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The 8-Month Sleep Regression & Separation Anxiety

As your baby approaches the 8-month mark, you might find yourself navigating another round of sleep issues. The 8-month sleep regression is a phase many parents are familiar with, and it’s often linked to various developmental milestones and changes in sleep habits. While there are several factors at play during this period, in this blog, we’ll focus primarily on understanding separation anxiety and its profound impact on sleep.

What is a Sleep Regression?

A sleep regression is a period when a little one who has been sleeping well, suddenly starts waking up at night and/or during naps or fights sleep. While the 4-month sleep regression is unique in that it directly impacts sleep patterns due to changes in sleep architecture, other regressions, such as the 6-month sleep regression, as well as the 8-month sleep regression and others, are more influenced by whatever your child is working on developmentally. This is why there can be variations in the timeline of when sleep disruption occurs. Unlike skills such as crawling or walking, which once mastered, remain consistent, sleep is ever-evolving. While sleep disruptions are often referred to as “regressions”, your child’s ability to sleep has not regressed, it’s just disrupted.

Separation Anxiety and Its Impact on Sleep

Around this time, your 8-month-old baby is beginning to develop a keen sense of object permanence—the understanding that things continue to exist even when out of sight. This cognitive leap can lead to separation anxiety, as they become more aware of and sensitive to separations from primary caregivers.

Separation anxiety is cyclical in nature. As babies grow and develop, they may experience multiple phases of heightened separation anxiety, each coinciding with developmental leaps or disruptions in their routine. This cyclical pattern means that just as one phase seems to resolve, another might be on the horizon, impacting sleep patterns anew.

During periods of heightened separation anxiety, you might notice:

  • Increased Night Wakings: Little ones experiencing separation anxiety may wake up more frequently in the middle of the night, seeking the comfort and reassurance of their primary caregiver. They might wake up and cry simply because they realize they’re alone and want to ensure their caregiver is nearby.
  • Trouble Falling Asleep: The anxiety of being separated can make it harder for babies to settle down and fall asleep. They might resist going to sleep because they’re anxious about being left alone.
  • Clinginess During the Day: Your baby might be more clingy or fussy, especially when you’re out of sight, reflecting their heightened anxiety.

Other Developmental Milestones at 8 Months

While separation anxiety plays a significant role, other developmental changes can also influence sleep patterns:

  • Increased Mobility: Many babies at this age are on the move and acquiring new skills like crawling, or even pulling to standing, both of which can impact night sleep.
  • Teething: The emergence of new teeth can lead to restless nights.
  • Nap Transitions: If your little one has not yet made the shift from 3 naps to 2, by now they are likely outgrowing their 3-nap sleep schedule and need more awake time between sleep periods. One surefire sign of this is that they consistently resist or skip the third nap.

Signs of a Sleep Regression

During this period, you might notice:

  • Increased Night Wakings: Even if your baby has been sleeping through the night, a regression can lead to more frequent and/or longer awakenings. This can also be exacerbated by separation anxiety.
  • Trouble Falling Asleep: Despite being tired, your baby might fight or resist going to sleep. This resistance can be influenced by both developmental milestones and separation anxiety.
  • Shorter Nap Times: Your baby might take shorter naps or skip them altogether. Separation anxiety can play a role here, with babies waking prematurely from naps due to feelings of anxiety.
  • Increased Fussiness: A general increase in fussiness or crankiness, especially around sleep times, can be a sign of both separation anxiety and sleep regression.
  • Changes in Appetite: There might be changes in feeding patterns. Some babies might want to nurse or bottle-feed more frequently as a source of comfort during periods of heightened separation anxiety, while others might become easily distracted during feedings, pulling away to ensure their caregiver is still present.

Duration of the 8-10 Month Regression

The 8-10 month sleep regression can vary in duration, but most parents notice a change for about 2-6 weeks. However, the exact length can differ for each child. It’s essential to remember that while challenging, this phase is temporary and often linked to significant developmental leaps.

Navigating Sleep During the 8-Month Sleep Regression

The 8-month sleep regression can be a challenging phase for both babies and parents. Here are some sleep tips to help you navigate this period:

  1. Offer Daytime Practice: Your baby is learning and growing at a rapid pace. Whether it’s mastering the art of crawling or pulling up to stand, these newfound skills can sometimes spill over into sleep time. By offering ample opportunities for your baby to practice these skills during the day, you can reduce the chances of them “practicing” at night.
  2. Clear Communication: As tempting as it can be to sneak away so your baby doesn’t cry when you leave, it’s better to communicate when you leave so they don’t have to wonder where you went. Sneaking away or leaving while your baby is distracted can sometimes intensify separation anxiety. It’s important to communicate that you’re leaving and that you will return – even at this tender age.
  3. Offer More Support, But Stay Consistent: During this regression, your baby might need more comfort and reassurance. It’s okay to offer additional support, whether it’s an extra cuddle or a soothing lullaby. However, try to maintain consistency with your bedtime routine and sleep routines as much as possible. This consistency provides a sense of security and predictability for your baby amidst the changes they’re experiencing.
  4. Patience and Understanding: Remember, this phase is temporary. While it can be exhausting and sometimes frustrating, approach it with patience and understanding. Your baby isn’t deliberately trying to disrupt their sleep; they’re simply navigating a significant developmental phase. Your empathy and support during this time can make a world of difference.

Considering Sleep Training at 8 Months? Here’s What You Should Know

If sleep training is something you’re contemplating as your baby approaches the 8-month mark, it’s essential to understand the developmental changes they’re undergoing and how these can influence the process. Remember, every family is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. It’s essential to find a sleep training method that feels right for you and your baby. Here’s what you should consider:

  1. Self-soothing Abilities: By 8 months, many babies have acquired the gross motor skills needed in order to find ways to self-soothe. Their increased mobility allows them to adjust their sleep position, and they can reliably bring their hands to their mouth for comfort. These self-soothing skills can be foundational for certain sleep training methods, as they enable babies to find comfort independently.
  2. Nighttime Feeding Patterns: With the introduction and establishment of solid foods, many 8-month-olds might not require as many nighttime feeds. As their daytime dietary intake becomes more substantial, you might find it feasible to gradually reduce nighttime feeds, a factor that can influence some sleep training approaches.
  3. The Role of Object Permanence: The development of object permanence can initially lead to challenges, such as separation anxiety. However, it also presents an opportunity for sleep training. As babies develop trust that caregivers continue to exist even when out of sight, this understanding can be harnessed positively. It’s about leveraging this developmental milestone to reinforce feelings of security during sleep training.

When contemplating sleep training, it’s crucial to choose a method that aligns with your parenting style. This alignment ensures that you can implement the chosen approach consistently, which is key to its success.

If sleep training is on your radar, the 8-month mark can offer a conducive environment, given the developmental milestones your baby is likely achieving. However, always approach the process with patience, understanding, and consistency, and ensure that any method you choose resonates with your parenting beliefs and values.

Final Thoughts

The 8-month milestone is a testament to the ever-changing journey of parenthood. As your baby continues to explore and grow, their sleep patterns might keep you guessing. Embrace each moment, trust your instincts, and remember that you’re not alone in this journey. Lean on your support network and always consult with your pediatrician if you have concerns about your baby’s health or development.

For more information on sleep regressions at other ages, check out this blog on sleep regressions here.

If you want to check your child’s sleep schedule – you can use our free sleep generator tool

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists. Special thanks to Deanna.  

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