Two Words: Sleep Regression.

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Scared Benny


Bee recently turned 20-months old and has been sleeping blissfully through the night for the last few months – my husband and I have gotten used to putting her down at 7:30pm and waking up with her around 6am.  It’s been a nice, solid routine to have, one that we’ve become very comfortable with if only because we finally had our evenings back.

(By “evening” I mean two hours decompressing on the couch – him with wine, me with tea [while sneaking sips of his wine] – then straight to bed.  Heaven!)

After Bee was born I’d read/heard about the dreaded Sleep Regression, and how there are three ages when this generally happens – around 4 months, 9 months and 12 months old.  They can be pinpointed to the times your sweet baby starts going through a major milestone like rolling, crawling, walking or talking.  They can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks (dear GOD), and can really, truly throw a wrench* in things (scroll to bottom for my definition of “wrench”) …

The Baby Sleep Site describes a sleep regression as, “…a period of time (anywhere from 1 – 4 weeks) when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking at night, and/or skipping naps (or waking early from naps) for no apparent reason.”  So basically, just as you’re getting into an amazing, seemingly flawless nap time/bedtime routine, feeling like a rockstar parent for getting your kid down like a pro every.single.time, a regression rears it’s ugly head and ruins EVERYTHING.

Bee went through these three regressions like clockwork, and they were just as difficult as you can imagine/remember.  Hubs and I were actually scared to go to bed some nights – we knew we weren’t going to be able to sleep because we were so hyper-aware that we’d withoutadoubt be woken up just as we hit REM.  During that time it was all about staying in survival mode. It was hard because, as you parents know, sleep is essential to your sanity, and when you’re getting very little of it – especially when it’s broken up by a screaming, inconsolable baby – it’s really f*cking hard to remain sane, let alone calm/kind/human.

From talking to friends who had been through it, as well as looking it up cautiously on the web, we discovered the regressions weren’t going to last as long as, say, her colic did (four long, painful months), which was reassuring and made each time just a teeeeeeny bit more bearable.

We eventually made it through with only a few new parental battle scars, and were even able to look back and have a laugh from time to time….


What I wasn’t aware of, however… what I did not know about, were the two regressions that sneak in around 18 and 24 months.


“Hang on,” you say.  “Didn’t you just mention Bee is 20-months old?  Isn’t she then ‘due’ for another sleep regression?”



This, friends, is why I am writing this post.

The last couple of nights have presented as normal.  But then, after a short while – about an hour or so after Hubs and I have gone to bed – its started.  The familiar, tell-tale sounds of a baby who is on the edge of waking.  And not happily.   She’s only woken up once or twice so far, each time needing just a small, sleepy pat on the back to calm her down.  Nothing as nuclear as the previous three regressions, but…

Could this be it?  Could this be one of the two Toddler Regressions?  Slithering its way into our home to rip it shreds, again???

I’m anticipating the worst.  I’m dusting off my battle gear and dredging up the Tips & Tricks I came up with to survive the dreaded Sleep Regression.  Tips that I now share with you:


1.  STAY CALM.  Let me paint a picture for you:

It’s 2am.  You hear your sweet, sound-sleeper start to stir through the crackling of the usually silent monitor.  Your eyes flutter open as the noises slowly get louder, more urgent… and before you know it there’s a nuclear fallout happening in the room down the hall.  You slap your partner awake, “get up!  Something is WRONG!”  In an instant you’re bounding into your little angel’s room, scooping him/her into your arms and shushing them with all the love you can muster, staying as long as it takes to get them back to sleep.  Once everything is right in the world again you head back to bed, patting yourself on the back for a job well done…

… it’s 40 minutes later.  You hear (who you thought was) your sweet, sound-sleeper stirring on the monitor.  Your eyes flutter open.  “What the f***…?”  you sleepily ask your partner who is shielding themselves under their pillow.  You stumble back into the darkness to once again.  After more shushing and rocking, this time taking longer than the last, they finally fall asleep.  Shuffling back to your bed you think, “okay, that’s done.

Nope.  And the cycle repeats itself.  Sometimes five or six times through the night.  Each time you become more and more frustrated, “again??  What is going ON?!”  At some stage you reach for your smartphone and Google ‘why is my [_] month old waking up through the night’, and those two words pop up:  sleep regression.  Finally it starts to make sense as you read about what to expect over the coming nights (basically, no sleep for anyone).

It’s so easy to become agitated on little-to-no sleep.  As parents we’ve all been there, aching for “please, just five more minutes,” as your baby sputters and cries.  But sometimes they seem so distressed that it’s impossible to ignore or leave them to cry it out.

When this level of havoc happens, and you’ve checked on them and assessed that they’re not feverish/in pain/needing a diaper change, and that it’s most likely a sleep regression, it’s time to take a deeeeeeep breath and focus.  Shake off the sleep (as best you can) for a few minutes and try and remain calm while settling your little one.  Because guaranteed, a calming energy coming from the parent will result in an easier time calming the baby, meaning back to bed faster for everyone.


