(Photo by Michal Bar Haim on Unsplash)
For new parents, their baby’s sleeping routine is a top priority. While parents struggle on with night after night of broken sleep, they continue to comfort their newborns and look for ways to improve their sleep. That’s why it can be so frustrating when you make progress (and finally get some much needed sleep yourself) to end up feeling like you’re back at square one.
Sleep regression is incredibly common in newborns, babies and young children. It simply describes any change in your child’s sleep pattern for the worse. They might start resisting bedtime, have difficulty falling asleep, keep waking up during the night or have changes in their daytime naps.
What can be particularly difficult for parents is that sleep regression can happen at any time – and typically without warning. It’s important not to be hard on yourself, as you’ve made progress towards peaceful sleep before. You can do it again. Just remember that it’s completely normal for your baby to go through different phases in terms of how well (or badly) they sleep.
According to one guide, you can prepare yourself somewhat as sleep regression can occur after or during:
- Key milestone developments
- Growth spurts
- Illness or other pain
- Disruptions in routine
Tips for tackling sleep regression
Whether you’ve experienced your baby suffering sleep regression or not, most parents are interested in any tips to help improve the quantity or quality of their baby’s sleep.
- Have a loose routine
While a routine for sleeping is good, you need to be flexible too. Try to be as consistent as possible when it comes to nap times and bedtimes. You might find a routine helps at night. For example, a bath, followed by a story and time for a bottle or a feed. This should create a restful atmosphere ideal for sleep.
But also learn to recognise your own baby’s signs of sleepiness and act on them. Even if it’s not their usual time for sleep, it’s pointless trying to keep babies up. So act quickly and get them somewhere they can sleep and rest. If babies become overtired, they can end up releasing wakefulness hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These make it harder for anyone, including babies, to fall – and stay – asleep.
It’s actually one of the reasons you want to make sure your baby gets enough rest during the day, as overtired babies are more likely to have problems sleeping at night.
- Think about how you provide comfort during the night
Of course you should provide comfort to your baby if they wake during the night. But do give them a few minutes to see if they self-soothe and settle. And when you interact with them, be calm and gentle. Try to avoid talking too much as it can actually wake up your baby further as they are stimulated by their parents’ voices.
Rocking, cuddling or feeding your baby can encourage them to wake for attention. So always start by checking if everything is okay, patting and soothing them while they are in their crib and then leaving. If they keep crying, then you should provide further comfort. Skin-to-skin contact can be particularly reassuring for babies, according to unicef.
- Have a nap yourself
Parents can struggle with broken sleep for years, building up a ‘sleep debt’. In fact, it’s reported that new parents face up to six years of sleep deprivation. Although we focus a lot on how well the new baby is sleeping, the knock-on effect on the adults is one of the biggest struggles of parenthood. A lack of sleep can make you moody, irritable and unfocused.
As a new parent, you do need to learn to also prioritise looking after yourself. If it’s possible to fit a nap into the day for yourself, don’t feel guilty for doing so. If you are parenting with a partner, you could also consider taking turns to get up during the night so that at least one of you gets a good night’s rest.
Guest post by Alexandra Bardot.