October 23, 2022

How to Tell if It’s a Sleep Regression or Growth Spurt (or Both!)

When your baby was a few weeks old, their sleep used to be so much more predictable, with their bedtime and wake-up time being almost identical from day to day.

But now that they’re growing, you might notice that their sleep schedule has become increasingly erratic, with them waking up earlier and earlier each day as well as not sleeping as long during the night.

Is this because of a growth spurt?

or is it because they’re having sleep regression issues?

If you’ve been struggling with your baby’s sleep recently and wondering whether it’s just a normal developmental stage or an indication of some underlying issue, you’re not alone!

Lots of parents wonder how to tell the difference between sleep regression, growth spurt, and both. Here are some tips on how to tell them apart.

Limitless child and baby sleeping

What is Sleep Regression?

A baby sleep regression may happen when a baby moves into a new developmental stage and is not yet able to recognize their own emotions well enough.

For example, when your baby gets their first tooth, they might go through a phase where they want to nurse more frequently and are more difficult to put down for naps. Sleep regressions usually last about two weeks (maximum) as your baby adjusts to the changes in his life. The good news is that once your baby starts feeling better about their development (and you find the best way to soothe him), they will start sleeping better again!

Infancy is characterized by a somewhat prescribed pattern of sleep and wakefulness. Within the first year, sleep distribution changes across the 24-hour period. It is common for newborns to sleep for 16–17 hours in three-to-four hour increments throughout a 24-hour period. (Parmelee, Shulz, & Disbrow, 1961).

Sleep regression causes many babies to wake up more during the night and demand attention by crying and fussing. You may notice changes in feeding habits, too: baby might want to eat less at night, meaning that during growth spurts, your baby will need less food than usual.

What Causes Baby Sleep Regression?

As your baby develops and grows physically, they also grow mentally- specifically their ability to understand what they’re feeling, which often leads them to have greater needs for comfort.

Confident Boy waking up from sleep in the morning

Signs of Sleep Regression in Babies

Babies at this age are susceptible to night waking due to sleep associations with parents and because their ability to fall asleep has become more difficult.

Here are common signs of sleep regression in babies:

1. Your Baby is More Than 4 Months Old:

The first thing to look out for is whether or not your baby is four months old or older. 3-month-olds experience a sleep regression around the time they’re transitioning from three naps per day to two naps per day, but older babies might not have as much difficulty with transitions.

2. Bedtime Routine and Nursing:

Have you recently changed how you feed or bathe your baby? Maybe you’ve started feeding solids earlier or moved bedtime later. All these changes could disrupt your little one’s sleep schedule and cause sudden bouts of increased wakefulness.

Set a bedtime routine and stick to it. A baby at this age needs about 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night and naps during the day. Regulate your baby’s nap and sleep patterns now.

The routine may include reading a bedtime story, taking a bath, or singing a lullaby.

Hence, a consistent bedtime routine, including nursing, will help ensure he gets enough fluids to stay hydrated and that he’ll be able to easily put himself back to sleep without assistance from Mommy or Daddy.

close u of sleeping newborn baby sleeping on mother
close up of sleeping newborn baby sleeping on mother’s shoulder

3. Frequently waking up at night:

Another sign of sleep regression is when your baby wakes up frequently throughout the night. As mentioned before, newborns often need feedings during the night; however, once they hit four months old, it’s unlikely that hunger is keeping them awake. There are other reasons why babies would wake up at night:

  1. Baby isn’t feeling well
  2. Bay is growing
  3. Baby is learning and becoming more aware
  4. Baby wants more stimulation which in turn will make them more tired
  5. Baby is being put to bed too early

This period could last anywhere from two weeks to six weeks!

You can prevent your baby from getting hungry at night by feeding them during the day and just before bed.

During this age, babies are extremely curious and might move away from feedings before they are full. Feed your baby in an environment less likely to distract them.

Try not to feed your baby at night if they do start crying. Otherwise, every time your baby wakes up at night, they may expect you to feed them to stop them from crying.

