Am I the only parent who thinks the person who came up with the phrase “sleeping like a baby” has never had to deal with a “sleeping like a baby” toddler? Let me introduce a new phrase in your parent vocabulary.
It’s called “sleeping like a parent” and it perfectly depicts the almost unconscious state in which you drop dead on the bed hoping to have just a few minutes of sleep before you wake up to the helpless crying of your little bundle of joy who is awake for the 19th time since you lulled them to sleep.
As a parent reading these lines, you already know what I am talking about. The toddler sleep regression. Just the sound of its name sends shivers down my spine! The bad news is that’s it’s inevitable (just like taxes and puke on your baby car seat).
The good news is that, first, you are not doing it all wrong, and second, it means your toddler is (most probably) approaching a new developmental milestone! OK, I don’t want to torture your sleep-deprived minds anymore, so let’s get this whole toddler sleep regression demystified:
What is toddler sleep regression?
The 4-month sleep regression. The 6-month sleep regression. The 18-month sleep regression. The 2-year-old sleep regression. After so many sleepless nights, I know you sometimes wonder: “Will my baby ever start sleeping through the night?”. The answer is, they will! Eventually.
Toddler sleep regression is simply a phase in which your baby changes their sleep pattern. Unfortunately for you, this means that your baby starts waking frequently at night, unsettled and crying, seeking your help in an attempt to go back to sleep. While this sleepless phase usually takes up between 2 and 6 weeks, it’s a challenging period both for the toddler and for his parents who often start wondering what they are doing wrong (hint: nothing).
Sleep regression, as most parents experience it, happens at night. But there are some cases in which this term is also used when your baby (or toddler) wakes up during naptime or even refuses to go to sleep at all. No matter which case of a sleep regression you have at hand, it is basically a change of the sleep pattern of your newest family member that simply means they are growing up!
Why are babies and toddlers experiencing sleep regressions?
Contrary to popular belief, sleeping through the night is not a milestone for babies and toddlers. It’s more like every parent’s wildest dream, but I digress. Sleep regressions and reaching a developmental milestone have a lot in common, though. The thing is that sleep regression is a signal that your baby is fast approaching a real developmental milestone and this, unsurprisingly, affects their sleep pattern.
The reason for the frequent night waking lies in the fact that babies and toddlers process information while they sleep (with REM sleep being the phase in which the circulation to the brain doubles its speed). So, when there’s a new milestone on the horizon, it’s perfectly normal for your baby to become unsettled and in need of more reassurance (both during the day and at night).
What do “The Wonder Weeks” have to do with my baby’s sleep?
“The Wonder Weeks” are critical periods in the physical, emotional, and neurological development of your baby. The notion about the wonder weeks is best explained in the book of the same name written by Dutch researchers and psychologists Franz Plooij and Hetty Van Der Rit.
In the book, they explain the periods in which the baby’s perception of the world changes as a result of reaching a new developmental milestone. This intense phase is usually accompanied by a few days (up to a few weeks) of sleepless nights referred to as “baby/toddler sleep regression”.
What to expect during a sleep regression period?
- You enter the sleep deprivation tunnel. Lulling your baby to sleep takes much longer than sleep itself, naps get shorter (if present at all), your wakeful baby barely sleeps at night and is fussy and miserable when awake.
- Baby enters the whirlpool of endless feeding. Breastfeeding moms can forget the probability of doing anything without the baby glued to their boobs. Formula-feeding moms, it doesn’t get easier for you either – there’ll be endless bottle sterilizing and formula preparing for you as well.
- Your exhausted frustration gets to its peak as baby wants to be held. ALL. THE. TIME. Oh, and only by you. No bouncy seats or play mats will do the trick, so my best advice is to just put yourself together and call each day your survived a victory.
The 3 S-s to surviving a sleep regression
- Stay calm. Panicking is your worst enemy during a sleep-deprived period. Arm yourself with patience (and coffee) and keep telling to yourself that this is just a phase. It’s perfectly normal and it will pass. You’ve got this, mama!
- Stick to what works. The baby wants its paci again? He can’t go back to sleep on his own? Just give him what he wants and don’t look at this as a step back as it is exactly the opposite. As strange as it may seem to you right now, this is actually your baby making progress, so keep up the good work. Just go with the flow and do whatever it takes to help everybody in the house get some sleep.
- Sleep, baby, sleep. In a week-to-month’s time, you will have found out that your baby is peacefully sound sleeping again, so you may all sigh with relief and go back to sleep. Finally.
What have I done wrong?
Nothing! It’s not your fault that your baby is up in the wee hours, crying and having difficulty getting back to sleep. You aren’t encouraging bad habits, so don’t believe anyone who implies you are. You are doing the best you can and your baby knows it! It’s just that they are developing in leaps and bounds and their busy baby brain finds it extremely difficult to process all the new information they are getting about the world.
The thing that I love the most about sleep regression is that it’s temporary. It’s perfectly normal. It’s common. But, most importantly, it eventually passes. After all, you’ve survived as a parent till now, right? You are strong enough to survive another sleep regression. You can do this!