You've reached 9 months and sleep issues ensue. What’s going on? Is this the rumored “sleep regression”? Does your child have an actual sleep issue? What do you do now?
”Sleep regression” - this is a two-word phrase that is generally over used. Yes, a baby’s sleep can take a slight step backwards due to developmental milestones and cognitive leaps (that is, for the most part, inevitable), 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.
Are developmental milestones the cause of the 9-month 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 developmental leaps as listed in The Wonder Weeks.
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. 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. Where do they love to practice these new skills? In their cribs! It is really no wonder as it is a safe and familiar environment.
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. 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.
Is dropping the third nap the cause of the 9-month sleep regression?
Many little one’s drop their third nap around 8-9 months. The transition to a 2-nap schedule seems easy enough. They stopped falling asleep for their nap, no big deal! However, mishandling the transition to two naps can lead to overnight and early morning wakings.
If child was taking a third nap from 3-4pm and going to bed at 7pm, everything worked out perfect. Now that they dropped that third nap, 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 too long for an 8-9 month old to be awake! Being awake that long has caused them to become overtired and accumulate a store of the sleep fighting hormones that our bodies produce when we are overtired. These hormones are the reason healthy sleepers start waking overnight night and babies wake up early in the morning.
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. 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!
Is teething the cause of the 9-month sleep regression?
Teething gets a lot of blame for bad sleep habits. Is teething uncomfortable for your baby? Sure, but if your baby is happy all day long, they will not suddenly find the need to scream all night in teething pain. If we let teething interfere with our child’s sleep habits then no one will be sleeping until at least the age of three!
Is my baby a “bad sleeper”? Is that the cause of the 9-month sleep regression?
9 months is a common age for parents to finally break. They have been up all night with their baby until this point, but now they just need their sleep. It is easy to blame a sleep regression, but if your baby never had the components of healthy sleep in the first place, than no regression has taken place.
The Tip Take-Away
There are developmental leaps and milestones in play that can cause 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 and get your baby down for sleep times a bit early. With that, these issues will resolve themselves on their own.
However, before you blame your baby’s poor sleep on a “regression,” make sure you rule out that there is not another issue at play such as a nap transition gone wrong or perhaps it may be 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.
Well Rested Baby is a team of Family Sleep Institute certified sleep consultants that helps families like yours identify, address, and correct their children’s sleep issues (such as sleep regressions.) WRB works with moms and dad’s to create customized sleep plans that reflect a family’s comfort level and philosophies. When paired with WRB’s 360-approach, the entire family is set up for sleep success. WRB offers a variety of support packages. Contact WRB today to schedule a consultation or learn more about how we can help you and yours get the sleep you need and deserve.