Sleep Regression at 4 Months and 18 Months of Age3

Oh no we are no longer sleeping through the night!!! One of parent’s BIGGEST nightmares…Join me as we discuss with Parenting Practice Co and Sleep Specialists (Lindsey and Paige) what practical solutions we can do to get us all back to bed.

Episode Transcript:

Hi, this is Bev Garrison. Welcome back to FIRST BREATHS to FIRST STEPS and my podcast today on four month sleep regression. Probably some dreaded words for most parents. I have today with me, Lindsay Burchfield and Paige Le Gault from parenting practice co and these sleeping specialists are going to help us through. This possibility of sleep regression and what we do about it. Welcome gals. Thank you for joining. Thank you, Bev we’re happy to be here. Thanks for having us. I’m going to start out with a quick definition of what regression is and give some developmental points as to why we think this is happening. And then most importantly, we’re going to let you two have at it to tell us… how do we fix it? How do we make it better?

When you think of just the word regression. It’s going backwards. A sleep regression is when your baby that may have been sleeping pretty well or even sleeping through the night is no longer having that at night. Classically it’s seen at the four month timeframe. That we’ll see a stepping backwards. I don’t know how you guys feel about this, that the brain and the body are developing so quickly that these processes are coinciding together and trying to integrate, and that causes some sleep instability. Moving away from that newborn sleep pattern may not be going as smoothly. Sometimes we’ll see that regression happen. I think the question on most parents in mind is. How long is it going to last? Are we going to get through this? And I know with the two of you… we are! Let’s answer that first. How long do you typically see a sleep regression last and why?

Well, I would say it really does vary per baby. There are babies where it may just be a non-instant blip on the radar. One night of a little extra fussing, or a wake up. Where for other children, especially those that don’t have good, solid, independent sleep skills. It could last for an extended amount of time, maybe even for months and months a month. It really has to do with your child’s ability to fall asleep independently on their own. That’s why this particular time is a really wonderful time to teach the skill of sleep to your child if they don’t already have that established coming out of the time that fourth trimester.

Yeah, you’re exactly right with what you talked about in terms of why the regression happens. Oftentimes you’ll hear a Paige and I say it’s a progression, not a regression when it comes to the way that our child’s minds work when it comes to sleep. When a newborn is born, essentially. They are following a couple of sleep levels of sleep. They only go through REM and non REM sleep when they get to that four month sleep regression or progression. Now, all of a sudden there is four levels of sleep that they’re going through. And two of those new levels added are two levels of lite they’re kind of lite sleep. What might’ve been working to get your child to fall asleep or stay asleep in the newborn phase, oftentimes in that, as you go through that four month regression just doesn’t stand anymore, simply because of those new light levels of sleep

You bring up a good point about levels of sleep. Those lighter levels of sleep, those little buggers can be pretty active. And parents are going in so quickly to rescue because they feel like, “oh, they’re waking up.” And it’s like, Nope, they’re still sleeping. Just maybe a little lighter sleep and they may have more even physical movement. More sounds. Things like that, but they are still sleeping.

Yes. Stage one is very light sleep. They could even have their eyes open and be just staring off into space and cooing, grunting, groaning, snoring, all those good things. Typically when we see families rush into them at that stage, it causes a startle and of cortisol dump, and then they are pissed and awake, They’re ready to rock. It’s almost like not waking them up very nice. Yeah. Right. You’re kind of being a little bit violent in getting this child up.

We always tell our families, it takes six to eight minutes for a baby to get into stage one of sleep. Once we lay them down and they get settled and we do the whole thing. Waiting for them to fall asleep. Then it takes a couple more minutes to get into stage two. So that’s when they are still their eyes are closed. We’re not seeing lots of movement going on. Their breath, deepens and slows down. Same with their heart rate slows down and you could wake them just by shifting in your seat. Sneezing. They’re very aware of their surroundings, but they are asleep.

