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Sleep Regression in Babies

oct 19 drawing of baby sleeping in cribThe newborn period is a notoriously trying time for new parents: a tiny, fragile human is completely dependent on you for everything, and it doesn’t have an efficient way to communicate exactly what it wants.

But by far the biggest challenge for most new moms and dads is sleep deprivation. Babies don’t know or care that humans are supposed to sleep all night. Most babies hit the blessed milestone of sleeping six to eight hours at a stretch around the age of six months, but for some, it won’t happen until they’re nearly a year old. After getting through the “waking up three to five times each night” phase, sleep regression can seem like a parent’s waking nightmare.

What Is Sleep Regression?

Just when you think your baby has settled into a sleep routine that somewhat resembles that of a normal human, he suddenly starts waking in the night again. This is known as sleep regression, and it can occur for a number of reasons (or seemingly, no reason at all). It commonly pops up at around four months, eight to 10 months, 11 or 12 months, 18 months, and two years. Fortunately, most babies won’t experience sleep regression during all of these periods, and regression phases typically only last one to four weeks.

What Can You Do to Fix It?

baby crying in crib.jpgIn most cases, sleep regression is a normal, healthy part of infant development. The most common causes of sleep regression are teething, naturally shifting naptimes, and developmental milestones, such as learning to crawl or walk. If you’re dealing with sleep regression, the good news is that your baby is growing and changing. The bad news is that there’s not really a “cure” for sleep regression: you just have to ride it out, clinging to the hope that someday soon, your baby will sleep through the night on a regular basis. However, that doesn’t have to mean total misery for mom and dad. Here are a few ways to get through sleep regression phases as painlessly as possible:

    • Maintain baby’s nighttime routine. If this involves a bath, rocking, cuddles, or a lullaby, keep it up.
    • Use a pacifier. If you’re not opposed to pacifier use, this is one way to let baby self-soothe. Just make sure that it doesn’t create a choking or strangulation hazard.
    • Try sleep training. There are dozens of methods; you may have to experiment for a while to find a style that works for you.
    • Create a healthy sleep environment. The room should be dark, cool, and quiet. Blackout curtains can help cut down on exterior light. If you haven’t already started the nightlight habit, don’t introduce it now. Recent studies have shown that a cooler room temperature promotes better sleep; some experts recommend a temperature of 68 to 72 degrees for babies. Use a white noise machine to help drown out noises.
Help for Sleep-Deprived Parents

sleep deprived father with baby.jpgIt’s no coincidence that sleep deprivation has been used throughout history as a form of torture. Luckily, there are some ways to get more sleep, or, at least, to make life more bearable as you grit your teeth and battle through the sleep regression phase. While many well-intentioned advice dispensers tell new parents to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” sometimes this adage doesn’t quite pan out in reality.

    • Use your support network.  Get in a little extra snooze time while Grandpa or Great Aunt Sally gets in some baby cuddles.
    • Take turns or shifts. Dad can get up with baby even if mom is breastfeeding if you pump, store, and use a speedy bottle warmer.
    • Go to bed early. This may seem too obvious, but many parents scramble to complete chores and housework after baby is in bed, only to collapse into bed exhausted and then have to wake up with baby a couple hours later. Sleep regression is short-term; let chores pile up for a little while.

If you’re dealing with baby sleep regression, just know that you’re not alone and there really is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you have any tried-and-true tips for dealing with sleep regression, share them in the comments!

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