Common Developmental Milestones That Can Disrupt Your Baby’s Sleep

developmental milestones growth and development sleep associations sleep regressions Feb 15, 2022

Developmental milestones are one of the most common causes of sudden sleep disturbances! If your little one is usually a sound sleeper, and then without warning starts waking up several times in the night, taking short naps, or having early wakings, it’s likely that they are going through a developmental milestone! Though keep in mind, if your child has never slept for long stretches in the night and you’re looking for a solution to help your baby sleep through the night and lengthen naps, it’s likely not a short-term hiccup like a developmental milestone. 

These changes in sleep are often referred to as regressions, though, not everything is a true regression. In fact, many times these changes aren’t a regression at all, but rather are likely taking place because of exciting changes that your baby is currently going through and new skills they are learning. (Check out this blog to learn more about baby sleep regressions!)

When your baby goes through these sleep disturbances, it can seem like they happen out of nowhere, and it can be confusing how your baby who was once able to sleep long stretches throughout the night is now having multiple night wakings. But, when we gain a better understanding of these milestones and know what to watch for as well as how to avoid these milestones causing sleep disturbances, it’s actually a very exciting time in your baby’s life!

Here are some of the most common milestones that can lead to your baby’s sleep being disrupted. 

Developmental Milestones that Lead to Baby Sleep Disruptions

Developmental milestones in babies are various physical and cognitive goals that every child is expected to achieve at some point as they grow [1].  

Every baby is different and on their own timeline, so WHEN these milestones occur isn’t as important as understanding what these milestones are and that they will typically have an effect on sleep.

The most common physical developmental milestones that can affect sleep:

  • Rolling
  • Sitting up
  • Crawling
  • Standing 
  • Walking

The most common cognitive developmental milestones that can affect sleep:

  • Changes in sleep cycles (“4-month sleep regression”) [2]
  • Increased Awareness
  • Separation anxiety
  • Language bursts 
  • Fears

Why do these developments often lead to sleep disruptions? When babies are going through a change or learning a new skill, they will typically wake in the night to practice their new skill because it is so new and exciting! When they haven’t mastered these new skills though, it’s not uncommon for them to accidentally get “stuck” standing or rolling and need your help, as an example.  

(If your baby is able to roll from one side to the other, completely on their own, the AAP has suggested that you do not need to roll them back onto their back if they are comfortable sleeping on their belly and they are not swaddled [3].)

Your baby is also becoming increasingly more aware during these milestones, which can keep them awake noticing shadows and sounds! Even language bursts are just plain old fun to your baby and they may want to practice babbling throughout the night! 

How to Help Your Baby Through These Sleep Disruptions

When these milestones happen, the shift in your baby’s sleep can be frustrating and seem like it will last forever. The most important thing to remember though is that this sleep change is just temporary and a minor “hiccup.” If your baby has learned how to fall asleep independently, your baby’s sleep will go back to normal on its own, as long as new or old sleep associations are not consistently introduced during these phases.  

Oftentimes, parents will try to “fix” these sleep disturbances by introducing new or old sleep associations. While this may work temporarily, you may be left with your child developing a new sleep habit that they may not have originally needed. Of course, if your baby does get stuck standing, rolling, etc., and needs your help, go ahead and help them lay back down. But it’s also a good idea to give them the space to figure it out without your intervention (as long as they are safe!). 

The most helpful way to get through one of these phases and to have these developmental milestones stop interfering with sleep is to use the daytime to practice your baby’s new skills as much as you possibly can. If you follow an eat-play-sleep schedule, use that “play” time to start to master this new skill and also to tire them out so that naps and night sleep can get back on track.

And remember, staying consistent in the night will allow for the sleep disturbance to pass more smoothly. The disruption will pass and before you know it your little one will be moving on to the next big skill, which is so fun to see!

If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides or schedule a call with me for some personalized support. 

 

Resources:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32491450/ [1]

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19956/ [2]

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep [3] 

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