4 Month Sleep Regression Demystified!
As a child sleep coach, every day I talk about sleep regressions. The 4 month sleep regression, in particular, is a pretty popular topic!
I have countless Moms say “my son was sleeping 6 hours at nights at 3 months and then all of a sudden at 4 months, he began waking again every 2 hours all night – what gives?!” Or “my daughter has never been a good sleeper, but it got even worse at 4 months.”
So, what happens at 4 months?
Around 4 months, babies go through a series of developmental changes. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but… If your baby hasn’t yet developed self-soothing skills, coupled with an age-appropriate schedule and sleep environment, the 4 month sleep regression may be here to stay.
I know, I know! You don’t want to be one of those families whose child still doesn’t sleep at FOUR years old! That’s why I’m going to help you understand what’s going on developmentally. (it’s all really good stuff!)
I’m also going to give you tips on how to help your little one to get back to blissfully sleeping! That way, you can get back to your happy, shiny self vs. this walking zombie thing you’ve got going on now!
What is a sleep regression?
When a baby is sleeping well and then begins to wake frequently at night or begin to fight naps or refuse them, chances are your baby may have hit a sleep regression. They can last a short while (a few days to a couple weeks) or your baby may never fully go back to their previous habits.
Sleep regressions also normally coincide with nap transitions. Around 4 months, babies transition from 4 naps to 3; around 8 months, babies transition from 3 naps to 2; and around 18 months, babies transition from 2 naps to 1.
Oftentimes, our babies are also working on major skills in each of these timeframes. Whenever our little ones are working on something developmentally, it can affect sleep.
Sleep regressions are actually our babies are progressing! They are maturing and developing, which is AMAZING, yet it can wreak major havoc on your baby’s slumber.
If your baby’s sleep needs have changed and you aren’t prepared to adjust their schedule to get those needs met, it can result in an overtired baby, which results in a downward spiral for both day and night sleep.
What is happening developmentally that causes the 4 month sleep regression?
- Baby sleep becomes more adult-like due to brain maturity. Babies don’t immediately fall into a deep sleep state, like they did when they were newborns. Now they begin to cycle between lighter and deeper sleep cycles, just like adults. This is why the tricks you used to lull your baby to sleep don’t work anymore. Or take many, many attempts. (think rocking/nursing to sleep) Now your baby may wake immediately when you put them down, due to being in a lighter sleep state. Continually repeating this cycle pushes bed / nap time later. This results in less sleep and makes for an OVERTIRED baby and a very frustrated parent!
- Babies are beginning to roll, which makes using a swaddle no longer safe to use, but they still have the Moro startle reflex. Many parents try to transition their babies out of the swaddle and into a sleep sack or just pajamas at this age. This can cause babies to startle themselves awake multiple times per night and at naps. These wakings can result in an OVERTIRED baby.
- Baby’s sleep patterns mature and they usually begin waking earlier. Normal wake times are commonly in between 6:00 – 7:00 am. If your baby’s bedtime remains on the later side and they begin waking earlier, they won’t be meeting their nighttime sleep needs of around 11 hours per night. This again results in an OVERTIRED baby.
- Your baby will begin to be ready to transition from 4 naps to 3 naps somewhere near the 4-month range. They need around 4 hours of naps per day. Instead of 4 shorter naps, babies should begin taking 3 longer naps to meet their daytime sleep needs. Babies sleep cycles are around 40 minutes at this age and if your baby hasn’t learned the skill of how to put them together, it can result in a series of short naps. Not meeting their daytime sleep needs, leaves your little one OVERTIRED once again.
- Babies becoming increasingly more social – this means that they can no longer doze on the go as well. Many parents want their babies to fit into their schedule and social life and unfortunately, that can backfire. If we aren’t meeting their biological needs on their schedule, it can result in frequent night wakings. Also movement sleep isn’t as restorative. Having naps on the go consistently will increase your child’s sleep debt and again, your little one being OVERTIRED.
You may notice a common theme among all of the developments that your baby goes around 4 months. They all results in your baby becoming OVERTIRED. Overtired babies:
- have difficulty settling into sleep
- wake more frequently at night
- have more restless sleep
- wake earlier in the morning
- have more difficulty with napping during the day
What can you do to help your baby move through the 4 month sleep regression with your sanity intact?
- Identify your baby’s sleep associations and begin allowing your little one the opportunity to learn to sleep independently. This is an important skill because your baby will know how to put herself back to sleep if she wakes in the night and doesn’t have a need. Associations include:
- nursing / feeding to sleep
- replacing the pacifier
- movement, like rocking, bouncing, walking, swinging and car rides.
- Consider using a transitional swaddle like the Zipadee-Zip. This sleep sack gives your baby a cozy feeling, but also provides some help with the startle reflex. Around 5-6 months plus, I recommend the Bitta Kidda Sleep Sack. This clever product has built-in lovies for self soothing. It also provides your baby freedom to move around their crib, while still keeping them cozy.
- Move your baby’s bedtime earlier. Most babies are ready for bed in between 6:00 – 7:00 pm or around 1.5 hours after the end of their third cat nap. On especially rough naps days or a missed cat nap, don’t be afraid to move bedtime even earlier. Babies need to recoup that lost sleep in the beginning of the night.
- Don’t let your baby get overtired. At 4 months of age, babies can be awake around 1.25 – 1.75 hours before moving into an overtired state. By keep their awake windows short, it makes it much easier for them to settle into their next sleep period.
- Create the optimal sleep environment. If your baby hasn’t been spending much time in their crib, now is the time to introduce it. Recommendations include:
- Ensure your baby’s crib adheres to the AAP’s Safe Sleep Standards. Start with naps to help them get accustomed to their new sleep environment.
- Keep the room is cool (68-72)
- Blackout the windows and remove all blue and white light sources
- Run white noise continually.
- Having a conducive sleep environment will go a long way towards helping your little one to snooze!
I hope this helps you to assist your little one in developing healthy sleep habits through the 4 month sleep regression. This baby sleep stuff can be pretty confusing and if you need help, we’re always here.
For babies under 4 months, we offer a 1-on-1 Newborn Sleep Consultation. During this 60-minute session, we will discuss milestones, a roadmap and tools to help you hopefully avoid the 4 month sleep regression.
For babies four months and older, we provide sleep coaching, plans and support to help you and your little one to get the rest you all so desperately need!
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