The End of Sleep Regression

A month ago I posted about how we were dealing with the evil four-month sleep regression. At the time we were right at the peak of it. The night after I posted that was Jack’s worst by far. It took over an hour to get him to close his eyes. He just kept screaming and making himself more overtired. Then once I finally thought he was asleep and set him down, he woke right back up. Another 45 minutes of frantic nursing and crying, he finally passed out and stayed asleep when I set him down. Then he woke-up every hour for the rest of the night. At 4 AM I went out the living room and cried out of exhaustion. And of course, once I got myself together and went back to the bedroom,  Jack woke right back up! At that point I put him in bed with us, but it didn’t help. He still woke up every hour until 8 AM when he decided to be up for good. I wanted to die. And naps weren’t any better that day. He screamed and nursed frantically. And when he did finally go to sleep, I couldn’t set him down and he only slept for 15 minutes in my arms. And he did this every 2 hours. I called out sick from work that day because I couldn’t function properly.

“It’s 10 PM? You want to go to sleep? That’s nice. I’m WIDE awake!”

After that night, it slowly got better. And I mean slowly. Like another month slowly. That’s right, it took a whole 56 days for Jack to sleep through the night again. What’s weird is everything went back to normal in reverse order, like he magically hit the rewind button. First, he started to go down easily for naps. Then his naps went back to the normal 30-90 minutes. Next, he started waking only every 2 hours at night. Then 3 hours. Suddenly he went to sleep easily at night. Lastly, he went back to his normal 5-6 hour stretch, followed by two more 3 hours stretches. It’s just like all the books said, he did go back to normal once he learned how to handle the adult sleep cycles. Last night I officially declared the regression over. I got 8 hours of sleep total and it felt amazing!

So what is my advice to any parent struggling through this hell? Do nothing. Seriously. Just keep your baby’s normal routine (being flexible as needed) and understand that neither you nor your baby can control this. If it worked before, it will work again once your child brain develops enough. I know you were probably wanting to hear that I did some magic sleep training program to get him back on track quickly. But I don’t believe in sleep training, I honestly think it’s mean. Why would you force your baby into something that they are not designed to do yet?  I think the time and energy you waste on forcing strict training on your child should be used to comfort and encourage them during such big mental leaps instead.

That being said, there are a few things you can do to help your child master the skill of sleeping better (note I said better, not prefect).

  • Have a bedtime routine. That way they begin to recognize a pattern of events that lead up to sleep. We do bath, lotion massage, pajamas while calmly talking/singing, nurse on the couch with all the lights out until he’s asleep. He’s learned this pattern now too, he starts giving me the milk face while I put his pajamas on.
  • Put them to sleep in a dark, calm room. Turn off the lights (we leave a night light on so I can see him when he fusses). Make sure there is no loud noises that could startle them (loud neighbors outside,  noisy dishwasher, & etc.). Keep the room at a decent cool temperature. Use a white noise machine if you like too (we use a box fan). Pretty much remove all outside stimulation that could keep your baby awake if they do happen to open there eyes for second.
  • Lay them down drowsy. This encourages them to put themselves to back to sleep when they wake-up at night. I know I said I nurse him to sleep, but the walk to the bedroom usually wakes him a little. He wiggles and opens his eyes a bit as I set him down. I usually step out out of his view and watch to make sure he goes to sleep. Ninety-nine percent of the time he does instantly.
  • Learn the difference between real and fake cries. When Jack was in the middle of his sleep regression, I notice sometimes when I picked him up when he cried, he would forcefully open his eyes and start screaming. Then he would throw a tantrum and it would take an hour to put him back to sleep. After a week of this, I research it and realized he was not actually awake when he cried. Babies—especially when in a sleep regression–cry in their sleep if they are dreaming or in between sleep cycles. I picked him up too soon. I would scream too if someone woke me up from a sound sleep! So one night when he cried I sat-up and watch him for a second. He kept his eyes closed and his hands stayed soft. He cried for maybe 2 minutes tops, but it wasn’t loud, more like a fuss. Then he went right back to sleep and slept 3 more hours. Later he cried again, but this time his eyes were open and he reached out for me. Then I picked him up, nursed him, and he went back to sleep in 5 minutes. If they are really crying, always comfort them. I do not believe in letting them cry-it-out. A baby under 6 months does not have the mental capacity to manipulate you, they only cry when they need something. And yes, attention and reassurance at this age are basic needs.
  • Don’t change your comforting methods. If you start something new during this time, they will get used to it and want you to keep doing it after the regression is over. For example, if you never sat on yoga ball and bounced them back to sleep before, don’t start doing it “just for now” to get them to sleep quicker. It will become a new crutch that you will always have to do at 3 AM.. Do you really want to bounce on a yoga ball at that ungodly hour for the next year? Didn’t think so. I kept on picking Jack up and nursing him back to sleep. If he was really fussy, I patted him bottom and shushed. If he really wasn’t having it, Michael would turn on his calming music and I would gently rock him. But these were the things I had done since birth. The only difference was I had to do them for longer. Now that he is back to normal, I went back to doing them normally too. No crazy sleep crutches at 3 AM.
  • Walk away if you reach the breaking point. It’s okay if you get too stressed out from lack of sleep, you don’t have to be prefect. One night I went to bed right when Jack did because I was exhausted, and of course he woke up as soon as my head hit the pillow. I tried for an hour to put him back to sleep but he was WIDE awake. I carried him to the living room crying and told Michael he had to take him. I went to sleep for three hours while Michael tried in vain to get him back down. I woke up at midnight and nursed him back to sleep. He still woke up every hour after that, but with a little sleep I gained some composure and prescriptive. Remember they are not torturing you, they are just learning a new skill and need your help mastering it.
Woke-up with his cute face after 9 hours of sleep.
It does get better, just be patience.

Just be patience. Seriously, this will not last forever. One day your baby will be leaving for college and all you will have are the memories of rocking them back to sleep at 3 AM.  Don’t over stress and make those long nights more painful than they need to be. Keep loving your baby and help them through this phase.

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