4. Your baby can’t sleep through things as easily:

Just like adults, babies go through periods where their sleep patterns change. When your baby is getting less sleep during the day, he won’t be able to go as long without dozing off at night. Some say this is because there are seasons within our 24 hour cycle, sleep cycles, where different hormones take over our bodies and make us sleepy or alert.

Trying to master new skills may cause your baby to practice at night, which can keep them up. If you can give your child uninterrupted time during the day to practice rolling over or sitting up, you might be able to reduce bedtime skill practice.

5. No Hunger or Illness:

Hunger and illness should never keep your baby up all night, so if none of those factors seem to apply, then it may just be a sleep regression. Don’t worry, though, these are normal developmental milestones that typically resolve themselves by the time your baby reaches 6 months old.

What can you do to manage your baby’s sleep regression?

You can try a few more techniques.

One way to combat this stage is with sleep training techniques. Try putting your baby down drowsy but awake and gradually increasing the amount of time between feedings at night or pumping at the same time each night and letting him self-soothe.

Check your baby’s health before trying these tips. They may also have difficulty sleeping when they are ill. If your baby has a fever or is fussy, consult your doctor immediately.

Drowsy but Awake

Sleep-soothe your baby. Give them physical and verbal reassurance as they close their eyes.

Occasionally, if your coaching doesn’t help, you might pick them up and hold them for a while or rock them to sleep. Putting your baby to sleep takes time, so it’s okay if they aren’t ready yet.

Ensure darkness

To encourage better sleep, keep the room as dark as possible while baby naps. Darkness will help your baby fall back asleep if they wake up too early.

In the morning, make sure the room is filled with natural sunlight. The brain gets sleep-wake signals from light.

Set your own schedule

Make your own daily routine fit your baby’s sleep and nap schedule. A consistent schedule should also apply to mealtimes and play times. Plan your day around your baby’s schedule.

Low Key Quiet Approach

Watch your baby for a few minutes if they wake up at night. Respond if they cry. Try to keep your baby away from screens but listening to an enlightening bed time story can be very beneficial. A low-key, quiet approach reinforces the idea of sleep at night.

Act on sleep cues

A sleepy baby yawn rubs their eyes, fusses, and shows disinterest. Put your baby in a quiet space when you notice them. Overtired babies can resist sleep if you do not respond quickly to these signs.

Don’t give up

Your child is undergoing a lot of changes. As your little one adjusts, continue soothing practices.

Nurse or rock them to sleep. You can also soothe your baby by suckling on their pacifier and shushing them gently.

Embrace the moment

It’s possible for your baby to catch their Zzz’s anywhere during the day: on the swing, in the car, in the stroller, or in the bassinet. However, what works today may not work tomorrow, so be ready to try different things.

Give extra love and attention

Make sure you give your baby lots of cuddles, hugs, and kisses so they feel loved and comforted. Also, it will have a significant impact on their growth and development.

Get in touch with family and friends

In the same way that your baby needs sleep, so do you. Take an hour (or two or three!) to relax while your loved ones watch and play with your little one.

mother and daughter laughing on the bed

What to expect when sleep regressions occur?

The most common symptoms of 3 month growth spurt sleep regression include fussiness, hunger, spitting up, and weight gain. Most infants show these symptoms at around 3 months old. Stomach problems are common with sleep regressions, as well as restless sleep for your baby.

baby sleeping next to her mother

What are Baby Growth Spurts?

Growth spurts are periods of rapid growth, including height and weight. These generally occur between the ages of three months and 18 months old but can happen at any time. Your baby may sleep more, want food more often, and act fussy because their body is going through physical changes which are hard for them to process.

Some people believe that growth spurts can lead to sleep regression which affects sleep patterns by making your baby irritable and tired.

For example, 7 month sleep regression could be triggered by a baby’s sleep cycle changing from 14 hours of uninterrupted sleep to 10 hours over the course of just one week. The same change in the sleep cycle can also be attributed to a sudden growth spurt where babies experience shorter naps and need less frequent nighttime feedings.