Stage three, about 10 to 15 minutes later is deep sleep. That’s where you could stand on that rocker, sing happy birthday ’til the cows come home and they’re not waking up. But it does take 10 to 15 minutes to get there. So if you’re running out of the nursery and you startle them, they’re going to get that big cortisol dump and be very upset and you’re going to have to start all over.

Yeah. I think it’s really important to understand that because I think. It kind of helps you to develop a successful routine. Putting the baby down. Yeah. Our other rule that we ask parents when they’re doing our program with us is once you notice, baby is asleep. So in stage two, those eyes are. You watch their breathing change. I want you to wait 10 minutes. Set an actual timer, or have your partner in the living room with the monitor watching. If you can’t quite tell, and they’ll set the timer for you and say, you can come out because a minute in a dark nursery at the end of the day can feel like an hour.

Oh, for sure. For sure. Longest 10 minutes of your life.

Yeah. What are you. Suggestions on how to survive this it’s so common. I hear it all the time. And in fact, in my checkout sheets for my four month well visits, I’m like, “Hey,” this may be happening and that’s normal, but let’s get back to the basics. Let’s not invent a new routine. Get back to as your favorite words, consistency. So that we have a plan. To get us back in the other direction.

This is a two-part answer because we do work with babies under four months. And usually those babies have a healthy sleep foundation and they just breeze right on through this regression. I know personally for Lindsay and I, our kiddos rocked it. Maddie had a 20 minute wake up once and put herself back to sleep and it was Ooh, we were happy. Same for Lindsey’s kiddos, not a huge issue. Other kiddos who don’t have those healthy habits set yet, it will last a while.

You need your bedtime routine locked and loaded, and you need to start doing that as soon as possible. Pay attention to those awake windows and figure out, okay. They should be doing three to four naps a day, three to three and a half hours total, and start practicing that. Then give them a minute before you rush in there, pay attention to that cry. If they’re just fussing, grunting, groaning, cooing, let them work it out. They’re probably asleep. Watch them on the monitor when they get to actively crying. So their eyes are open. They’re moving around, could be a holler or yell. That’s your cue to go in and give them a little bit of support. And every night you’re doing that, it should be the same. You’re not going to take them out into your room one night. You’re not going to feed and then not the next so consistency. That’s the key.

I do like to say less as best, at nighttime, less as best. You can walk in halfway, use some words and then come out. If you don’t necessarily have to pick up from the crib and start rocking and then start feeding. You’re just creating a whole new routine at night. To those foundations that the two of you have so frequently talked about. Get back to that get back to the basics and you should be able to push through for sure. It does bring up a good point. Both of your testimony to you had some really good, obviously sleep foundational skills with your kids very young. And so they’ve had that routine, that consistency from the get-go when you don’t have that, now’s the time don’t wait any longer. Let’s get that foundation going and start working on that.

Yep. Absolutely. Yeah, I would totally agree. I mean, if at this point in time you’ve reached the four month sleep regression, it’s hitting you very hard. I would try to evaluate the type of sleep skills that your child has or does not have. If you’re finding that your child is relying on some external way of falling asleep, whether that be by rocking or nursing or feeding. Some way that they are falling asleep without doing it on their own. This is a good time to really sit back and think about helping them learn that skill of independent sleep. Through some type of sleep training method. There are many different methods out there. Paige and I work a very parent present approach. As we teach the skill of sleep, but there are a lot of different methods out there. And I think the one thing that. Do your research find the method that works and feels comfortable with for you? Of course there’s people like us out there that can help you through it. But once you do pick that method, like Paige was saying, consistency is key here. That’s what’s going to make sure you’re successful in the end. But, that’s one of the other things I would say, as you’re going through, this is evaluate where your child is and their where they are with their skill of sleep. And if they need a little bit of help and learning it, this is a great time to stop.

