How Infant Sleep Patterns Change

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi holds an academic position at Northumbria University. After completing her Ph.D. at Northeastern University (Boston, MA), she joined the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School as a post-doctoral fellow to research how sleep and circadian rhythmicity influence our cognitive functioning.

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When reaching your first kid’s birthday, you will also be experiencing significant milestones like their first few words and holding themselves up as they try to walk. As they grow…

Last Updated On November 30th, 2021
How Infant Sleep Patterns Change

When reaching your first kid’s birthday, you will also be experiencing significant milestones like their first few words and holding themselves up as they try to walk. As they grow up, however, you may encounter an unpleasant milestone: sudden disruptions in a consistent sleep schedule. Sometimes colloquially known as “12-month sleep regression,” these sleep schedule disruptions can happen when you least expect it.

As a parent, you’ve probably already had a constant or somewhat manageable bed routine. Yet you may find yourself suddenly dealing with a fussy or cranky baby who’s abandoning the sleep schedule you had both established.

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Most children start sleeping through the night from six months old. But this doesn’t happen for all children since research shows that Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source  children’s sleeping patterns are highly variable. For example, a study found that Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source roughly 28 to 57 percent of infant subjects six months to a year old did not sleep through the night. In this study, a full night of sleep was considered 6 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

These sleep difficulties are typically a phase that your child will outgrow. However, you can work to prevent your baby’s sleep routine from going rogue.

About Infants’ Sleep Habits

These sleep troubles are predictable disruptions in the sleep schedule of a baby who once slept throughout the night. They can occur when your young one is experiencing significant milestones.

For example, at one year of age, your child is excited about walking and talking. This excitement prevents them from sleeping well because all the little ones can think about is doing all the fun activities they’ve recently discovered, and sleep seems to stand in the way of that.

When or if a child experiences sleep difficulties can vary. Often, these sleep changes happen with other children’s major milestones like:

  • 6 weeks
  • 4 months
  • 6-7 months
  • 12 months
  • 8-10 months
  • 18 months
  • 2 years

Most babies experience a few sleep schedule disruptions during their first two years. While it’s common for one to happen when a child is roughly one year old, it may occur earlier or later. Often, a child’s sleep schedule will settle down into a normal pattern within two weeks of the change occurring.

What Causes a Child’s Sleep Disruption?

Since the 1940s, multiple studies pursued by Developmental Psychologists have been to understand the reason behind these sleep regressions as a baby grows. But after over seventy years of research, scientists know that sleep schedule disruptions happen, but they don’t understand why it happens. For the most part, they seem to occur when your child is undergoing certain growth milestones.

There are a few things that could cause the sleep disturbances when your child is around a year old, such as:

  • Overstimulation: Now that your baby has more daily activities to keep them busy, they end up overly stimulated, making it hard for them to settle down and sleep.
  • Teething: Teething causes a lot of pain and discomfort to a child, which sometimes results in sleep regression.
  • Separation anxiety: Children suffer separation anxiety because they don’t understand the concept of time, and they do not know why you are separate from them. So, whenever you leave the room, they start crying, thinking that you’ve abandoned them. Separation anxiety stems mainly from their heightened social and emotional development.
  • Nightmares and fear of the dark: Due to their growth, kids have vivid memories and imaginations, which could cause them to develop imaginations and nightmares, causing them to wake up at night crying.
  • Adjustments to new environments and sleep schedules: As time passes, many parents tend to resume work outside of the home, and the baby goes to daycare. This new routine can cause stress, even interfering with their sleep schedule. However, the child should get used to it after a while.
  • Walking: Some one-year-olds start taking a few steps by holding objects in the house. Such experiences tend to be very exciting for them, and they end up wanting more at night, hence fighting sleep.
  • Talking: The baby’s first words invite excitement from the parents, so little ones want more of the babbling time, which interferes with their sleep.

Signs and Symptoms of a Sleep Change

If you are wondering whether your little one is suffering from sleep schedule disruptions, here are some signs to look out for:

  • Frequent waking at night
  • Taking short naps or fighting naps altogether
  • Suddenly fighting bedtime
  • Getting up early in the morning
  • Hungrier than normal
  • More fussy, restless, or clingy

How Long Do Sleep Schedule Disruptions Last?

Social and emotional development can determine the length of your child’s sleep difficulties. Often the disrupted schedule will persist for two weeks or less. If sleep difficulties last longer than two weeks, you should visit your child’s doctor to rule out any potential causes.

Remember, each child is different and the changes can depend on the causes, your child’s sleep pattern, environment, and general development. Just like adults, kids have good days and bad days, so be patient. Encouraging healthy sleeping habits Verified Source Medline Plus Online resource offered by the National Library of Medicine and part of the National Institutes of Health. View source in your young ones can help them avoid sleep problems when they’re older.

Tips for Parents

As a parent, you might have trouble dealing with your baby’s sleep issues as you thought night wakings were over. Forming healthy sleeping habits will help your kids even in the future. Here are tips to guide you through this rough patch:

Consistency

Children thrive in consistency, especially when it comes to how much sleep children need. Once you have deviated from the norm, they tend to become fussier, and the sleep difficulties will last longer.

Research shows that Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source a stable nighttime routine makes it easier for kids to fall and stay asleep. Make sure their sleep schedule is constant, and it stays that way.

For example, you shouldn’t immediately transition to one daytime nap. Instead, try rocking the kid back to sleep. Significant changes can prolong sleep difficulties.

Remember that studies recommend Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source 11-14 hours of daily sleep in little ones between 1-2 years.

