Sleep regressions are a dreaded fear for many parents! It can be very frustrating to have your child suddenly waking in the night or fighting naps, especially if you have put a lot of work into teaching healthy sleep habits. The most common reason for regressions are developmental and cognitive milestones. These regressions happen due to huge changes in your child’s skills and awareness. That being said, sickness, teething or travel can also cause interruptions in sleep that can become long term if not nipped in the bud. During a sleep regression, you will find your child suddenly waking in the night (or waking more often) and you may be confused as to how to handle it so that a temporary sleep problem doesn’t become a permanent one. Here are a few things to thing about when dealing with a sudden change in your child’s sleep.
Is it illness or teething?
If your child is sick, you may have to “break the rules” a bit on how you handle things. For instance, if your child is no longer feeding during the night, you may need to give feeds for a few days to avoid dehydration. If your child is vomiting, you may choose to sleep in their bedroom to help out during the night. In the case of illness, you may just have to do whatever works for those few days. The important thing is to get back to basics when you know your child is feeling better. If you know your child is better and you continue with these changes, you will find your child continually waking in the night and possibly even fighting bedtime or naps in the hope of getting more and more “help” from you. When your child is feeling better, spend a few nights gradually doing less and less so that they can get back to their old, healthy sleep habits.
Have you just returned from a vacation?
Often during travel a child’s schedule is thrown off, especially if a time change is involved. Other things that can have an impact are frequent naps in the car seat or stroller when your child is used to sleeping in a crib or bed as well as sleeping in a very different environment (eg. room or bed sharing). After just a few days of travel, some babies or toddlers can become very reliant on the movement of the car or stroller or the sound of your breathing, if you were room sharing, in order to fall asleep. If you find your little one having difficulty napping or staying asleep during the night after your return from vacation, this is likely the cause. In order to prevent a full sleep regression, it’s important to understand that the change in your child’s sleep is just a new habit that can easily be reversed by going back to your regular sleep routine and habits. It will likely take 3-5 days to get your child back on track, but if you stay consistent, you will all be sleeping well again.
Is your child experiencing a developmental milestone?
If your child has recently developed a new skill such a sitting, standing or walking, that is likely the cause of sudden sleep issues. When a child is going through such a big change, it can interrupt sleep as your little one wants to practice this new skill when he or she should be sleeping. The best way to handle this stage is to give your child time to practice this new skill during the day. For instance, if you find your child standing in the crib, then during the day practice getting from standing back down to sitting. This will prevent your child from getting “stuck” in the standing position. If your child has started rolling, spend time practicing rolling both ways so she doesn’t roll one way during the night and get frustrated about not being able to roll back. During a developmental sleep regression, it’s important to remember that there is nothing “wrong” with your child. She may need a little extra reassurance in the way of a quick visit every few minutes, but there’s no need to return to old “props” or even risk developing new ones by giving too much help. If your child was previously an independent sleeper, then you know she can do it with just a little bit of reassurance from you.
Although there can be different reasons for changes in your child’s sleep, the most important thing to remember is to avoid creating new habits. While your child may need a little extra help during the night, there is no need to slide backwards by returning to old habits that you’ve worked hard to eliminate. It is important to be prepared and understand that regressions occur so that you can get through them as painlessly as possible. If you know how to handle a sleep regression, you will find it is just a phase and that your child will go back to sleeping well throughout the night.