Sleep. Is there any topic discussed more often by the parents of newborns?
Disturbed sleep goes with the territory for parents, with night-time feeds or infants simply waking at odd times. But as the baby grows, within a few months they tend to sleep for longer and life becomes more manageable.1
However, around four months, many parents awake to a rude shock – sleep regression1 – just as things were getting better.
Why four months? Well, around three months babies start to develop their circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock that tells us when we should be awake and when we should be sleeping).2,3 It’s all part of their transition to becoming ‘adults’. Before the four-month milestone, newborns spend more time in a deep sleep, but as they develop, they start to go through sleep cycles like grown-ups.2
But that transition is not always smooth. The brain is rapidly developing and building important connections between it and the nervous system, which may cause these instabilities in sleep patterns.1
The result is sleep regression, so-called because the infant regresses to its younger self in terms of sleep.
Of course, every baby is different, so the timing and duration of sleep regression also varies – anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. And unfortunately, regressions can occur at other times, when there are major developmental changes happening in the child’s life.4
What are the symptoms of sleep regression?
According to the Sleep Foundation (US), the following symptoms of sleep regression include:1
- Difficulty falling asleep
- More frequent night-time awakenings
- Increased crying or fussiness upon awakening
- Notably reduced total sleep time
You might find they also skip naps or take shorter ones.4
How to manage sleep regressions
Like many things to do with babies, there are divergent opinions on what works best to restore ‘normal’ sleep patterns. It’s a matter of figuring out what works best for you, which might be based on what worked before the regression. For example, some people like to nurse the baby to sleep, while others might prefer controlled crying.5
Some of the tips for coping with sleep regression in babies will sound familiar to those adults who have asked for help with their own sleeping problems. So, things like preparing a comfortable and quiet sleeping environment and avoiding stimulation from screens is equally important whatever the age.5
Also worth considering are the following:5
- A consistent bedtime routine from both a timing and ‘bonding’ point of view. A study in the Journal of Family Psychology showed that mothers who were ‘emotionally available’ to their babies at bedtime found that they slept better.
- Put the baby to sleep in a cool, dark and quiet room
- Consider using a pacifier/dummy
- Also consider a white noise machine. They’re affordable and the soothing sounds can help babies fall and remain asleep. One study showed that 80% of babies fell asleep in five minutes compared with only 25% who fell asleep spontaneously without the machines6
The Welcare Sleep-Tight Sleep Sound machine not only plays white noise, but also allows you to record and play the mother’s heartbeat, which is a soothing familiar sound to any newborn baby.