And I think when we talk about back to basics, let’s, let’s bring up some concepts, right? We talk about 12 hours during the day 12 hours at night. That’s an important concept to understand. During the day things are lively. You’re having good activity during the day. Maybe getting this baby out into the sunshine, making sure, we’ve got movement activity. And at night you really turn it down. Keeping things a little bit more quiet. Feeding by nightlight, not a lot of singing, cooing, talking. Keeping things very, very quiet. Dimmer, light. Less sound. Less stimulus.

I tell parents when they’re overall starting sleep training and really doing the work. Not as a newborn. Setting good foundational skills in that newborn time. But when we’re really trying to train. Picking a time that works well. You don’t want to be traveling and on vacation and try and start this process. You probably don’t want to have people visiting. Or if this child is sick. Those are probably not the most opportune times. We want to make sure that you’re, you’re setting yourself up for success. Yes, we, we definitely agree with that. We always make sure that the families who are working with us have. Two to three weeks of dedicated time, every night babies in crib, on schedule. And there’s no travel or visitors lurking around the corner if you have another child at home and you’ve got like a major surgery coming up for that child, this may not be the time. You’ve gotta be all in. For you as the parent need to be able to commit to that.

As well, even basic. Basic, basic, going back to during the day- feeding, keeping awake and then sleep all of those good skills during the day will translate to success. Absolutely keeping baby awake during that feed will also become easier if we’re feeding after nap instead of before. And we see very, very fast turnarounds with this schedule change with our clients. These babies are adaptable and they’ve want it. And so it’s more. Teaching the parents, the new method or protocol and the babies are just like, “yay! This is what I was waiting for!”

Exactly. I’m always surprised when people are like, oh my gosh, that actually works. That consistency thing. My baby can do it. I’m like your baby can do it. Yeah. I always here, we have very, very capable children. We just have to give them the opportunity to show us. So sometimes that means giving them some space and some time and observing them. Without just stepping right in. Sometimes we stop that process, that learning process for them. You’ve got to remember, remember that, give them a little space sometimes.

Yeah. Along with that consistency, can you guys just speak to a little bit about the importance of that bedtime routine. And how consistency there is helpful?

Yeah, starting your bedtime routine” at the same time and doing the same steps will become sleep cues for baby. They will know, oh, we’re in the bath and I’m going to do my jammies and my book and now I get to lay down. It’ll help their bodies to know what’s coming next. And it’ll. Keep them from hopefully losing it during witching hour. It’ll keep you motivated as well. Create a quick 20 to 30 minute routine that you can maintain for years because he will be doing this for years. And enjoy it with them. This is the wind down. This is the snuggle, the one-on-one time. That we are giving to them before they go to bed. So that at night they’ll sleep through and everybody’s buckets are filled up. Because they got to enjoy that one-on-one through the bedtime routine. Going back to not going into rescue quickly.

Can you give some tips and tricks as to what you want that panicked parent to do in that moment? You’ve you’re looking at the context. The baby is fed. Diaper is dry. We are not sick. I’ve done my routine, but now I’m up. What do you recommend?

My first suggestion would be to set a timer. While you sit and watch the monitor, pick a time that feels comfortable for you and your partner, and then wait it out. We never suggest going past 10 minutes. I think a healthy number is around eight to start. That might feel like a lot but base it on the level of crime. If your baby is hysterical, burning the house down. Please go into them, but if they’re fussing or making just little noises, let them ride. Wait the whole eight minutes. If they’ve calmed down, even if they’re awake, but they’re not making those noises anymore, you don’t need to go in. They’ve soothed themselves and they will be back asleep soon. If the cry is escalated at the end of the timer, or even say the same, please go in and offer support. The same as you would each time. Go halfway, say a phrase, offer some shushing. Leave again. Set the timer when they start crying and rinse and repeat until they fall asleep.

I would echo what Paige says I always tell parents that eight minutes, if your baby is fussing, can feel like the longest eight minutes of your life. Setting that timer will help you from going in at like two or three minutes, when you think your head, you made it the full eight. The timer and especially in the middle of the night is super key. I think for my clients, I always recommend that. Then I also do recommend that when you do go in for offering some kind of comfort, that you do it in the same type of fashion each and every time. So a child is really knowing what they’re getting from you.

