The dreaded 4 month sleep regression is one of the most commonly asked questions in my practice. Why is there a 4 month sleep regression? First, let’s get some education on what is happening within your child during this milestone, why it happens, and how to get through it.
The 4 month sleep regression
The 4-month sleep regression in babies can actually happen anywhere from 3-5 months old. What is actually happening? A LOT! As newborns a child’s sleep cycles consist of 2 stages: Deep and REM sleep, which they spend equal time in. You can actually see your baby in these sleep cycles. Deep is a peaceful sleep that is hard to wake up from. REM is active, restless, and noisy sleep. Around the 4-month mark they change and add in 2 more stages of sleep; light (when falling asleep) and light sleep transitioning from DEEP to REM.
- It is hard work for your child to reorganize their sleep when these light stages of their sleep cycle start appearing.
- They are lighter sleepers overall. What once wouldn’t wake them up, now might wake them up.(ie; any noise, car, dog, laundry, other children)
- They are more cognitively aware of everything. Whether that be a sleep prop (parent, rocking, nursing, patting), or more interactive with you and the skills they are developing.
- They wake up more naturally between sleep cycles because of the lighter sleep.
All four reasons create a lot of confusion for children and parents. And just so you know, your child who was once a great sleeper and now isn’t, is just as confused and frustrated as you are! This takes time for them to figure out their new development.
Problems that come up within the 4-month regression.
As I have stated before, about regressions, they are temporary while your child adjusts to a change, either in their body or a life event. The problems that arise from this regression and why it is so common are that we develop bad habits while we wait for it to pass. Trust me, I get it!! Sleep is precious and we all do crazy things when we are sleep deprived.
Props begin to form:
Rocking, nursing, bottle, walking, contact on parent, all to sleep. Then 30-45 minutes later your child is awake and upset. This can be extremely frustrating. Why is this happening?
When you put your child to sleep, lay them down in their crib and sneak out of the room with your child sleeping peacefully… there are a couple problems:
- Your child wakes after their first sleep cycle (30min-1hour) confused about where they are, why you aren’t there. It is scary for them!
- When they naturally wake up after the sleep cycle they think they need the prop (whatever it might be) to be able to put themselves back to sleep.
- Sleep skills are not being developed if you put them to sleep.
What can you do during a regression?
First of all I think you should always be patient. As hard as this is, they need this time to figure out this huge development in their brain. Second, here is what you should do to get around the bad habits and start working toward independent sleep skills.
- Lay them down awake.
- Support them by gently cheering them on (quiet voice, and gentle touch).
- Give them windows of time during the day to develop self-soothing strategies.
- Try to stick close to their wake windows so they don’t become over tired.
- Keep the same routine everyday.
All parents out there are saying “but they will scream and cry”. Crying is your child’s voice. They have every right to tell you that this is hard and they don’t like it. If crying never happens they will never know how to calm themselves. If you never lay them down awake they will continue to wake up really confused and scared. It is also NOT your job to put them to sleep. Sleep is a learned skill that we take with us throughout our whole lives. It is SO important to learn.
You can start by laying them down awake for 5-minutes a day and increase from there depending how quickly you want them to learn how to sleep. A little goes a long way with babies. They are so incredibly intuitive and pick things up very quickly. Think how quickly they pick up bad habits, they can just as swiftly pick up good ones as well.
Cues and extras
Some extra accessories that can help while going through the 4-month regression. White noise and black out curtains. Make the room very dark and turn up the white noise higher than it normally is. Remember they are learning how to deal with light sleep.
Babies can’t tell time. As a parent it is our job to provide them with a safe sleep environment and also give them the cue that it’s time to go to sleep. Imagine if someone told you to just drop on the couch and go to sleep this instant? It would be really hard right?
A shortened routine before naps and a longer routine before bed is absolutely necessary for a child to understand ok, we do this everyday, it is time for rest. Their biological clock will be set to these times and they will get sleepy around naps, and melatonin will kick in at bedtime. Do the same routine every single day.
Don’t freak out!
When regressions happen we panic thinking that it is permanent and you are never going to get a good night’s sleep again. Regressions are actually a positive thing in your child’s development. They are GROWING!! We want this!! If it helps, don’t call it a regression, call it something else … growth spurt, brain boost, milestone, whatever you want. Remember it is temporary. Don’t panic and don’t try a million different sleep techniques. Stay consistent with what has worked before and trust the process. Your child will work through the milestone. As long as you didn’t develop any of the bad habits above, they will reorganize their sleep and go back to how they slept before, or even better.
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Other regressions not growth milestones
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