If there’s one topic that grabs the attention of every mom it’s the dreaded 4 month sleep regression! Am I right?
It’s the most talked about, because it’s likely the most frustrating for parents to experience and overcome. You might ask yourself, “How is it that my newborn that was rocking this sleep thing is now up every hour and will not nap for longer than 45 minutes?” There’s an explanation and a way to overcome it so you can return to having the peaceful sleeper you once had.
[If you say, but my newborn has NEVER slept well how will this help me? Don’t worry. Keep reading because this still applies to your baby]
Many of us don’t think too much about the details of sleep. Most people think we are either asleep or awake, but there are actually different stages of sleep. To help you understand more about the four-month sleep regression, which is directly linked to the change in sleep cycles, let’s talk a little about the different types of sleep (the quick and simplified version).
Stage 1 (light sleep) is the initial stage of sleep that begins with drowsiness and if disturbed you won’t think you were actually asleep. If you’ve ever nodded off while watching tv then you are familiar with what this stage of sleep is.
Stage 2 (shallow sleep) is when considered the first “true sleep” stage and if awakened you will notice that you were sleeping.
Stage 3 & 4 (deep and regenerative) this is the stage of sleep where repair, growth and development happens. The body rejuvenates the immune system, muscle tissue, and energy stores.
Stage 5 (REM sleep) is the stage of sleep where information and memory consolidates. It’s also where we do most of our dreaming.
Once you have gone through all of these stages of sleep, you either wake up or start the process over again (and continue to do so) until morning.
This is what sleep is like for all of us, starting around the age of three to four months of life. Before that, sleep for a newborn only consists of two stages of sleep (Deep sleep and REM sleep) and spend about half their sleep in each stage.
So what does this have to do with your baby? This change explains why a baby can go from sleeping longer stretches to waking the second you put them down in the crib. The reason is that now that baby is spending more time lighter sleep, it is easier for them to wake. Now, waking in the night is absolutely normal! In fact, it happens between 5-8 times in a night. However, when a baby or child can transition sleep cycles without parental intervention you don’t notice these wake ups because they are very brief. If your baby is rocked, bounced, or fed to sleep, then after the completion of her sleep cycle and scan of the environment; instead of drifting quickly off to sleep again she will sense the change and call out. Our bodies expect the environment to be unchanged from when we fell asleep. Now that baby’s spending more time in light sleep, and therefore has a higher probability of waking up, this suddenly becomes a much bigger issue.
The use of sleep props or sleep associations may be helping your baby in the initial falling asleep stage, but the lack of them when they wake means that baby is not able to get back to sleep again without those sleep props. So the good news for anyone experiencing the dreaded four month sleep regression is that it’s not in fact a regression at all! A regression is defined as “reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level”, and that’s actually the opposite of what your baby is experiencing. Think of this more like a four month sleep progression.
What can you do to help your baby adjust to this change?
Dark Room. One of the biggest components to creating healthy sleep habits is a suitable sleep environment. Baby’s room should be dark. Midnight at all times dark. Newborns and infants are not afraid of the dark. They are, however, responsive to light. Light tells the brain that it’s time for activity and alertness, and the brain secretes hormones accordingly, so we want to keep the nursery absolutely pitch black during naps and bedtime if possible.
Keep it quiet. The other enemy of daytime and nighttime sleep is noise. Whether it’s a neighbor coming over to visit, your amazon delivery, or a dog barking, you want to do your best to eliminate any external noise. With baby spending more time in lighter sleep, noises will startle them easily and wake them, so a white noise machine is a great addition to the nursery.
Stick to a routine. Bedtime and naptime routines are essential to getting your baby sleeping well. Try to keep the routine to 4 to 5 steps, and don’t end it with a feed. Otherwise, you risk baby nodding off at the breast or bottle, and that will create the “association” to sleep that we talked about earlier. The whole bedtime routine should be about 20-30 minutes long, and baby should go into the crib awake.
Early bedtime. If you’re noticing baby getting fussy before bedtime, there’s a good chance you’ve waited too long. Four month old babies can handle about two hours between naps and bedtime should be somewhere between 7 and 8 o’clock at night.
When it comes to the four-month regression, it’s important to remember that this should be a short time disturbance in baby’s sleep. The average sleep regression lasts between 2-6 weeks. However, if you have introduced all the changes I’ve mentioned above and are still struggling with your child’s sleep, you may need more help. Teaching your child independent sleep skills is a gift you can give your child that they will enjoy for many, many years to come!
I’ve had lots of experience with sleep regression, and I’d love to be of assistance to you and your little one! Click here to get in touch today, and I look forward to hearing from you!