2.  BE NICE.  Remember, everyone is tired.  Even if you’re the one who has dedicated themselves to getting up, your partner can still hear what’s going on – everything from the crying baby to you muttering to yourself as you roll out of bed again – and their sleep is most likely disturbed as well.  Snapping at each other does nothing to quell an escalating situation, one filled with screaming babies, stumbling around the dark and possible toe-stubbage.

It’s better to take a few seconds to communicate your frustration at getting up for the fourth time in two hours than to lash out – this goes for both partner and baby.  Sure, your child probably won’t understand what you’re saying, but it will make for some soothing conversation while you’re rocking them back to sleep again, “mama/daddy loves you very much but is very sleepy from coming to see you all these times.  Let’s all now try  and go back to sleep… and stay asleep, okay?”


3.  BE CONSISTENT.  Try and do the same thing(s) each night as you did the last.  Whatever you choose to do, consistency is key – since regressions don’t last, you don’t want to confuse your baby with new routines or introducing crutches that you don’t plan on keeping once the regression ends, such as going in and rocking them right away, every time; extra nursing sessions; bringing them back into your bed, etc.

But, if you’re already practicing any of these or any other sleep training/soothing techniques then by all means, don’t rock the boat and decide to stop all together to see if cold turkey will somehow work!  I would recommend just sticking with what you’re already doing and, if necessary, tweaking the routine to accommodate the sheer volume of bedroom visits a “classic” regression requires.

We practiced the Cry It Out method when sleep training Bee, with a few alterations that fit what we felt was right.  With the regressions though, Hubs and I wound up choosing to go in to her when it seemed she was really in dire straights.  We tried a couple of nights of crying it out, but it just got to be too much, and each time took longer and longer for her to calm herself down.  We did leave her for a few minutes before going in though, so she wouldn’t get used to us rushing in straight away.  Once the regression was over, we found this slight alteration led to a smooth transition back to getting her to soothe herself to sleep again.


4.  IGNORE THE CLOCK.  If you’re like me and one of those people who checks their phone every time you wake in the night, ditch the habit, friend.  Because when you’re going through a sleep regression, it doesn’t matter what time it is.  Time has no meaning.  It becomes about sleeping when you can and as often as you can, and I found knowing the hour only made it harder for me to settle, “f*ck, it’s 3:30am already?  I have to get up in three hours.  I’m not going to be able to fall as…. balls.  Is that her again?  *SOB!*”

Resist the urge.  Keep the phone face down or the clock away from you.

Just don’t forget to set the alarm!


5.  REMEMBER: IT’S NOT FOREVER.   When you’re at the end of your rope these nights, in the wee hours when you should be deep in slumber, just remember that this painful time, like childbirth and colic, is finite.  It will end.  Things will go back to normal.  Your child WILL start sleeping soundly again – maybe not through the night completely (unless they already did before, in which case, amazeballs!), but more soundly than during a regression.

Like I said before, it’s about staying in survival mode.  If you and your partner can stay calm and remain a team with the rules laid-out and followed, each regression should feel easier than the last.


NOTE:  Since writing this I’m happy/hesitant to report that it was not the start of a regression, but rather a bloody cold that lasted nearly two weeks.  So, yeah pretty much a regression, just with a snotty nose, fever and wall-reverberating cough.

And as before, we wait…….


*a wrench thrown with such brute force at your head that it reverberates through your soul and the souls of everyone in your household, shattering any normal existence and threatening to turn you and your family into cranky, drooling, muttering zombies until the damn regression is over and things settle and eventually go back to normal.  Eventually.  Later on.  MUCH later on.  Because really, how quickly can you catch up on sleep with a toddler, REALLY??


2 thoughts on “Two Words: Sleep Regression.

    suzy said:
    June 21, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Argh, thank you SO MUCH for this! I literally just wrote a post bemoaning by recently-turned-two year old who is being an absolute nightmare in the sleep department. This gives me hope! This gives me faith! It’s not forever? IT’S NOT FOREVER! THANK YOU! (Sorry for the shouting.)

      mamabethbarnes said:
      June 21, 2014 at 7:55 pm

      First off: thanks for the comment!

      Secondly: Oh my God, it’s NOT FOREVER! It’s that sneaky bastard, the 24-month sleep regression, I’m TELLING YOU (yelling while shaking you by the shoulders)!!

      I just remember those first few regressions so vividly, so I’m insanely hyper-aware that this next one is creeping up on us… and any time Bee sniffles in the night I wake up, “OHMYGODIT’SHAPPENING!” But every time, it turns out to be just a cold or another tooth or, as was the case last night, her waking up in a pool of her own vomit. *Sigh*.

      I’m going to head over and read your post now, and take down the warning signs so I’ll know when it’s *actually* happening!

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