The first 3 months of getting to know your newborn is such a precious time. Is there anything more gorgeous than your little baby cuddling into you in a deep sleep? They sleep just about anywhere! Maybe you’re also starting to feel like you’ve found your groove. Then suddenly, your baby just isn’t acting like themselves, waking every 45 minutes and hard to even settle in the first place! You’re confused, tired and frustrated. Could this be the 4 month sleep regression?
You are probably right (although the regression can happen a bit earlier at 3 months and sometimes later at 5 months).
Common indicators that you’re experiencing the 4 month sleep regression are:
• your baby will be fussy and whingy.
• Their naps will fall apart, and they will find it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep.
• Night time sleep also suffers with multiple night wakings and difficulty resettling.
• Their appetite can also change, they may eat more or less than usual.
Many parents may initially think their baby is teething, has reflux, is sick or hungry because they are so irritable and overtired. But they are in fact going through the 4 month sleep regression. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, and is actually a sign that your little baby is growing and maturing. In fact it’s more of a progression than a regression and your little ones’ development is right on track!
So, what’s happening?
Before I can explain what happens with a 4 month old baby’s sleep, I need to take you back a bit and explain what happens in the newborn phase. A newborn’s biological rhythms are not yet developed, and they cycle between active or REM sleep and deep or non-REM sleep. And they spend much of their time in deep restorative sleep. Sometimes they are so sleepy that they are hard to wake to feed! They do not yet have distinctive stages of sleep like an older baby or adult.
But as they grow and approach the 4 month mark their own hormone production is developing and they are neurologically developing as well. This development becomes very evident in their sleep.
What happens with a 4 month old baby’s sleep?
Your baby has neurologically matured and their sleep cycles or phases have shortened. It is really a progression in their sleep maturity where their cycles have become more adult like in sleep structure. These cycles last roughly 60 – 120 minutes overnight from what were once phases that were much longer and unstructured.
Instead of falling into deep sleep very quickly they now start off by entering light sleep. Then they progress through to deeper sleep in distinct stages until they come back to a light sleep again. As adults we do this too. And we often rouse at this stage, maybe change position or move our pillow and then drift back into the next sleep cycle. It is normal for us to ‘wake up’ around 5-8 times a night. This is the body’s protective primal measure to check our surroundings and ensure we are safe.
Following one sleep cycle a well rested baby will just drift off into the next sleep cycle when they reach light sleep. However an overtired baby will wake fully when they reach that light sleep phase and begin to cry out.
Often parents then try to assist their babies to go back to sleep by feeding them, rocking them or holding them.
This works for a while, but then night wake ups continue, and the babies continue to need these parental interventions or associations to get back to sleep.
Alternatively a baby who has never really been able to go to sleep by themselves (has been rocked, held or feed to sleep) will struggle more with these more pronounced wake-ups because they will be looking to you to be there and to assist them back to sleep after every sleep cycle!
What can you do to help your baby?
Firstly, wait a couple of weeks to see if your baby’s sleep improves and see if they begin to fall back to sleep or re-settle themselves. If this doesn’t happen then it’s time to think about weaning your baby off those sleep associations.
Consider starting to put your baby down drowsy but awake just to repeatedly give them an opportunity to practice falling asleep without your full assistance. And when your baby does wake from a sleep cycle just give a few minutes pause to see if they will go back to sleep. If there are no improvements after doing this then you would need to consider possibly getting some help to wean off those sleep associations.
Finally, your baby will be very overtired during this phase so while you are going through this watch their tired signs closely in the day and get them into bed quickly for their naps. Also bring their bedtime forward significantly, by at least 30 mins. Doing this will help to combat some of the overtiredness they have developed from their poor napping and night sleep.
Remain as consistent as you can, and your baby should return to longer stretches of night sleep again, allowing the whole family to get some long overdue rest!
To see how I’ve helped tired toddlers (and parents) get more rest, visit the testimonials section of my website and read real-life case studies.
And, as always, if you have any questions or concerns relating to your experience, comment below or arrange a free phone consultation with me easily through my website.
I’ve helped so many babies and parents through this hurdle to a full nights sleep and I would love to help you too!