And I also always suggest, to really start with voice. If possible, using voice, graduating, to maybe gentle touch. And then pick up if you absolutely have to. But I often find that just voice enough is a reassuring thing for baby letting them know you’re there. They’re okay. And then giving them that time to kind of work through it and self-regulate

. And I think you guys both in doing that and setting out some really “clear cut”- what do I do guidelines? I think that really helps parents to cope. Because when you’re in the moment and you’re panicked and you’re frantic and you just don’t have a plan, it’s very chaotic. But if you’re like, Nope, Paige said set the timer for eight minutes. Yes. It will be the longest eight minutes ever but it gives you something to. And you can hold each other accountable. If you agree, before baby goes down, we are waiting, eight. And somebody starts to waiver. Then you can have your partners support to reign ya in.

And that, and that’s a good thing! You’re much more successful when both of you were on the same page and can offer that support because who knows one day, mom may not have that capacity. But your partner does, Dad does. That can be so helpful to continue with that consistency that we’re talking about.

Absolutely. I think another important thing for parents to help them as far as with coping is really setting that environment. And creating a nice, good, safe sleep environment. Dark, quiet room, being calm. I think keeping the nighttime really low key is the way to go. It’s not the time to be wrestling and singing and jostling about. You really want to take that energy down. That also helps to bring your energy down as a parent.

Yeah. The other tip that we give to our families is if you feel a lot of anxiety or frustration or even anger before you’re going into the nursery. I need you to switch with your partner. You are not going to be helpful in this situation, even if that’s your intention. But you’re bringing too much in. And it will stir baby up. They will absorb all of it and it will be a negative.

You can also. Sometimes see, and I know I’ve asked you guys about, you can also see a sleep regression at 18 months as well. And what do you think the difference is between a four month regression and an 18 month regression?

I would say that there are different quote unquote regressions. You may see with your child’s sleep as they mature and they grow. There is what we consider one true sleep regression, which is that four month sleep regression in which actually sleep is changing in terms of just the levels of sleep. But at other times throughout your child’s life, you may see little blips with sleep and most of the time it has to do with reaching a milestone. Maybe your child is suddenly learning to roll. Sit or stand. And that might impact sleep a little bit. You might see a blip.

When it comes to 18 months, we tend to see a more impactful blip on the sleep radar or a sleep regression when they start to become more verbal. They’re learning all of these words. They have this verbal explosion. Your child goes from saying a couple to all of a sudden talking to you. If you’ve gone through that personally, you understand that it’s quite a switch. And so you can only imagine what that’s like for the child going through that. Oftentimes we will see that come through in a regression with sleep. Most of the time we see it in these little kids sitting in their crib, talking. They’re just exploring, using their mouth, saying words. And to be honest, it’s kind of cute to watch on the monitor. But that’s really what we see at 18 months is a language explosion and they want to try out their new skills and why not do it in the middle of the night?

Yeah, it’s quiet. Yeah. Why not? I’m not busy doing something else. They thought of a good word they really needed to share. I also feel like, at 18 months, That kid developmentally is absolutely changing. Their emotions kind of deepen their sometimes increase separation, anxiety. They really like their parents. Moving away from their parents at nighttime, you know, developmentally that’s where they’re at. Sometimes just having parents realize that I think helps with the situation doesn’t necessarily. Change the situation, but sometimes knowing the why behind it can help them move through.

And if your baby is a good sleeper and you sleep, train them before the 18 month regression. They should breeze on through it. As long as you’re consistent. You’re not changing anything. We’re not doing a schedule change. You’re not going in and getting them up and bringing them into bed. You’re just going to hear them potentially going to hear them sing a song or rattle off the Limerick to you and then go back to sleep.

