You have probably heard of the most common sleep regression (or progressions), which present at particular ages due to developmental leaps. These regressions typically cause babies and children sleep to fall apart, even if previously good sleepers.
But did you know that there are 2 other regressions which can occur for your child, particular when you are working on improving their sleep?
These two regressions are not commonly talked about, and you won’t find much about them during a Google search. But, I am here to give you all the information you need to understand what is really going on with your child sleep, when you are doing everything to make positive changes.
What Are They?
Introducing, the Psychological Regression and the Biological Regression.
As mentioned, these regressions present during times when you are improving your child’s sleep. It can be super frustrating when you are actively working hard on your child’s sleep, only to see that every time you make some progress, your child’s sleep takes a big step backwards. The good news it, these regressions show that we are actually making progress, which is the silver-lining through the process.
The Psychological Regression is triggered due to the changes that you’re making in your child’s sleep expectations, and is a completely involuntary response to the changes made by your child’s subconscious brain. The subconscious brain sees any change as a threat and as it begins to notice a consistent change around the 3rd or 4th 24-hour period, it will have its ‘last stand’ to confirm that this shift is safe.
This means that your child’s emotional response at this time will be increased as you continue to work on your sleep improvement plan. Your child will likely cry excessively and their sleep will be exceptionally poor through this period. They may take a long time to settle, wake many times, stay awake for a long period overnight, early morning wake OR abandon naps, but don’t worry! It’s only temporary.
If you are working with me to navigate your plan, then you can be 100% sure that the main cause to your child’s emotional response is due to the changes that you have made over the last few days. Rest assured that this regression is because your child is looking for reassurance that the new sleeping conditions are the new normal.
It is important that you are sending your child’s subconscious brain the message that this new approach is safe and here to stay, and you do this by being as consistent as you possibly can. The subconscious brain will then accept this as safe, the new normal and things will be on the upward.
This regression typically lasts for only 24 hours, and presents around day 3/4, but can be as late as day 7 of any sleep plan. Some children don’t even experience the psychological regression, so the presentation can be void!
When you are improving and increasing your chid’s overall sleep quantity in the 24 hour period, the Biological Regression will occur as your child is having less sleep than what they are requiring in a 24-hour period.
Unfortunately, your child does not have the drive to support consolidating naps and night sleep all at the same time. So, the body clock (known as the circadian rhythm) will either be concentrating its effort on the daytime or the night time sleep and that will directly correspond to the opposing sleep seeming to fall apart on you. As you increase your child’s day sleep quantity, the night sleep will not improve but then after a short period of time, your child’s naps will seemingly regress as their night sleep improves.
This day/night shuffle will go back and forth over a period of time. But there is no pattern or consistency in this shuffle, and there is no direct correlation either. There can be an overlap of good or disrupted naps and night sleep throughout your sleep improvement process. It is a mixed bag of disruptions and improvements!
The biological regression continues to occur until you extend the total amount of sleep that your child needs in the 24 hour period, but the good news is that so the day/night shuffle will become less severe over time and eventually just stop on its own. The overall process can actually take several weeks, dependent on your child’s sleep quantity, your plan, and your consistency.
Like the other regressions, the best way to navigate the Psychology and Biological regressions is to keep going! By maintaining consistency through your sleep improvement plan, you will continue on your path forward to improved sleep in no time!
Forever bringing sleep to families,
If you'd like to chat about your child's sleep, schedule in a free chat:
My name is Shereen Nielsen and I am a certified infant and child sleep consultant, working with children aged birth to 12 years. I am also a lecturer and mentor for students on their journey towards becoming a Sleep Consultant, through my on-line internationally recognised sleep consultants course.