The Fussy Baby Site

How To Handle Sleep Regressions With Your High Need Baby

The baby cries and calls mom from a bed
By Nicole Johnson, Founder and Lead Consultant of The Baby Sleep Site®

Sleep regressions are no joke, man. A sleep regression can cause even the best sleeper to suddenly take too-short naps (or skip naps altogether) and wake frequently at night. In my work with families, I’ve learned that sleep regressions usually top a parent’s list of “things I dread with all my heart”!

But sleep regressions with a high need baby? Holy cow! Talk about draining and exhausting. I know this from first-hand experience; my oldest son (who inspired The Baby Sleep Site®) was a high need child. So yes…I know a thing or two about how to help a high need child through a sleep regression! Keep reading for my tried-and-true tips.

What Are Sleep Regressions, and When Do They Happen?

Simply put, sleep regressions are a period of time during which a baby or toddler, who’s been sleeping okay, suddenly (often without any warning) begins waking frequently at night and/or refusing to nap during the day. These regressions usually last for a period of time (anywhere from 2 – 6 weeks); then, your baby or toddler’s sleep should return to its normal patterns. (The exception to that rule is the 4 month sleep regression; those changes to your baby’s sleep patterns are permanent.) Sleep regressions happen during a period of mental and/or physical development for your baby or toddler.

Sleep regressions usually happen at the following points in your child’s life:

• 4 months
• 8-10 months
• 18 months
• 2 years

You can read more about each of these sleep regressions, and glean tips on how to deal with them, by reading through this Sleep Regression Resources page.

Helping Your High Need Child Through A Sleep Regression

Sleep regressions are tough for just about all families, but if you have a high need child at home, then you can count on extra-big doses of fussiness. Here are my top tips to help you get through a regression without losing your mind:

Avoid overtired-ness like the plague. High need children, in my experience, tend to be extra-sensitive to overtired-ness, and are more prone to develop the “overtired spiral” – that is, baby gets a little overtired, which makes the next nap hard, which means even more overtiredness, which makes the nap after that REALLY hard, etc. etc. So watch your baby’s sleep cues closely, and compensate for any missed or shortened naps or late bedtimes with extra sleep. It’s totally okay to break with your usual schedule a bit during a sleep regression and offer more naps, or change up the timing of naps in order to ward off overtiredness.

Keep some semblance of your usual schedule, if possible. It’s fine to change up the schedule to prevent overtired-ness, as I mentioned in the previous point, but try to maintain some of your usual order during the day. For instance, you could strive to keep bedtime and most naps within the same 30-minute window that you usually use. If that’s just not possible, at least keep your usual sleep and feeding routines going. High need babies tend to be sensitive to change, so keeping some semblance of predictability and order in your day will help during a sleep regression.

Hold your baby. A lot. High need babies often crave and respond well to touch, so be prepared to cuddle and snuggle your baby a lot during a sleep regression. Simply keeping your baby close, and engaging in some skin-to-skin contact (depending on your child’s age) may be enough to ward off the worst of the fussing.

Try to stay home. I know this one isn’t entirely in your control – life happens! But during a regression, it’s best to avoid big vacations, lots of busy traveling or errand-running, etc. High need babies usually don’t do transitions very well (ask me how I know!), and they tend to be very sensitive to their environments, which means that if you’re spending lots of time in new places, it will likely just exacerbate the fussing brought on by the sleep regression.

Try really, really hard not to undo any sleep coaching progress you’ve made. If you’ve been working on sleep with your child, and have been making progress, do your best to avoid undoing all your hard work. As you probably know, high need children tend to move a bit more slowly through sleep training. That said, once you do see progress, you definitely don’t want to let a sleep regression move you backwards! If, for instance, your child has finally learned to fall asleep on her own, try not to go back to rocking/nursing/holding her to sleep during the sleep regression. Instead, you can soothe your baby a bit extra until she’s calm, and then lay her down for sleep, but keep the expectation that she still puts herself to sleep. This is an accommodation that may help with fussiness but won’t undo all your work.

However you cope with a sleep regression, remember this: they are usually short-lived. Most families find that within 2-4 weeks, things get back to normal. So while it may seems like the fussiness and sleeplessness will never, ever relent, they will. In the meantime, hang in there!


Nicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site. When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep”. If you have your own sleep issues, Nicole and her team at The Baby Sleep Site® can help! Download the popular free guide, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night, to get started today.