When To Expect Growth Spurts?

You can expect a baby’s growth spurt to occur at 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months of age. There is no guarantee that your baby’s growth spurts will occur at these exact times. Every baby experiences growth spurts at a different time. A growth spurt usually lasts a few days. (usually one week)

The first two weeks of your baby’s life may be marked by growth spurts, followed by another three to six weeks later. It is likely that he will not have a growth spurt until he is approaching adolescence after he turns one year old.

Sleeping family

Is it Sleep Regression or a Growth Spurt?

It can be hard to tell the difference between sleep regression and growth spurt for babies as some things overlap. To find out which it might be, you’ll need to keep an eye on your baby’s sleep patterns. You should know their routine well by now!

Look for sudden changes that are only affecting their nighttime sleep; anything else might just be a normal change in patterns. If they have not been napping during the day, this could be a growth spurt – plus, they may start napping again soon. Is growth spurt the same as sleep regression? The answer is no, however it does share many similarities with 7 month sleep regression.

During the first year of life, infants will grow at different rates over time, with several phases of physical development. Just like adults will experience sleep interruptions from time to time due to external factors such as jet lag or shift work schedules, children also experience these disruptions due to natural changes within themselves.

Typically 7 months is when we see parents reporting that their child has entered a phase of rapid physical development often known as the 7 month sleep regression or growth spurt.

Frequent growth spurts will occur in first year of life, so rest assured that it’s totally normal for your baby to experience them. While sleep regressions are more related to mental and physical development, growth spurts are about height and weight gain.

Growth spurts generally happen around 3-4 months old, 6-8 months old, 9-12 months old and 18-24 months old. As your baby grows physically, he will experience changes in their sleeping habits too!

During growth spurts, baby will feel more hungry and want to eat more food than usual. They may also want to breastfeed or bottle feed more frequently than usual. Your baby will want to spend more time awake at night and less time sleeping during the day. You might notice that he sleeps in shorter increments or takes longer naps throughout the day, but his total daily sleep hours stay the same.

On the other hand, during sleep regressions, babies will sleep for shorter periods of time, refuse to nap, and wake up more frequently at night. Most likely baby won’t want to breastfeed or drink as much milk either during sleep regressions.

But there are no apparent causes of sleep regressions except for their physical and mental development. When you observe any new behaviors that seem out of character, think back to what the baby was doing earlier in the day and compare what they’re doing now: did they take a long afternoon nap? Are they breastfeeding more than usual?

Still worried about your child’s sleep?

It may be hard to tell the difference between toddler sleep regression and growth spurt when they happen simultaneously. The good news is that you don’t have to choose – sometimes it’s both! Regardless of what your child is going through, follow our tips (mentioned above) to help them get back on track with their sleep habits.

One of the most effective things you can do is set up an established bedtime routine for the baby and stick with it at least 3 days in a row before considering making any changes. Bedtime routines should last about 30 minutes before lights out, with dimming lights or putting on pajamas.

Conclusion

Monitor your baby’s sleep hours for a few weeks. If your child has been sleeping more than usual but still isn’t getting enough hours during the day, then it could be a baby sleep regressions. On the other hand, if the baby has been staying awake later than usual during the day and then needs more nighttime nursing sessions as well as more naps during the day, then it could be a growth spurt.

Even if you do all that you can, your baby might not be able to sleep through the night. Be consistent with your baby and get as much sleep as you can during this time.

Don’t panic about sleep regressions, they are temporary.  It’s likely that your baby is frustrated with their rapidly growing body and mind. You can see that they are more aware of their surroundings and engaged with them.

I hope this helps you get a better idea of what is going on with your little one and gives you some guidance on how to respond.

You can learn more about baby sleep cues by reading this article. {ADD Link to sleep cues articles}

 

Taryn Crimi

Taryn Crimi

Taryn is an international intuitive, focused on helping to empower you manifest your best life!

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