You’ve reached 9 months and sleep issues ensue. What’s going on and what should you do?
SLEEP REGRESSION! This is a two-word phrase that I find is greatly over used. Yes, a baby’s sleep can take a step backwards due to developmental milestones and cognitive leaps – sadly that is reality. But somehow “sleep regressions” have become a bandwagon that many parents jump on when sleep is going poorly. There are several common times that your child’s physical and mental development can cause a “regression” to take place, but there are also often real sleep issues at hand that get neglected as it is easy to just lump it all together and hope it will pass. Right now I want to tackle the “9 Month Sleep Regression” as this age is currently near and dear to my heart. So you’ve made it to 9 months and sleep has taken a turn for the worse…or was it really ever that good to begin with? What’s going on? Is this the fabled “sleep regression”? Does your child have an actual sleep issue? And what do you do now?
• Developmental Milestones AKA – the cause of the Big Bad Sleep Regression
When you hear people speak of a regression, it is really just a simple way of saying that a baby’s sleep has taken a step back due to whatever physical or cognitive feat they are currently working on. I am a huge believer in the developmental leaps listed in the The Wonder Weeks. They have been spot-on for both of my two girls. The leap that takes place at around 8-9 months (between 36-40 weeks) is called the “World of Categories”. In short, it is when your baby learns to start to group and classify things. For example, a dog and a cow are both animals but a dog is not a cow. As you can imagine, this is a lot for their little brains to process. It is common during these times that you put your child down for their nap and instead of going right to sleep as they used to, they lay there rolling around or babbling before finally going to sleep. Babies do not have a lot of down time or alone time to process things – so it is no wonder that they use their sleep times to think about whatever it is they have going on in their heads. To add a double whammy to this 9-month period – this is also when many babies begin to crawl, sit up, pull-up and maybe even cruise. Again, when do they love to practice these new skills? In their cribs! It is really no wonder as it is a safe and familiar environment. Last month, my 9 month old had a full-out 15-20 minute gymnastics session each time I put her in her crib. And all of this thinking and working out, will of course start to take a toll on their sleep. What can you do? First and most importantly – STAY CONSISTENT. If you have always put your baby down awake and left the room, keep doing that! Do NOT go in and try to coax them to sleep, or lay them down, or pat their head. I know it can be stressful to have your eyes glued to the monitor just waiting for the moment your baby will finally fall asleep, but stay the course with your normal routine and allow them to work it out on their own. Next, if you see it is taking your child 30 minutes to fall asleep and then they are taking a poor nap – this is because their nap starting 30 minutes late has caused them to go to sleep overtired. To avoid this from happening, try to get your baby down for their naptime or bedtime 30 minutes earlier than usual to build in time for their physical or mental practice. And then just wait it out. If you stay consistent and make sure you are helping them avoid becoming overtired, it will pass in a matter of a week or two.
• Losing A Nap
This is the big one. I have so many clients that come to me crying “sleep regression, sleep regression” as their great sleeper suddenly started waking at night or waking super early in the morning. However, they just didn’t handle their child’s nap transition properly. Many little ones drop their third nap around 8-9 months. At the time, it seems like no big deal. They didn’t want the nap anymore, so what else could you or should you do? Look at it on paper: You child was taking a third nap from 3-4pm and then going to bed at 7pm and everything worked out perfect. Now lets say they dropped that third nap and now they are waking up from their second nap at 2pm and bedtime is still 7pm. Do you see the issue here? Before the third nap disappeared, your child was going to bed well rested just 3 hours after waking from a nap and now they are expected to go 5 hours before bed? 5 hours is just a long time for an 8-9 month old to go before bedtime and staying awake that long has caused them to become overtired and accumulate sleep debt. Believe it or not, the fix is very easy: move bedtime up! One of the keys to helping your child achieve good sleep, is getting them to bed before they become overtired. So if all of other components of healthy sleep are in place, just moving bedtime up to ensure your baby goes to bed well rested will bring back your good sleeper!
I had to add this one in as so many people LOVE to blame teething for sleep issues. Can teething trouble your babe, sure? But if your baby is happy all day long – they are not suddenly going to be awake all night screaming in teething pain.
• They just weren’t That Good of a sleeper to begin with?
I have found that 9 months is a common age for parents to finally break. They have put up with being up all night with their baby until this point, and now they just need their sleep. These parents also like to try to blame some sort of sleep regression, but if your baby never had the components of healthy sleep under their belt than no regression has taken place. So if you have hit 9 months of age and your baby is still lacking a solid routine and good sleeping skills, it is time to fix that problem and get a healthy sleep routine in place.
The Tip Take-Away:
There are developmental leaps and milestones in play that can cause your child some sleep hiccups at around 9 months of age. If your child has a healthy sleep regimen in place, simply stay the course with your routine, get your baby down for sleep times a bit early and these issues will resolve themselves on their own. But before you blame your baby’s poor sleep on a “regression”, make sure you rule out that there is not another issue at play – like a nap transition gone wrong or perhaps it’s time to come to terms with the fact that your baby has still not mastered the art of sleep and it is time to do some teaching.