When our oldest boy was born, we thought we were prepared for how much our sleep schedules would change. After all, I was an ER nurse. I could handle some wakeup calls during the night, right? Sadly, we weren’t even close to anything resembling being prepared. We weren’t even in the same ballpark. And when you’ve already got a child that doesn’t sleep well? Adding in any sleep regressions is a kick in the pants, y’all.
We didn’t realize it yet, but what we needed was a bedtime checklist.
Sleep regressions start because of developmental milestones and bedtime routines
Sleep regressions are a period of time (anywhere from 1-4 weeks!) where suddenly a baby or toddler forgets how to sleep. Or at least, that’s how it seems. Because they go from taking naps and sleeping well at night to not. Your child tries to skip naps. And they’re trying to be up all night. And that makes for a cranky family.
Oh – and here’s the best part. Most experts (like this one) agree: there’s usually no warning. Surprise!
Experts say the best you can do is watch for developmental milestones – and typical age regressions – and to be vigilant.
But what do you do when your baby is already a poor sleeper? Well, let me tell you about our experience with 4 bad sleepers, countless sleep regressions, and the one thing that made a difference for us.
When your baby is a poor sleeper, it can be hard to spot sleep regressions
Being first-time parents, though, we weren’t entirely sure what was normal – and what wasn’t. That fact, combined with the fact that our baby wasn’t a great sleeper, meant we had a very difficult time spotting a sleep regression.
What we did know, though, was that we weren’t getting enough sleep. We tried our best to “just deal with it” and still carry on. After a few weeks, we settled on a schedule that wasn’t ideal but worked. When my husband came home from work, I’d hand our infant son off to him and crawl into bed. He would hold, rock, and try to feed the baby a bottle (it never worked) until midnight.
Then we switched – my husband would crawl into bed to get a few hours of sleep before going back to work. And I would rock, walk, and sooth our son until morning.
Our son simply wasn’t sleeping well. Well, unless I was holding him. So the poor boy was constantly exhausted! Despite all of our best efforts, we didn’t know how to get him to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. We tried everything we could think of. I had him evaluated by his pediatrician. We read baby book after parenting book after sleep book. And we tried letting him sleep in his swing. Oh – we even tried all sorts of the wrong bedtime routines and crib-sleeping hacks. And nothing seemed to help. Our son just wasn’t good at sleeping – unless I was holding him.
By the time he was about 7 months old, we were a family of zombies. One night while I was at work, my husband decided to let our son cry it out. Mostly because it didn’t matter what he did – our boy was just going to cry anyway. So our boy cried himself to sleep. It took 98 minutes, or so I’m told. I’m glad I was at work and that I missed the whole thing.
But do you know what? He slept. For a couple of hours. Without being held! Did that fix his sleep issues? Hahahahahaha! Nope. In fact, we continued to struggle with getting him to sleep on any regular basis until he was over a year old.
Things were so bad that we couldn’t tell when he was experiencing a sleep regression – or if it was just an extra-bad night. And we were so tired that we didn’t realize that our then-bedtime routines were making the problem worse. I’m getting there, I promise!
The simple fact is this: some babies are needy sleepers. We’ve had 4 of them.
Looking back, it’s a lot more obvious. There were two main issues. The first was his schedule or lack thereof. Don’t get me wrong – for the most part, his days were pretty consistent. The second was that we were using the wrong bedtime routines.
Schedules affect sleep issues
But every now and then, his sleep schedule was being interrupted. Sometimes it was due to my work schedule (ER nurse works nights – that messed with his usual bedtime routine). Other times it was us traveling out of state to visit family. And sometimes it was just him hitting a developmental milestone that threw his body for a loop and a nasty sleep regression.
Once he weaned and was walking, his body finally accepted and settled into a routine. And that was just in time for us to find out we were expecting our second child. Did I mention I get moderately bad morning sickness? That threw the schedule for a loop, y’all. It always does.
When our second son was born, we were hopeful that things would be different. After all, we’d just experienced the “difficult sleeper,” right? Certainly this time we could settle the family into a healthy, consistent routine. Nope. It turns out we just have babies who don’t sleep well for their first year of life. We call it the survival year. Yeah, I know. We need to come up with something catchier.
We adjusted our schedule as best as we could, with me holding and snuggling the baby on the couch from midnight to 7 AM. I was just grateful for Netflix, so at least I could watch shows I liked! At 13 months, our baby boy finally weaned and was walking – and slipped into a more normal routine that involved sleeping at night.
And it was the same for our third boy and our fourth child, a baby girl. Only this time, we were even more prepared for our survival year – with a comfortable recliner. I slept a lot better (comparatively speaking) while snuggling our baby girl in that chair.
Our four, beautiful babies did not sleep – unless they were being held. So we held them. And we adjusted. And as soon as they were too wiggly to continue our cosleeping arrangements safely, they were slowly and painfully transitioned to their cribs. That’s simply how we survived for the first year of each of our children’s lives.
Bedtime routines set the tone for the whole night
The second issue was our bedtime routines. It took us a while to figure it out, simply because we were so tired. So what was the issue caused by our wrong bedtime routines?
They were too stimulating.
Our kids love reading books. Baths are their favorite activities. And singing? Get ready to plug your ears while they sing their little hearts out. They love those activities. And for our kids, they aren’t calming activities. Is it any wonder, then, that they couldn’t sleep after we unknowingly wound them up?
