sleep regression

Sleep Regression or Progression?

Written by: Karene Nightingale

We often hear about the 4-month sleep regression and then the 9-month one.

But what is really happening?

Why is the routine that has been working for the last couple of months, suddenly not working and their sleep is beginning to fall apart?

Whilst some people will say your child’s sleep is regressing and becoming worse, the reason behind the changes in their routine, their preferences and needs are due to increased brain activity caused by what is happening developmentally. They are growing and preparing cognitively for the new skills which are about to emerge.

At 4 months, they will become increasingly social and interested in the people around them. Physically, your child will be gaining more control over their movements and are transitioning from being involuntary and random movements to being controlled and purposeful movements. Over the next couple of months, you will see them practice more controlled movements, stabilising their core when in a supported seated position and they will begin to reach for things. All of these new skills are in anticipation for rolling which generally emerges around the sixth month mark.

At 9 months, this milestone is where we start to see crawling emerge, moving on to pulling themselves up to stand and for some, even their very first steps are taken!! Socially, there will be an increase in babbling and turn taking in a conversational manner as well as beginning to enjoy and initiate turn taking games such as peek-a-boo. You may even find the game where they drop things for you to pick up providing endless entertainment (on their part!! LOL!) and this is due to them developing their understanding and the role they play in being able to have an effect on objects – the cause and effect understanding.

Along with the cognition your baby is formulating and processing in their brain, teething can also play a part in disrupting a happy baby and their settled routine and sleep habits. There are many articles which state that teething does not result in sleep disturbances; however, they do report that mild pain and discomfort is often associated with teething. As babies are more sensitive to pain and their only means of communicating they are experiencing pain is to cry, you may experience them waking from sleep crying rather than happily chatting like normal. If you think your child may be in pain or teething, use your preferred method of treating this or if you are unsure, seek medical advice.

These disruptions can first be unsettling, and very frustrating for you as the parent. You have established a routine, everything is working and then suddenly, out of nowhere, nothing is working. Your child’s sleep is being interrupted by periods of crying and wakefulness and at 9 months, they are wanting to feed overnight again when you had weaned these night feeds out.


What can you do to help get things back on track??

The main thing to do is continue to be consistent. This reinforces the routine you have already established. It provides continuity and predictability for your baby when things are a little unsettled. But most of all, it reinforces that this is what is expected and what happens at this time of the day for the routine, teaching your child that is what they need. Use the same settling techniques that you have been using as now is not the time to change it up and try to introduce a new settling technique and “teach” your baby a new way of going to sleep – their brains are already busy growing and processing the new and emerging physical and social skills. If you are wanting to try a new way of settling to sleep, wait until their routine is back on track and re-established.

As tempting as it will be to reduce or drop day time naps to promote more night time sleep, avoid this at all costs!! This will result in a very overtired, unhappy baby who will find it even harder to go to sleep and stay asleep at night time because they are overtired. They will already be more tired throughout the day due to their sleepless nights, but keep their naps their naps the same.

Throughout the night, when your baby is waking, use your same settling method that you have always done. If you find they are refusing sleep and are more energised and not looking like they are sleepy, keep them in a dark space with no lights on and avoid exposing them to blue light such as television or mobile devices. Keep interactions calm and quiet to reduce your child becoming overstimulated, engaged and excited by your interactions.

If they are showing interest in feeding, I would suggest avoiding this if you can, especially if you had previously eliminated night feeds or they are not due to feed. It is very easy to fall back into the habit of night feeds and it becomes a motivation for your baby to continue to wake throughout the night. Babies are motivated by three elements to wake – light, social interactions and food or feeding! If we can aim to eliminate all three of these elements, or at least two and keep the social interactions loving but minimal, we will help our baby to return to their established sleep routine.

If you are wanting to move through these progression phases a little quicker and are happy to promote the physical skills to develop then I can suggest doing this throughout your baby’s periods of wakefulness during the day. Support your baby to roll and reach for objects; let them hold your finger and pull up to a sitting or standing position (depending on their age); and play the games that are mentioned earlier in this blog. Doing this in a fun yet nurturing way also supports your baby’s growing brain as they will feel close and attached which we know promotes healthy brain development! Throughout your daily routine and interactions with your baby, increasing moments of love, hugs and kisses will also support and prompt a faster, and possibly smoother, transition through these progressions.

I recognise that these progressions can be frustrating and tiring for parents however if we approach them with the mindset of love, kindness and support for their growing minds rather than need to fix and change things around, the process and transition through it will be more manageable for the whole family.

Looking for some activities to keep the kids entertained these holidays?
Check out our 20 Free Activities To Do With Your Kids blog post for some inspiration.

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