What Is Sleep Regression in a Baby?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 15, 2023
3 min read

When you’re pregnant and anticipating the birth of your baby, you know that sleep will soon be a thing of the past. Newborn babies are notorious for having poor sleep patterns at first. And just when you think your baby is starting to sleep more at night, a sleep regression can happen. 

During the first 2 months of your baby’s life, they will intermittently sleep 14–17 hours a day. Their sleep may come in stretches of 2–3 hours with waking periods in between — both day and night. There is no pattern to your baby's sleep because they are adjusting to life outside the womb. 

Your baby is:

  • Learning how to react to the world around them
  • Adjusting to daylight and nighttime
  • Adapting to feeding on their own
  • Experiencing their body's movements and functions

Each baby’s development is different. Typically, by 3 months of age, your baby will begin to establish a sleep pattern. They will sleep for closer to 14 hours a day and may have better defined nap times or sleep for longer stretches at night. 

Sleep regressions are normal in babies and toddlers. It's even possible that older children may experience them. Regression means to return to a former, less-developed state, and that’s exactly what happens to your baby's sleep.

With sleep regression, just when your baby starts to develop a favorable pattern of sleep that's more predictable, everything changes. Your baby may be fussier and will refuse to sleep at nap time or bedtime. 

While sleep regressions can be daunting — especially when you want to sleep for longer than 2 hours at a time yourself — they're actually good signs. Sleep regressions happen when your baby is going through periods of intense development. They may be approaching new milestone activities like:

  • Smiling and interacting 
  • Rolling over
  • Becoming more aware of their surroundings
  • Sitting up
  • Learning spatial awareness 
  • Crawling
  • Talking/babbling 

While sleep regressions can happen anytime your baby is going through intense development periods, there are predictable ages at which sleep regressions occur.

Four months. Your baby is transitioning away from their newborn sleep patterns, and the biology of their sleep is changing.

Six months. Your baby is experiencing rapid development and is gaining new abilities and awareness. At this age, teething may also be to blame for changes in sleep patterns.

Eight months. With emotional development occurring at this age, your baby may experience separation anxiety, leading to changes in their sleeping habits.

Twelve months. More activity and awareness of surroundings can lead to restlessness during your baby's sleep.

Eighteen months. An increased sense of independence and desire to test boundaries can lead to bedtime refusal.

When sleep regression strikes, be patient. Your baby isn’t fighting sleep to be difficult, and they may not actually be fighting sleep at all. Instead, your baby may simply be unable to fall and stay asleep. Try these tricks for helping your baby get back on track.

Maintain a routine. Even if your baby isn’t ready for bed at the normal time, follow your usual bedtime routine. Your baby will be comforted by the familiarity a routine provides. This applies to nap time routines as well as those at bedtime.

Wait before responding. If your baby cries when you first lay them down or in the middle of the night, don’t respond immediately. Give them a few minutes to self-soothe and see if they fall back to sleep on their own. 

If you do get up to hold your baby, stay in the dark bedroom. This will help your baby understand that it’s still nighttime and not playtime. Taking your baby into another room where they are used to playing may confuse them.

Offer comfort. You may feel like you've tried everything, but your baby is still crying. In this case, you can still offer comfort. Your baby may be unsure about how they feel, too. Hold your baby and let them know that you’re there for them.