In my opinion, the 4-month sleep regression is really the only true "sleep regression". They can all be tough
with setbacks to our baby’s sleep. But, this one is strictly related to sleep development. A 6-month regression is often tied to a growth spurt at that age, an 8-month regression is when a baby begins crawling, a 12-month regression is when a baby starts walking and can commonly feel separation anxiety from a parent.
But a 4-month sleep regression is the time when our baby’s sleep is transforming. It takes on a new structure - going from erratic and inconsistent, to now organized, like that have an older child. As a sleep professional, it is all too often that I hear parents say that their 2-3 month old was sleeping great, but then four months hit and now sleep is a mess. They don’t get it.
Sleep is not an on-off thing where you are asleep, and then not. It’s complex and follows stages in a cycle. It’s scientific, my friends.
Let me break it down so you can understand what’s is really going on around four months. This is what the stages look like:
Stage 1 is that initial stage we’re all familiar with where you can just feel yourself drifting off, but don’t really feel like you’ve fallen asleep. Anyone who has ever seen their partner nodding off in front of the TV, told them to go to bed, and gotten the canned response of, “I wasn’t sleeping!” knows exactly what this looks like.
Stage 2 is considered the first “true sleep” stage. This is where people tend to realize, once woken up, that they actually were sleeping. For anyone taking a “power nap,” this is as deep as you want to go, or else you’re going to wake up groggy.
Stage 3 is deep and regenerative. Also known as “slow wave” sleep. This is where the body starts repairing and rejuvenating the immune system, muscles tissue, energy stores, and sparks growth and development.
Stage 4 is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is where the brain starts to kick in and consolidates information and memories from the day before. It’s also the stage where we do most of our dreaming. This is considered a lighter sleep, not as light as as Stage 1 and 2, but still easy enough to wake.
Once we’ve cycled through all these stages, we either wake up or come close to waking up and fall back into the cycle again.
Newborns have two stages of sleep – Stage 3 and REM, and they spend half the time in each. But, at around the 3-4 month mark, the stages begin to reorganize to resemble the 4 above. While baby was once in Stage 3 for 50% of the time, they are now in each for 25% of the time, therefore taking part in a lot more lighter sleep then before, and wake ups during these stages can happen a lot easier.
However, I do want to say that wake ups are natural and normal. We wake up all through the night. But, we can easily put ourselves back to sleep. Sometimes without even noticing. A baby likely finds this skill more difficult. So, with more opportunity to wake and lack of the ability to fall back into another cycle, baby is waking too often and not going back to sleep.
Where most problems arise, is when sleep props or sleep associations sneak in to help us get through this time and we become caught in the mess of “my baby won’t go back to sleep without XX” or “my baby only feeds back to sleep.” And now, it’s spiraled.
The best way to look at this 4-month Sleep Regression is really not as a regression at all. As I mentioned in my post on regressions, the definition of one, is literally a ‘return to a former or less developmental state.’ Our baby is not going backwards, she’s moving forwards, she’s progressing and developing as she should. It just takes a toll on her sleep while it gets figured out.
So what can we do? It’s Sleep Toolbox time!
· Keep baby’s room dark – Newborns and babies are not afraid of the dark. They are, however, responsive to light. Lights signals to their brains that it’s time for activity and alertness, so the brain releases the appropriate hormones. We don’t want that in the middle of the night.
· Keep the sleep environment quiet – with all the light sleep going on, we want to avoid baby waking to the outside noise we can’t control. Invest in a sound machine to help block this out. And let me add, that a sound machine is not our run-of-the-mill prop. It doesn’t require intervention of any kind and can just be left on while baby sleeps. So not a prop we need to worry about.
· Stick to a bedtime routine – keep it simple with about 4-5 steps and around 20-30 minutes. If it’s too short, baby won’t learn the routine enough to relate it to bedtime, and if too long, baby will get overtired.
· Keep an early bedtime – a good time to stick to is between 7-8pm
· Promote independent sleep skills – meaning, be aware of any props that are helping baby back to sleep. Encouraging your baby to fall asleep on his own will make the transition from sleep stages much easier.
Some babies will take to this adjustment with ease. And others, will simply fight it. If your baby is the latter, you need to know two things. One, you are most certainly not alone. And two, I can most certainly help. Give me a shout! I’d love to hear from you. I offer a free 15 minute evaluation so I can get to know the specifics about your little one’s situation. You can book a call now and we can move forward as soon as you’re ready to get your little one sleeping through the night!