start bad habits, blah, blah, blah. But I’d rather he just slept in our bed than cried till dawn. Because he will cry – ALL NIGHT LONG.

      Anyway, I hope you got through it!

      • Corey Anderson says:

        This was posted over a year ago…were you able to get your child back in their own bed? We are going through this right now and the only thing that seems to work is bringing him into our bed. I don’t want to start a bad habit but I am desperate for some sleep! After it passes is is hard to get them to stay in their own bed?

  14. Normally reading about sleep on the internet just makes things so much worse because everyone has a different opinion and nobody really has anything to say that really helps much. But, since this 18 month regression hit us like a ton of bricks 3 days ago (ughhh… it’s only been 3 days!?! And people are saying MONTHS?!), I’ve been scouring the internet and I swear every single blog, article and comment about the 18 month regression is “this fucking sucks so hard and what the hell happened to my perfect sleeper and WHEN WILL IT END?!?” So, at least there is unity on this one, no? And also, thank you for making me feel slightly less guilty for giving in and nursing him ALL NIGHT LONG. Now, do you have any suggestions for my falling-off nipples? We went from almost weaned (one quick feed on one side before bed) to newborn style feeding overnight. My poor ladies are never going to be the same.

    • Rebecca says:

      Do you have any updates? My 20 month old has not been a good sleeper since she was 4 or 5 months old. At this point she is nursed down at night (though some nights it takes FOREVER) and goes in her crib until she wakes up, anywhere from
      10pm to 1:30am, but then she has to come to our bed and is nursing every two hours (worse than when she was a newborn!)… I am starting to lose my mind. She FREAKS out if I don’t nurse her. It had gotten better and some nights she was going from 12ish until 5 or 6 without nursing (but in our bed). Her last canine is coming in so maybe it’s that? She’s def having a weird developmental jump… Suddenly she thinks she’s a grown woman and only sits at a big chair at the dining table, drinks from a big cup, uses big plates, wants to drive the car and not sit in her car seat (I mean, whaa?)… But she’s nursing more! So so weird and frustrating. But I want to see her through it if she needs me. Especially at night. Just need to know this will end. And if anyone has any tips or advice, especially on the nursing.

      • Hi Rebecca! I will say that the worst of the worst of the worst (which is saying a lot because her sleep has always been sort of rocky!) in my daughter’s sleep happened while she was getting her canine teeth. Teething is a small blip for some kiddos and a huge disrupter for others, so that could be a big part of what’s going on. Or that plus developmental leaps (do you know about the Wonder Weeks? that book was such a sanity saver for me). I wrote a post on this site about talking with an RIE sleep consultant, which gained us some really effective tools. You could check it out and see if there’s anything there that resonates for you: http://www.momsalive.com/2011/04/sleep-plan-take-3-this-time-i-need-help/. Best of luck, I know it’s so tough right now!

        • Rebecca says:

          Thank you so much for the link!! I am keeping all of this close as we work on the bedtime transition of nursing to sleep to her getting herself to sleep like she has in the past. Your sleep consultant sounds amazing… Wish I lived in CO!!!

  15. Curious if anyone has updates! My 17 month old has been waking 3-4 times a night for over a month. Last night he kept me up from 10:45-2:45!! Canines are coming in and taking forever. Sometimes I think his tummy hurts…I don’t know. I’ve started giving him a bottle of water and now I feel like it’s a bad habit but it’s the only thing that will settle him. Soooo…we r a month in and hoping this passes soon bc I’m crying everyday and beyond exhausted.

  16. I am looking for updates from ANYONE who has been through the 18 month sleep regression. I knew about all the others ones ahead of time but this one hit us out of nowhere! He goes down for naps great but one day he decided he did not want to go to bed at night. He will stand in his crib and scream at the top of his lungs for hours if I would let him! My family keeps saying, “Oh, he has your number!” and I am paranoid about starting bad sleep habits. We have been having to let him cry in his crib for about 10-15 minutes and then bring him out on the couch where he will just fall asleep on me in about 5 minutes and stay asleep all night. We have been doing the same routine for the past 6 months and we would always read books, brush teeth, say goodnight to Daddy, he would grab my hand and walk into his room where I would give him a hug and a kiss goodnight and he would lay down and within 15-20 minutes be asleep. No crying. I was just wondering if this truly does pass on its own without intervention because I will just keep doing what we are doing now with trying to get him to sleep. Thank you so much for your help!!

