One of the most difficult, overwhelming, and downright frustrating parts of your child's first 12 - 18 months, is determining whether your child's sleep struggles are stemming from a sleep regression or a nap transition. My goal here at Guiding Star Sleep is to help parents understand their child's sleep so you can confidently make decisions about age-appropriate sleep disruptions and transitions. In this blog I will define sleep regressions and nap transitions, help you determine the difference, and give you a strategy to move forward with confidence!
What is a sleep regression?
A sleep regression is generally a period of 1-2 weeks where suddenly your child’s sleep doesn’t seem to come as easily as it has before. During a sleep regression, many children may fight sleep at bedtime, wake more often through the night, resist naps, or even take shorter naps than usual. These sleep refusals often lead to overtiredness of both the child and parents, resulting in a cranky baby and exhausted parents.
Why sleep regressions happen?
While these sleep regression are frustrating for many parents, they happen as a result of your child growing, learning, and experiencing new things in their environment. So, while it may feel like a regression in sleep, it’s actually your child progressing in development! Regression = Progression!
As your child grows, especially in the first 18 months, they’re hitting regular developmental milestones. They’re learning so many fun new skills like crawling, babbling, standing, walking, and even more subtle skills like noticing shapes & patterns. Your child is discovering the world around them and sometimes these milestones can throw off sleep patterns for a short time. If a sleep regression lasts longer than 2 or 3 weeks, there most likely is a deeper issue causing broken sleep or it may be time to transition to a new nap schedule.
The age in which developmental milestones occur varies for every child, but we typically see these new skills emerge around 4 months, 6 months, 8 - 10months, 12 months, and 18 months. Whew! That sounds exhausting just reading it! BUT here’s the good news: It will pass!
What is a nap transition?
A nap transition is a normal part of child development. As your child grows their sleep needs change as they are able to tolerate longer periods of awake time throughout the day.
Why are nap transition needed?
Transitioning to fewer naps, at age-appropriate times, is a normal part of your child’s development that needs to happen as your child is able to stay awake for longer periods throughout the day. Just as sleep needs vary from child to child, the exact your child will be ready to transition will vary as well, however, the typical age ranges of nap transitions are:
Keep in mind, these are average age ranges. Every child’s sleep needs are different, so some may need to transition sooner, and some will be later and that’s okay!
The 3 common signs that your child is ready to drop a nap are fighting one or both naps, taking longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, and waking multiple times throughout the night.
How to determine the difference between a sleep regression and nap transition:
During the first 18 months of your child’s life, they are constantly growing and changing. As soon as you feel like you have things figured out they begin fighting sleep out of the blue and you are left trying to figure out why this is happening. Are they ready for a new sleep schedule or is this a regression you need to ride out?
Before changing things up, I want you to look at 3 things:
1) Age: Does your child fall in the age ranges listed above for a nap transition? If so, they are probably ready to drop a nap.
2) Developmental Skills: Has your child been trying out any new skills lately? Sleep regressions are largely driven by your child learning new skills and noticing new aspects of their environment. Have you noticed any new developmental skills – rolling, crawling, standing, babbling… all of these can briefly disrupt sleep until they are mastered, but do not indicate a need to transition to fewer naps.
3) Your current schedule: Have you had a busy, on-the-go week, did you have a busy weekend, have naps been missed due to daily schedule changes? Or perhaps your family has experienced some bigger life changes, like adding a new sibling or starting a new school/daycare. Schedule changes and life changes (big and small) will cause some disruptions in your child’s sleep, but do not indicate a need to drop a nap.
Once you've looked at these 3 things, I want you to implement this 2-Step Strategy:
1. Establish a consistent schedule for 2 full weeks.
In order to determine, whether or not it is time for a schedule, it is best not to make changes right away. Rather, I want you to write out a consistent sleep schedule for a 2 week period and stick to it. Children thrive under consistency and predictability, so this will help their body to get back on track through a regression or if they are simply overtired from an inconsistent schedule.
2. Track your child’s sleep for 2 weeks
I know this may seem like a tall task, but I’m not saying take note of every detail. Simply track the times your child is in bed, how long it took them to fall asleep and how many times they woke through the night. Sleep disruptions caused by sleep regressions will begin to lessen and go back to normal over the course of 2 weeks as your child master's their new skill. A child ready to drop a nap will continue to have sleep disruptions because developmentally their sleep needs have changed.
After 2 weeks of a consistent schedule, if your child is still experiencing sleep disruptions, then you will be able to determine if it is truly time to make the transition to a new nap schedule.
Check out these blogs for how to make each transition:
If you’re not sure what your child’s sleep schedule should be, let’s connect! At Guiding Star Sleep I provide you with a sleep plan that includes age-appropriate sleep schedules and step-by-step action plan for how to handle protests, night wakings, and everything in between!