Surviving Sleep Regressions: What Help For Exhausted Parents

October 11, 2023

You’ve finally settled into a routine with your little one, and everything seems to be going smoothly. But then, out of nowhere, it hits you – sleep regressions. These unexpected disruptions in your baby’s sleeping patterns can leave even the most well-rested parents feeling exhausted and at a loss for what to do. In this article, we’ll explore some strategies and tips to help you survive sleep regressions and find some much-needed rest for yourself. From establishing a soothing bedtime routine to understanding the underlying causes, we’ll provide you with the tools and support you need to navigate this challenging phase. So grab a cup of coffee, take a deep breath, and let’s find some help for those exhausted parents!

Understanding sleep regressions

What are sleep regressions?

Sleep regressions refer to periods of time when a baby or young child who has previously been sleeping well suddenly experiences a disruption in their sleep patterns. These regressions can be frustrating for both parents and children, as they often result in more frequent night wakings, difficulty falling asleep, and shortened naps. Sleep regressions are a normal part of a child’s development, but understanding why they occur can help parents navigate these challenging times.

When do sleep regressions occur?

Sleep regressions typically occur at specific ages or developmental milestones in a child’s life. The most common sleep regressions are observed around 4 months, 8-10 months, 18 months, and 2 years. These regressions are often associated with significant cognitive, social, or physical changes in a child’s development. It is important to note that every child is unique, and the timing and severity of sleep regressions may vary.

Why do sleep regressions happen?

Sleep regressions happen due to various reasons related to a child’s development. At around 4 months, a baby’s sleep patterns undergo a transformation as they transition from newborn sleep to more structured sleep cycles. Around 8-10 months, separation anxiety and increased mobility can disrupt sleep. At 18 months, language and cognitive development may contribute to sleep disruptions. The 2-year sleep regression is often associated with the development of independence and a growing sense of autonomy. These developmental milestones and changes in a child’s brain and body can lead to temporary disruptions in their sleep.

Recognizing the signs of sleep regressions

Disrupted sleep patterns

One of the most common signs of a sleep regression is a disrupted sleep pattern. Your child may have been sleeping through the night consistently but suddenly starts waking up more frequently.

Increased night waking

During a sleep regression, your child may wake up more often during the night. This can be frustrating for both parents and children, as it disrupts the much-needed sleep for everyone involved.

Difficulty falling asleep

Sleep regressions can also result in difficulty falling asleep. Your child may be more resistant to bedtime or take longer to settle down and fall asleep.

Shortened naps

Another sign of a sleep regression is shortened naps. Your child may have been taking longer, more restful naps, but during a regression, they may wake up sooner or have difficulty staying asleep during naptime.

Tips for coping with sleep regressions

Establish a consistent bedtime routine

A consistent bedtime routine can help signal to your child that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Establishing a soothing routine with activities like bath time, reading a book, or singing a lullaby can create a calm atmosphere before bedtime.

Create a sleep-friendly environment

Creating a sleep-friendly environment can make a big difference in helping your child sleep better during a regression. Ensure the room is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Consider using blackout curtains, white noise machines, or a favorite blanket or stuffed animal for added comfort.

Consider sleep training methods

Sleep training methods can be helpful during sleep regressions, but it is important to choose a method that aligns with your parenting style and your child’s needs. Whether you choose a gentle approach or a more structured method, consistency is key.

Offer comfort and reassurance

During a sleep regression, your child may need extra comfort and reassurance. Respond to their needs promptly and try to provide comfort without fully waking them up. A gentle pat on the back or soothing words can go a long way in helping them settle back to sleep.

Practice daytime nap routines

Establishing a consistent nap routine during the day can contribute to better sleep during regressions. Having a designated naptime and following a similar routine to bedtime can help signal to your child that it is time to rest and recharge.

Implement quiet time before bed

Encourage quiet activities before bed to help your child wind down and transition into sleep mode. This could involve reading a book, doing puzzles, or engaging in calm play to promote relaxation before bedtime.

Soothing techniques for sleep regressions

Gentle rocking or swaying

Gentle rocking or swaying can help soothe a restless baby or child during a sleep regression. The rhythmic motion can be comforting and lull them back to sleep.

White noise or calming music

Playing white noise or calming music in the background can create a soothing environment for your child. The continuous sound can drown out any disruptive noises and promote relaxation.

Massage or gentle touch

Gentle touch or a relaxing massage can help calm your child during a sleep regression. Use gentle strokes or light pressure to help them relax their body and mind.

Offer a lovey or comfort object

Introducing a lovey or comfort object can provide a sense of security and familiarity during sleep regressions. Choose a soft, safe toy or blanket that your child can snuggle with.

Use a night light or dim lighting

Using a night light or dim lighting can help ease any anxiety your child may have during the night. It provides a soft glow that can help them feel more secure and comfortable in their sleep environment.

