Is this the 4-month Sleep Regression??
Let’s face it, sleep regressions are tough. Just when you think your baby is finally sleeping through the night (or at least having longer stretches of sleep), they suddenly start waking up every two hours again. This happens to so many of us that it casts a shade of doubt in our parenting abilities. First, let me just say that as soon as you think you have it figured out, your child will throw another wrench into your once-successful parenting strategy. This is not a reflection upon you but merely a reflection of your child going through another developmental milestone. And while this is frustrating for you as a parent, it’s pretty fantastic that your child is learning new things.
Let’s explore what the 4-month sleep regression is and why it happens. Once you have an understanding of why there has been a sudden shift in your baby’s sleep, you will be better prepared to work through it.
Understanding the 4-Month Sleep Regression
The four-month sleep regression is less of a regression and more of a progression. There is a huge shift happening in a child’s sleep as they approach 4 months and it has to do with the addition of two more sleepstages. Previous to 4 months of age, a baby has only two sleep stages. The two sleep stages are REM and Non-REM sleep and your baby spends equal time in each stage throughout the night. Where the change occurs, is when your baby is moving to a more mature adult-like sleep pattern with 4 stages of sleep in one sleep cycle.
Stages of Sleep
Stage 1: Period of non-REM sleep lasting 1-5 minutes (light sleep).
Stage 2: Period of deeper non-REM sleep that consists of 50% of the sleep cycle.
Stage 3: Period of deepest non-REM sleep that is also known as “Deep Sleep” or “Slow Wave Sleep.”
Stage 4: Period of REM sleep where one would see Rapid Eye Movements. This is also when most dreams occur.
Once baby has gone through all the sleep stages, they either wake up or continue with their nap or nighttime sleep by going into their next sleep cycle. So, this reorganization of sleep from 2 stages to 4 is a huge leap for them and they are spending more time in a lighter stage of sleep than they had been used to.
This is where the issue usually arises. Their brains are not used to the 4 stages of sleep and lighter sleep at that. This means they are more apt to wake up and have a difficult time falling back to sleep. We all wake throughout the night in varying degrees but most of the time we are not fully aware of waking up or we can logically open our eyes, recognize that it’s dark outside and return to sleep. But a baby cannot logically determine that is not time to wake up, so they struggle to return to sleep.
Additionally, if they were nursed, rocked, fed, bounced or any other form of falling asleep that does not include them falling asleep on their own, they are going to wake up with confusion about where you went and need “help” falling back to sleep.
When you look at the 4-month sleep regression in this light, you may be more apt to call it a progression or advancement in your baby’s development. Nonetheless, it’s still hard especially when everyone’s sleep is disrupted!
Managing the 4-Month Sleep Regression
First and foremost, keep an eye on the wake windows. Typical wake windows for a four-month-old are 2-2.5 hours before your baby needs a nap. As your baby matures, these windows will gradually lengthen. An overtired baby will fight sleep harder and have more wake-ups than a well-rested baby. Download the Total Sleep Needs by Age Guide for age-appropriate wake windows for newborns to toddlers.
Second, work on establishing routines. Babies thrive on predictability. A consistent bedtime routine can signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep. This could be as simple as a warm bath, bedtime feed, and a book before putting them down while they are still awake.
Third, follow an Eat-Play-Sleep schedule to reduce the chances that your baby is falling asleep while feeding. Often when we save the feed until right before nap time, they are too tired to be able to finish their feed, which may be causing them to wake up hungry or develop an association with feeding to sleep. (Hint: this is the number one reason why a baby is unable to fall asleep on their own!)
And finally, set your child’s sleep up for success by reviewing their sleeping environment. This means you are using a sound machine (my favorite is The Hatch Rest Sound Machine for its versatility!) Use black-out curtains and not just “room darkening” shades. The “room darkening” shades never provide enough darkness to make it dark in their room. I love Sleepout’s blackout curtains and the ability to travel with them if needed. And they are made from materials with ZERO off-gassing! (Use discount code: NEWLEAF.) Lastly, check the temperature in your baby’s room. There are many different recommendations for what the ideal room temperature should be but most agree that somewhere between 68-72 degrees Farenheit is safe for a baby.
By ensuring that your baby’s room environment has checked all the boxes with white noise, a darkened sleep space and a good sleeping temperature, you are mitigating reasons that your baby may wake up by external sources that you have control over. This helps immensely in decreasing the wake-ups that are due to external factors during this new sleep transition.
Remember that this is a phase. It’s tough, it’s exhausting, and it’s easy to feel like you’re failing as a parent! But you are not, you are learning more about your baby’s needs and making adjustments along the way. This too shall pass.
And if you feel like you need some more help managing this regression, I am here to help!