How we finally cracked the sleep regression code
Thankfully, somewhere in the fog caused by parental sleep deprivation, we realized that the wrong bedtime routine was our issue.
(Seriously – don’t ask me exactly when we figured it out. I can’t remember. I’m just grateful we finally did figure it out! But more on that in just a moment)
Wait, what? How can a bedtime routine be the cause of a sleep regression? Well, it’s like this. When bedtime is already a struggle, it’s usually because you have an overtired, cranky, or chronically bad sleeper. They’re tired. And the wrong bedtime routine wakes them up rather than soothes them to sleep. So instead of getting more sleep, they’re staying up later and getting even more tired. It’s a horrible positive feedback loop of doom and no sleep, y’all.
In other words, here’s what we figured out in a very simple, non-core curriculum equation.
Tired kid + the wrong bedtime routine => not enough sleep => a kid who’s even MORE tired.
Add in a sleep regression and BAM. Stick a fork in ’em, because they’re DONE.
So that’s where we are now.
Does that mean we’ve cured sleep regressions? Nope. But we have figured out how to minimize the fallout for our kids.
We’ve cracked the code to sleep regressions with our kids, y’all, and it’s amazing. It turns out it’s all related to their milestones and their bedtime routine. Now, there’s nothing we can do about them hitting developmental milestones. Because that’s part of growing up. We can, however, help them get enough sleep by providing a calming, relaxing, and simple bedtime routine.
And because of their new and improved bedtime routine, they’re getting enough sleep. Let’s take a look at the new and improved bedtime formula, shall we?
Tired kid + the right bedtime routine => adequate sleep => a happy, rested kid
Guess what that means? Sleep regressions aren’t as big of a deal anymore. *Happy dance*
And that means we all sleep better.
The perfect bedtime schedule is simple, consistent, and has a calming effect
Remember how I said we’ve tried all sorts of bedtime routines? We tried including bedtime stories, baths, singing songs, or all of the above. But do you know what? We found that those things are too stimulating. And then our kids are suddenly full of energy, raring to go, and cranky as all get-out the next morning because they couldn’t fall asleep.
Instead, we do all those fun activities during the day. We sing, play, read, joke, tell stories, and take our baths during the day. But our bedtime routine doesn’t involve any of those. And it can be done in 15-20 minutes, though we generally allow for 30.
It’s simple, consistent, and calms them right down. And that’s why it works.
But here’s the thing. It’s only for people who subscribe to my newsletter – where I send you all sorts of other sleep tips, tricks, and advice. In other words, you get tons of resources when you subscribe – and then you also get my subscriber-exclusive Ultimate Bedtime Checklist. Are you ready for it? Get access to it (and other awesome sleep resources!) when you subscribe to my newsletter:
The Ultimate Bedtime Checklist
When I first started my blogging journey, it was a therapeutic way to deal with the new stress of motherhood – and the lack of sleep. I didn’t expect so many of my posts to resonate with other parents – but they have. And, in a shocking twist, the most popular and frequently-shared posts are the ones about how my children don’t sleep. Which is telling, y’all.
Because what it’s saying is that there are so many of y’all out there that have these same sleep troubles. Or rather, that your kids do. And that you’re trying everything you can think of to help them get the rest they need to be functional children.
So, first off, good on you for doing that. And second, I have something that’ll help.
Okay, so it probably won’t help you survive that first year. But it will help you, over time, to make bedtime an easy, enjoyable, and relaxing routine. It will help your babies learn to love sleep. And it’ll help your toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children learn to wind-down before bed. It will help them to look forward to a regular, consistent bedtime routine. And they’ll get more sleep as a result. Then, you’ll be able to say that sleep regressions aren’t such a big deal, either.
What is it?
It’s our bedtime routine – in a simple, cute checklist format that’s perfect for you and your kids to share. My kids love having it printed, laminated, and hung up – so that they’re “in charge” of their bedtime routine. The littles can’t read yet, but they can follow along with the pictures! My oldest can read, though I’m pretty sure he still gets a kick out of the cute images.
Anyway, I want you to have it, too! It’s my free gift to you when you subscribe for some other sleep tips and tricks in my Sleepy Parent’s newsletter. You’re free to unsubscribe at any time, of course. I do hope you’ll stick around, though, because I’ll be sharing other sleep tips, advice, and tricks that actually worked for my family.
Free newsletter full of great sleep-related stuff? Check.
Cute bedtime checklist? Double check.
Seriously – subscribe so I can send it to you already! Your happier, calmer, and smoother bedtimes are waiting for you – as are nights full of better, more restful sleep.
Recommended Resources for Dealing with Sleep Disturbances (and Sleep Regressions):
- The Ultimate Bedtime Checklist (my free gift to you when you subscribe to my Sleepy Parents Newsletter!)
- Sleep Regression Support Group on Facebook
- The 30-Day Sleep Training Challenge
More Sleep Resources:
- Surviving Sleep Regressions and Sleep Disturbances
- Benefits of Sleep – by Harvard Medical
- Science Says an Early Kids Bedtime is Good for Mom’s Health
- 20 surprising effects that getting more sleep has on your mind and body
- How to Set the Right Sleep Schedule for Your Kids
- 11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep
- The Benefits of Slumber: Why You Need a Good Night’s Sleep
- How to Get an Overtired 11-Month-Old to Sleep
- How to Survive the 11 Month Old Sleep Regression