I do like to bring up, some parents are really uncomfortable during that time of any sort of quote unquote progression slash especially in sleep. But I think things to look at if medically something’s going on, you might see poor growth, maybe. Hitting weight gain. We’re not progressing in height, things like that. You’re seeing maybe a change in the number of feedings. You’re not getting a lot of full feedings throughout the day, or maybe you’re even seeing changes with wet diapers, soiled diapers. If you’re not getting enough, that speaks to feeding and there might be something physiologic. Obviously, if kids are sick, they’re not feeling well. We’ve got an ear infection. You might have some nighttime awakenings. Cause child is uncomfortable. I do always like to put out there if your mom or dad meter or your baby meter is going off, like something doesn’t seem right. Don’t hesitate to go get that medical evaluation and make sure before. Moving through and progressing through that challenge because, sometimes there are other things going on. It’s not a lot, but it can happen.

Yeah, absolutely. We definitely always feel there are some red flags when we’re talking to families and it’s best to refer to their pediatrician and let them do what they need to do to get everybody back on track. The other thing that we sometimes see, they are getting more mobility and having those big, gross motor things. They’re maybe climbing out of that crab or attempting it. That can be horrifying to see your 18 month old flip themselves right on out of that crib. From a safety standpoint, Lindsay, and I don’t approve tents going over the crib or anything like that. The only thing we could suggest to keep them safe is- one, teach them how to climb and use that skill so they can get out safely. We don’t want them landing on their heads if they are going to come out and to lower your mattress down, as far as it will go. Or even on the floor, as long as there’s not a gap for their heads to fit in between the bottom of the crib and the mattress. Or if one side of the crib is higher, flip it around.

Shorter side against the wall. Taller side out so they can’t climb right over or a sleep sack can also help with that. But yeah, that’s what we see at 18 months with that regression for progression. Developmentally, they are movers and groovers. They’re not sitting in the same space that you’d laid them down at that they’re moving. That definitely can. Easily play a role. But you’re right. I think once we’re climbing out, you need to look at some safety things and make sure that you’re addressing that . Take the mattress down to the lowest level that you can in the crib, put that lower side, make it less accessible. If it’s continual, what are you. There are cases where that little monkey will not be deterred. And then it is time they need to go to a twin or a full-size bed, either on the floor or on a low frame. And then give us a call. And we’ll help you through it. Cause it’s gonna be an adventure. Yes.

I do always like to throw in there that once you are transitioning to that, quote on quote that big boy, big girl bed that you really want to hone in on your safety childproofing skills in that room. You’re probably taking some things out. You may be bolting some things to the wall. You really want to be on your, a game with that, that they’re not. Able to have access to a bathroom or stairs that they may fall down or, you know, whatever the case may be. You really want to get on top of that. Because if your baby will stay in the crib, let’s face it you probably could have some things that maybe aren’t recommended, but are probably okay because they can get out. Once they can get out, all bets are off and you really need to safety proof that environment.

Absolutely Lindsey and I have a pretty comprehensive list of things that we ask parents to go over in our prep work, just because it is, a huge liability for everybody. And we baby safety to be first. And even the youngest client I’ve ever had moved from a crib to a toddler bed was a 16 month old. Their cognitive ability is not that of a three-year-old. You really need to make sure that the safety is there so no accidents can happen. Even if you are asleep.

For sure. Those tips for parents, whether or not we’re at a four month progression, right Lindsay, or an 18 month progression of getting up, maybe a little prematurely. Repeat. Be consistent, do the same things. .Make sure you have your bedtime routine, as Paige says, locked and loaded, ready to go. That really nice, safe sleep environment, soothing, quiet, dim, light, but safe. Then reassuring that, if we’re having these wake times that you’re not creating a new plan.

Exactly. Thanks for joining me today. If you are interested in working with me, helping to coach you and your new family from FIRST BREATHS to FIRST STEPS, you can reach me at If you’re interested in any of the information that Lindsey, Paige and I discussed today on this podcast, you can click on the link below for a transcript of this episode. Until next time be well