What actually is a 'sleep regression' anyway? We recently have started a series of posts about key milestones and the impact on sleep. However, we would like to take one step back and look at what a ‘sleep regression’ actually is. In a nutshell, sleep goes on the back burner for your baby or child. The more we can understand what's going on, the better placed we are to support our little loves.
An infant’s brain is highly under-developed at birth. It begins to ‘wire’ itself under the influences of social interaction, experiences, and to some extent, with maturity. Unconnected brain cells begin to form connections, which help a baby to link events, people, meanings and learning experiences. This is why a baby initially might cry on the change table during a nappy change, but after several weeks of you reassuring them, and doing the same things in the same order, they begin to calm down. They panic less, and tolerate the task, partly because they know what is coming next.
This might sound trivial, but every single little experience, interaction and learning event will happen due to brain activity. Amazing really, when you think about it. But it means that during a phase of increased learning, if you overload that little person with too many things to think about, they can get overwhelmed.
We often hear from parents about sleep during a phase of acute developmental change. It’s almost as if bub is so busy learning about how to roll over, or how to grab an object, crawl, stand or whatever it is, that sleep goes on the ‘back burner’.
We know it can feel very frustrating and demoralising to have your baby suddenly appear to ‘regress’ in their sleep but we assure you, they have not lost skills. Sleep is simply less of a priority than the other things your baby is learning about or processing at the time.
In fact, we don’t really like the term regression but it’s a reference many parents relate to. We prefer the reference ‘PROGRESSION’ as it’s more of an indication of what’s going on in their wonderful brains.
What you likely usually notice is that your baby’s sleep suddenly changes. You might notice any of the following:
• Refusal to nap • Waking soon after falling asleep • Resistance to fall asleep • More night waking • Waking up early in the morning • Waking up seeming upset • Being more cranky or clingy in the day
Often, it’s a combination of many of these things. Nodding at this point?
During any phase of development, babies and children will often feel a little unsettled and need more support or help at sleep times. In fact all of us are like this. Think about a time when you have been studying hard, or learning a new skill. It can be very tiring, but also quite overwhelming and can impact your sleep too.
So the upshot is, your baby who previously didn't struggle with naps and bedtime may need additional help to settle down and go to sleep. The key is how you assist your little ones as they go through these ‘progressions’ without becoming so much a part of the journey that they then are reliant on you or other external props to fall into their wonderful sleep. As we continue to cover various key milestones we will continue to focus on this too.