Thursday 20 October 2016

Growing pains

Growth spurts and sleep regressions are not one and the same thing, writes paediatric sleep consultant LUCY WOLFE

Published 05/10/2016 | 02:30

It goes without saying that sleep schedules can be frustrating, especially within the first year of life. No sooner do you think you have established a healthy sleeping pattern that something seems to knock you off course, from nap transitions to weaning onto solid food, dropping night-time feeds and, of course, sleep regressions and growth spurts.

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Many clients ask me if sleep regression is a myth. I always confirm that sleep regressions are very real and can make your child's sleep, and indeed your own sleep, fall apart in a heartbeat with frustrating night awakenings and nap resistance.

The most notable sleep regressions may be observed at four months, eight months and/or nine to 10 months, 12 months, 18 months and two years. You will be pleased to know that not all families will experience a regression at each of these intervals, but what you may find is one or two of the regression phases are more disruptive than the others.

At four months, parents will often observe a distinct deterioration of their child's sleeping pattern and, regrettably, these changes are often permanent. It coincides with the character of sleep maturing and the emergence of your child's sleep looking very similar to adult's sleep - with the exception of needing more and dreaming more than we do.

This regression may mean that you experience very frequent night arousals that require your assistance to help your child get back to sleep. It is at this point that parents may find they are re-plugging the dummy more times than they can count, or perhaps feeding times occur more frequently.

If you have created a parental dependency - such as nursing, feeding or rocking - to enable your child to go to sleep, then this may mean you have to establish a new way of helping your baby go to sleep at bedtime, if the fractured sleep phase continues.

Most regressions can last from two to six weeks and, in an older child, if healthy sleep habits have already been established, then your child will likely go back to sleeping through the night, and napping well, once their brain has processed the developmental changes.

At four months, this may not be so and it is not so much a regression but a signal of the new way your child is going to sleep and, unfortunately, you will have to examine how you can weaken any co-dependency when falling asleep, structuring your night feeds and establishing a predictable layout to your day in order to establish positive sleep habits, which are necessary for your child's health and wellbeing.

Growth spurts and sleep regressions are not the same thing. The sleep regression is largely due to significant mental and physical development, whereas the growth spurt is due to gaining weight and growth. Typically, you may experience a growth spurt around the following times:

1. 7-10 days

2. 2 weeks

3. 4 weeks

4. 8 weeks

5. 12 weeks

6. 4 months

7. 6 months

8. 9 months

9. 11 months

10. 12.5 months

You will be pleased to hear that, just like the sleep regression, you may not experience all of these every time. You may even find that sleep improves during this stage. As you can see, often sleep regressions and growth spurts can overlap, but they are not the same. A growth spurt will likely last three to seven days, but a sleep regression will likely span up to six weeks.

I would typically want parents to have an existing problem for four weeks before we would start to consider it a sleep issue that requires intervention. Generally, if positive sleep habits have already been formed, then they will re-emerge within this time frame.

Be careful that you don't attribute all of your sleep issues to regressions, growth spurts and teething. Long term, one month or more of fractured sleep and continuous short naps indicate a potentially larger sleep issue, that ideally should be examined and worked on to improve sleep for all the family.

Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See; t: 087 268 3584 or e:


To survive a sleep regression, consider:

1. Offering additional feeds. Sleep regressions and growths spurts can often accompany each other. Don’t be nervous about offering extra feeds, both at night and/or during the day during this tricky time. It is a temporary approach but necessary to ensure that you are meeting your child’s needs at that time

2. Provide more reassurance, comfort and support. Add extra time to your bedtime routine and be as responsive as you can

3. Be sure that you are not allowing your child to become overtired. Don’t keep times the same if sleep is interrupted. Bring nap and bedtimes forward and try to avoid an overtired presentation

4. Draft in support-parents to share the load, even if mum is still on maternity leave, and take night duty in turns. Ask for help from friends and family so that you continue to look after yourself.

Irish Independent

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