Dealing with sleep regressions as a couple

Communicate and support each other

It is important for couples to communicate and support each other during sleep regressions. Recognize that both parents may be experiencing exhaustion and frustration and find ways to share your feelings and provide emotional support.

Share nighttime responsibilities

Sharing nighttime responsibilities can help both parents get sufficient rest. Take turns soothing the child back to sleep or splitting up night waking duties to ensure that both parents have the opportunity for uninterrupted sleep.

Take turns for self-care

Self-care is essential when dealing with sleep regressions. Take turns to prioritize self-care activities such as taking a relaxing bath, going for a walk, or even taking short breaks to recharge and rejuvenate.

Seek outside help if needed

If sleep regressions become overwhelming, it may be beneficial to seek outside help. Reach out to family members, trusted friends, or even consider hiring a babysitter for a few hours to give yourselves a much-needed break.

Nutrition and sleep regressions

Offering comfort feeds

During sleep regressions, your child may seek additional comfort feeds. While it is important to respond to their needs, be mindful of creating a dependency on nighttime feeding, as this can prolong the regression.

Introducing solids and sleep

Introducing solids can sometimes impact sleep patterns. Experiment with different timing and types of foods to see how they may affect your child’s sleep. Some foods may have a positive impact on sleep quality, while others may cause discomfort or restlessness.

Consider sleep-safe foods or supplements

Certain foods or supplements, such as those high in tryptophan or magnesium, can support healthy sleep. Consult with your pediatrician or a nutritionist to identify sleep-safe options for your child.

Avoid stimulating foods or drinks before bed

Certain foods or drinks, such as caffeine, sugar, or highly processed snacks, can interfere with your child’s sleep. Avoid offering these stimulating items close to bedtime to minimize the potential disruptions to their sleep.

Managing the impact at work

Discussing the situation with your employer

If sleep regressions are affecting your ability to perform well at work, it may be helpful to have an open and honest conversation with your employer. Explain the situation and discuss potential accommodations or adjustments that could be made to support your well-being.

Implementing strategies for better sleep during workdays

Finding strategies to optimize sleep during workdays can be crucial for managing the impact of sleep regressions. Consider adjusting your own sleep schedule, taking short power naps during breaks, or trying relaxation techniques during lunch breaks to recharge.

Taking breaks and maximizing productivity

Taking short breaks throughout the workday can help manage fatigue and maintain productivity. Step away from your desk for a few minutes, stretch, or engage in activities that help clear your mind and increase alertness.

Seeking help from coworkers or family

Don’t hesitate to reach out to coworkers or family members for assistance if you’re feeling overwhelmed. They may be able to provide support by taking on specific tasks or responsibilities when necessary.

Seeking professional advice

Consulting a pediatrician or sleep specialist

If sleep regressions persist or become too challenging to manage on your own, consider seeking professional advice. A pediatrician or sleep specialist can assess your child’s sleep patterns, provide guidance, and offer personalized strategies to help navigate through the regression.

Exploring sleep therapies or interventions

In some cases, sleep therapies or interventions may be recommended to help address sleep regressions. These could include techniques such as gradual extinction or controlled crying, which are best discussed and implemented under the guidance of a professional.

Considering alternative treatments or therapies

Alternative treatments or therapies, such as acupuncture or herbal remedies, may be explored as options for managing sleep regressions. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional who is knowledgeable about these methods to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

Self-care for exhausted parents

Prioritizing rest and relaxation

As a parent dealing with sleep regressions, it is crucial to prioritize your own rest and relaxation. Carve out time in your schedule for adequate sleep, engage in activities that help you unwind, and practice self-care to maintain your well-being.

Engaging in stress-reducing activities

Finding ways to reduce stress can significantly impact your ability to cope with the challenges of sleep regressions. Engage in activities such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or any other hobbies that bring you joy and help you relax.

Accepting help and support from others

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and accept support from family, friends, or support groups. Whether it be a listening ear, assistance with household tasks, or someone to watch your child for a few hours, accepting help can provide a much-needed break and support system during these challenging times.


Sleep regressions can be exhausting and challenging for both parents and children. Understanding the signs, coping strategies, and seeking professional advice when needed are all essential for navigating through this phase. Remember to prioritize self-care, communicate with your partner, and seek support from loved ones to make the experience more manageable. With time, patience, and consistent efforts to provide a supportive sleep environment, both you and your child will eventually overcome sleep regressions and enjoy restful nights once again.

Sandra McNeil, PhD.
Sandra McNeil, PhD.

Sandra has over 13 years of experience as a child psychologist, both as a practitioner and researcher. She has a Bachelor's in child psychology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and then she did her master's in Psychology in Education (focused on Children & Families) at Columbia University, NY. She has been writing for health and child-related publications for over 5 years now.

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