How to handle those devastating sleep regressions
If you’ve recently got sleep sorted, chances are you don’t want to hear how to handle those devastating sleep regressions, because I’m pretty sure you’re hoping this patch of great sleep will last forever. If we’ve worked together, the good news is, you’ve learnt what helps your little one, you have the sleep tools you need – yet, at the same time, I also know that life happens and nothing in parenting is a given!
I understand your frustration when suddenly your perfect sleeper starts regressing into their old habit of not sleeping through the night again. It’s quite simply devastating.
Take heart. Sleep regressions are common when working on healthy sleep habits – and sometimes beyond then too. So I’m here to share my take on how to get through those bad nights as quickly as possible. Yes, you and your baby can get back to those blissful, sleep filled nights again. And if you’ve put in the work when they’re younger it’s much quicker than if you hadn’t.
In these situations, there is good news and bad news. Let me break the bad news to you first, as gently as possible.
The Bad News
I have to tell you, nothing in parenting is done and dusted. It just doesn’t work like that when dealing with little humans. You teach your child some rules, great. But then you’re going to have to constantly remind him of those rules. Maybe teach even them those rules again. And possibly even consequence them (at an older age) for not following those rules. Especially if they have more of that “spirited” temperament. And that’s going to continue for a while – my son is now almost 13 years. I still have to remind him of household rules. STILL.
Your child will test you – it’s a given.
Yes, there will be times your child will test you. Children are natural boundary pushers, and they are going to test you periodically just to make sure the rule is still the rule. I’m sure their thought processes go something like … “hey, just because it’s a rule today, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a rule a week from now, or at Grandma’s house.” They’re going to test you, and make sure that, “Yep, it’s still the rule.” If you show them “yep that’s still the rule”, then they’re going to go back to the correct behaviour. Simple as that. Sleep regressions are often a case of, what can be called, “testing the waters”.
It was smooth sailing for months… and then
Maybe it’s been smooth sailing for months; you’ve had it great at night. But then, for no particular reason, at bedtime tonight, she protests for 20 minutes. And that can be alarming right? You’re thinking, “What’s wrong? Is she sick? Is she teething? Is she scared? What on earth is going on here?”
When that happens, you start second guessing both yourself and your daughter’s sleep skills. And it’s easy to start intervening. Going in, giving her lots of attention, having cuddles. But after a few nights of that, she will very quickly figure out that protest means things have changed. Protest equals reaction, and she may start back stepping into more and more protest, because her protest is getting rewarded in certain ways.
If she’s not sick or teething, then …
Now, you definitely need to make sure that she isn’t actually sick, or that something’s not going on. If you see a tooth cutting the gum, then yes, that could be why she’s having a little bit of trouble tonight. And, yes, you can assist with whatever pain relief you might offer your teething baby. But other than that, you don’t want to do too much differently.
You want to make sure she’s OK, check on her periodically, remind her that it’s sleepy time, and then let this ride out.
The Good News
The good news is that it will only take a night or two. And then she’ll go, “Okay. Rules are still rules. The expectations are still the same. I’m going to back to being a great sleeper again.” Devastating sleeping regression diverted.
Tests are likely around developmental milestones
I’m pretty confident you’ll have at least another few months of great sleep. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, she’s going to do it again. Not another sleep regression?
Often it occurs around a developmental milestone. If she learns to sit up, or is crawling, or learning to stand, or walk, or talk, you will find that there’s a bit of a sleep regression around those situations. This happens because babies love to practice, day and night, until they’ve mastered something new. Yes, that can affect sleep. But we still want our response to stay the same at night. Don’t change much, because we don’t want to inevitably reward the extra waking behaviours that we don’t want to continue. So be careful around that.
To help speed things up, you can give extra developmental practice time during usual wake times.
What to do if you’ve slipped into bad habits
Now I know that sometimes a baby falls into old habits for no discernable reason. Maybe you’ve walked into that situation, and now you need to get back out. The protest has gone on for a couple nights, or there are random night-time wake ups. And you doubt yourself, “I don’t know Kim, Could he hungry? Growing through a growth spurt?” You don’t know, so maybe you’ve gone in and offered a feed a few times.
After a few nights of this, now it’s a habit again. And six months later, you may find yourself feeding every single night again. It can happen. I get it. There’s no blame or judgment around that. I totally understand how it happens because I’ve seen it countless times.
The good news is you know your baby CAN sleep well.
She’s proven to you that she has the skills to sleep well in the past. So if you’ve slipped into bad habits, just get back to the plan and your clear expectations again. That means being very consistent in your approach.
You don’t even need to start at the beginning most of the time. You can speed it up if you have your original plan, because he or she already has the skills. We’re not starting from scratch all over again. That’s the benefit of having great sleep skills from a young age!
You CAN do this
If you’re in the situation having to get back into good sleep habits again. Know there may be some protest around this. That’s simply because she’s had it one way for X number of weeks or months, and you’re changing the rules AGAIN. You will have to remind her that there’s, “No more mucking around here. We’re going to do it that way that worked again. Here we go.” To summarise:
- Make sure nothing is actually wrong (no ear infection, sore throat or teeth pain).
- Be clear in your expectation (& make sure it is something your child knows how to do) and clear in how you respond.
- Consistency in your response is key.
- If you offer alternative comfort (verbal reassurance & touch) instead of a feed, that’s OK. But, don’t get stuck replacing one sleep prop with another.
- Give it 3-5 days to see if it works.
- If there is a developmental skill at play, give lots of practice during the day.
Know that you will get through this blip. And within a few days, she’s going to be back to her great sleeping self.
The moral of the story is that sleep regressions will happen, but they will blow over quickly if you can hold tight to your expectations. Don’t change the original boundaries and the sleep regression will settle down again very quickly. I promise, you can do this! And if you would like my help, you know where to find me.
Rest assured, it is much easier if you know your child can sleep through the night, because they have done this consistently in the past. If it’s been a few years since you focused on sleep, there may be some developmental changes that will make some things easier again – book a short paid call with me here to talk it through. But, if your child has never really slept well, then there may be another issue at play. If you’d like to talk it out, then please take up my offer of a free sleep evaluation call. Let’s get to the root of the issue, so we can resolve it. When you’re ready, book your free call HERE.
Because good sleep shouldn’t be a mystery.
Sleep well everyone.