    • Hi Jenny!
      It is SO hard…! Hang in there. My son is 19.5 months and we r just now out of it. His was about three months long and I think I cried everyday about it. Looking back his was digestion and separation anxiety. He’s been sleeping through for about two weeks now fingers crossed. No, I didn’t do anything he just decided to start sleeping better! Nothing helped. What time does your LO go down and wake? How long are his naps?

    • My daughter had a sleep regression about this time too (she’s 6 now, so I admit I’m *slightly* hazy on the details…) and it was related to her cutting canine teeth. Sleep was HORRIBLE for about 3 months and we wound up talking to a sleep specialist, which really helped. I wrote about it here http://www.momsalive.com/2011/04/sleep-plan-take-3-this-time-i-need-help/. The steps I describe in the article REALLY helped us. And then those $%^& teeth came in and it eventually got better. Hang in there, I totally feel for you.

    • Hello all! I do have an update! My LO went through what I can only think of as a sleep regression for about 2 weeks and then just started sleeping on his own again with no intervention. Then he got sick about 2 weeks later and the only way he could sleep and breathe at night was to hold him upright. I think he got used to this and only wanted to sleep on the couch with us. He would cry in his crib before I even put him in, if I even walked towards his room he would start crying. I would let him cry a little bit in his crib and then he would fall asleep on the couch with us. He was then waking at least once a night which turned into 3-4 times a night. He was not getting a restful nights sleep so we reverted back to sleep training. The first night it took an hour to get him to sleep, the second 20 minutes, now he goes right in there and sleeps at least 12 hours with very minimal wakings. If he does wake, I will go into to him give him a hug and a kiss to reassure him that mommy is still there and tell him its night night time. He will fall right back to sleep. We also did switch up his routine a little by watching a Blue’s Clues episode, brushing teeth, going for a nice walk and going straight into his bedroom when he gets home.

    • Jen Kelly says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!
      I have 2 girls…4yrs and 18 months. Grace (4yr old) went through it..we tried EVEEYTHING! Eventually, we just had to ‘ride it out’
      My 18 month old (Emily) is like ‘a different breed) and to be honest, if she were born first, she’d be an only child!
      We are going through it with her now…so much worse! Again trying EVERYTHING…but I’m ashamed to say that so far, our only relief came when we purchased a queen sized blow up mattress and put it in the living room at night. I slept out there all week (my husband works and I’m a stay at home now). She will usually start @ midnight and I have to bring her out there and lay down with her, in order for her to sleep. Initially, once she was out, I would carefully place her back in her crib…but recently, the minute we put her back in there, she wakes up freaking out. So now she goes into her crib, once she falls asleep in the living room (the times vary-GOD help me), I put her in her room and get a short amount of peace before she wakes up screaming @ midnight and then it’s a lovely night of being kicked n climbed on, on the air mattress. Thankfully though, nap time is fairly smooth, except for her initial resistance to go in.

      • Hi Jen! Thank you so much for responding. I think I am now going through the real sleep regression! The post I submitted before is nothing compared to what he is going through now. My DS sounds exactly like your daughter! He will only go to sleep on the couch and if he does he will wake up anywhere from 1-3 am and will not go back to sleep until we get him up to go back on the couch. What did you do to help your 4 year get through this time? If it is just time I need I will just keep doing what I’m doing and hope he starts sleeping through the night. We are just not wanting to start and bad sleeping habits. Please let me know if your 18 month old snaps out of her regression. Thank you so much again!

      • Do you all know much about temperament? I’ve been reading a bit about it lately and it is such a useful tool to help your baby navigate the world! ESPECIALLY when it comes to baby sleep! Here’s a post you might find helpful: http://www.babysleepsite.com/temperament/baby-temperament-sleep-intensity/

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