How Developmental Milestones Affect Sleep

So you’ve sleep trained your baby or toddler and have created a nice routine. Everything is like clockwork until … BAM. Suddenly, your little one is waking up multiple times a night. Hello, developmental milestones!

These transitions, while exciting, can make for some pretty rough nights. But don’t worry! I’m sharing what to look out for and how to help your babe through these transitions.

Learn how common developmental milestones can affect a child’s sleep.

Rolling, Crawling, and Walking

When babies learn a new skill, they sometimes have a hard time “shutting off” their desire to master it, even in their sleep. This is especially true for developmental milestones such as rolling, pulling up, crawling, and walking. 

So instead of sleeping through the night, you’ll find your baby having crib parties to try out those new skills.

Often times, children get “stuck.” For example, babies often master rolling from their back to belly first and then get stuck on their tummies. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that once your child can roll from back to tummy and tummy to back, you do not need to roll your child to their back.

I kept my baby, Teah, in her Crib Culture suite until she was 7 months old and had mastered rolling both ways. It was almost a way for us to bypass this phase without it impacting her sleep.  Also, helping your baby roll both ways during awake times will help speed this process up

So, regardless of the milestone, help your little one transition (and sleep better at night!) by  practicing during the day. Get on the floor with your child and physically help her go from sitting to lying or from standing to lying, for example. 

The more she practices whatever skill she’s trying to master during the day, the faster she’ll catch on to it and start sleeping through the night!

According to this study, it can take up to three months for a child’s sleep to return to normal after learning to crawl.

And the older the child is when she learns this exciting skill, the more sleep is impacted. The study indicates that younger babies’ sleep was less impacted, but this could be due to the fact that younger babies sleep more than older babies because older babies naturally go through more developmental milestones.

Separation Anxiety

While not necessarily a developmental milestone, separation anxiety occurs when babies, usually between 6 and 10 months of age, begin to grasp the concept of object permanence (the understanding that when an object disappears, it isn’t gone forever).

RELATED: The 4-9 Month Sleep Guide 

For some families, separation anxiety starts when a baby begins childcare. It’s normal to see another spike between 18 months and 2 years of age (coinciding with the 18 month sleep regression). 

It’s important to remember this is a phase; it has a beginning and it will end!

Here are some ways to help calm things down during this time:

  • Stick to routines. Children thrive on routines and knowing what to expect helps calm them.
  • Avoid sneaking away. This only reinforces your child’s anxiety. For example, if your child is crying at drop off, calmly and cheerfully give him a hug and kiss and say, “I’ll see you after work!” Don’t feed their anxiety by acting sad or stressed. Check your emotions, mama!
  • Play lots of peek-a-boo or place your child in a room, walk out of sight, and then quickly return. This will help teach her you are there even if not by her side 24/7.
  • Go to your child if they need you, but keep in mind that poor habits are formed easily. Your child is looking for structure and boundaries. Our children are SO smart and often push those boundaries to get their way. With that said, tend to your child if he needs you. Sleep training is great and has a time and place, but your child’s needs come first. This will have an impact on sleep. Your child won’t be happy when you walk out of their rooms at sleep times! It goes against all of our parental instincts to walk away when our babies are crying. However, going to them will teach them they just need to squawk in order to get what they want. Again, don’t forget about boundaries and structure!

Potty Training

Did you know that, on average, children can’t stay dry through the night until 4-5 years of age? That’s why potty training during the day does not have to mean potty training at night; Pullups or diapers are still allowed!

Some experts recommend waking the child throughout the night to use the bathroom, but I don’t agree. You don’t want to disrupt sleep if your child isn’t even old enough to sleep through the night dry! 

That said, there are a few ways to get your child on the right track:

  • Reduce the amount of fluids a few hours before bedtime and cut them out completely after bedtime.
  • Encourage your child to use the bathroom right before bedtime. 
  • If your child is waking up and asking to go to the bathroom, take them! But keep in mind that children are very smart and will often ask to use the bathroom to avoid bedtime. My middle daughter, Talia, quickly learned that saying, “I have to poop!” would be a quick way to get out of her bed!

Final Thoughts on Developmental Milestones and Sleep

Our babies grow fast and are learning so much in a short amount of time. Therefore, we should expect developmental milestones to coincide with sleep regressions.
Set boundaries while tending to your children, and remember: it’s just a phase; this too shall pass!

If you’re struggling, though, check out my sleep guides! These will help you teach your little one how to get the sleep he needs!