Look out for Separation Anxiety

When you notice the young one is experiencing separation anxiety, Verified Source Medline Plus Online resource offered by the National Library of Medicine and part of the National Institutes of Health. View source offer them extra love. Cuddles can tend to them when they cry in the middle of the night. Letting children “cry it out” is not a good move for your little one especially if they are undergoing separation anxiety.

Eliminate Sleep Barriers

When there is excess noise, light, or stimulation, your kid won’t be able to wind down and fall asleep or self-soothe at night. Eliminate any barriers that could hinder them from falling asleep. Many of our tips for optimizing a bedroom for better sleep work for infants as well as young children and adults.

For example, cut out screen time hours before bed. This kind of stimulation could prevent them from falling asleep when they should.

Plan for Tiredness

On a day following a sleepless night, your child will be more tired. You can plan for such by adjusting the bedtime to earlier than usual to compensate for the lack of enough sleep the previous night.

Stimulate the Kid All Day

Toddlers tend to hone a lot of energy. Letting your young one play as much as they desire during the day will wear them out and make it effortless for them to sleep. Mental and physical stimulation will help support sleep at night.

Add a Night Light

If your baby has nightmares or is afraid of the dark, a nightlight will help them see that there isn’t a thing to be scared of and help them calm down.

Address Teething Pain

If teething affects your baby’s sleeping schedule, offer a wet cloth or a teething ring to help them soothe the pain.

Build Positive Sleep Associations

When creating or regaining a bedtime routine, introduce a habit that will help ease the child’s mind and prepare them for sleep. You could do things like:

  • Read a bedtime story
  • Introduce a warm bottle of milk
  • Give cuddles as part of their sleep routine

Allow One Favorite Item in Bed

Let your kid have their favorite item in bed. This item could be a source of comfort and could help them self-soothe when they wake up even before you get to the room. However, be careful when offering the toy. You shouldn’t leave your child alone with anything that can be a choking hazard.

Feed Your Baby Frequently

Suppose the little one wakes up hungry. Let your kid have something to eat or drink. The growth spurt your one-year-old is experiencing could mean the need for more food. Be sure to feed the kid more food the next day to ensure you support their growth. It would be wrong to give a bottle to the baby at night to soothe them to sleep. Only feed them when it’s genuine hunger.

Be Patient

These sleep difficulties are usually just a phase, and it will be over before you know it. Gather all your patience and cater to your young ones as they go through this challenging growth patch. There will be a few tears from your young one here and there, but it will soon be over.

When your child wakes up at night crying, attend to them, offering assurance that you are there. However, be careful not to re-introduce bad habits like bringing them back to your bed (that’s if you don’t co-sleep) or soothe them back to sleep with a bottle. Instead, sit by their bed and offer assurance that you’re there; hugs and cuddles will be helpful.

Does your baby wake up early in the morning, like five o’clock? Try soothing the kid back to sleep. Alternatively, you could wake your child up earlier than that time so they won’t wake up at five, preventing this early wake time from becoming a new routine.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I change my baby’s sleeping pattern?

Healthy sleeping patterns for your baby can be accomplished with keen observation and a planned daytime routine. First, make sure you catch the signs of a sleepy baby before they’re overtired, which can make it more difficult for them to fall asleep.

To help a baby adopt a day-night sleep cycle, engage them with activities during the day. Then when it’s dark, cut down on the stimulating lights and noises.

How long is a sleep cycle for a baby?

While an adult’s sleep cycle usually lasts more than an hour, a baby’s sleep cycle is about 50 to 60 minutes long. Babies also cycle through the stages of sleep differently than adults do. For example, while adults usually have to sleep a while before falling into the rapid-eye movement (REM) stage, babies are quick to experience REM sleep once they drift off to sleep.

What are the different stages of sleep of an infant?

Babies follow a sleeping pattern similar to adults, particularly as they grow and develop. There are key differences, such as young infants spending about half their sleeping time in REM sleep while adults experience far less REM sleep.

As infants, babies spend the other half in a single stage of non-REM sleep. Babies begin to experience more stages of non-REM sleep as they mature, growing to resemble an adult’s sleeping pattern.

When do babies start sleeping through the night?

Your baby should start sleeping through the night after six months, though they should start sleeping undisturbed for longer periods around three to four months. That said, every baby is different and it may take time for them to fall into a regular sleeping pattern.

For example, some babies may find it hard to sleep if they experience separation anxiety when put to bed. They may cry when you leave the room and refuse to sleep without a parent present. Babies who have learned to self-soothe are more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. Most babies will sleep through the night by the time they are a year old.

Why does my baby squirm while sleeping?

Babies tend to actively move while they sleep because they spend half of their time asleep in the REM stage. During REM sleep, babies sleep lighter than they do in non-REM deep sleep stages. Infants may stir during this period if they are hungry or otherwise uncomfortable.

Final Words

Children experience a lot when going through different growth stages, and the one-year mark is a major one for your young one. Sudden sleep difficulties in a young child isn’t any different.

This period will be challenging for you and your young one and you may experience parental sleep deprivation. But as you go through it, remember that it’s likely just a phase that will soon pass, and you’ll soon establish the new norm.


About the author

Catherine is a Health and Wellness writer who primarily focuses on topics sleep-related and plant-based. On sleep-related matters, she has covered topics ranging from snoring and sleep apnea to topics like foods to eat for better sleep and night-shift work and sleep-related problems. She places keen attention on case studies and research in the topics she covers to ensure the data is accurate and sufficient.

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