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What Is the 4 Month Sleep Regression?

What Is the 4 Month Sleep Regression?

Author: Baby You By Katie (holistic family centered sleep coach).



Phone: 07540378428
Other services: Baby massage and baby yoga

The 4 month sleep regression is when a baby’s brain makes a developmental leap and his/her sleep cycles change. Though referred to as the “4 month” sleep regression, it generally happens between 3 and 5 months of age.

Around 4 months, their sleep becomes more like an adult’s in terms of sleep stages. They will begin with 45 minute sleep cycles which start to align with the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is developed by us, via environmental factors such as feeding times, light/dark hours, wake and sleep times etc. Our bodies respond to these times that we have set and developed for ourselves. For example,  someone may wake at 7.30 am each day and eat by 8am, and so naturally their body begins to expect that pattern every day and respond accordingly.

So what does a sleep cycle normally look like?

Here’s what a typical sleep cycle looks like:

0-10 minutes: Falling lightly asleep

20-30 minutes: Heavy sleeping (A good time to transfer to regular sleep space)

30-40 minutes: Coming out of a heavy sleep (Could have left slightly too long for transferring)

40-45 minutes: Lightly sleeping and easily awoken

If an adult wakes during those lighter periods of sleep, they generally fall back asleep without even realizing it. A Baby may wake and start to rouse out of their sleep if they feel uncomfortable (e.g. due to hunger, being too cold, too hot, needing reassurance etc).

Now that your baby is older, she is beginning to enter a more organised world of sleep just like you. This means that she will be cycling in and out of very distinct stages of deep or active sleep. The problem is that your baby doesn’t know how to deal with this new sleep cycle, so if you’re rocking or feeding your baby to sleep, you may find that it takes a full thirty minutes for them to be fully asleep, only to have your baby wake up, feeling fussy less than fifteen minutes later. This is called the startle reflex which occurs when they enter active sleep, and it often wakes them up, and if they don’t know how to get back to sleep on their own, they look for mum or dad, their hand, or comfort object. Baby hasn’t yet learned to fall back asleep independently and they may wake to check their environment is safe, they feel ok etc. Often if this environment isn’t how it was on falling asleep, baby will cry out for mum, dad or carer to enable them to feel safe once again. They may wake fully and be fussy or even want to play.

Some indicators that you’re experiencing the four month sleep regression are increased fussiness, multiple night wakings (especially if your baby has just begun to sleep longer stretches during the night), reduced naps or “disaster naps”, and changes in appetite.

So how can parents and carers try to support baby through this sleep regression?

1.During this time, it will help you to just do what works for you….your goal is to get him or her to sleep.

The world is changing for your baby, so try to ‘go with the flow’, at least for now. What worked yesterday may not work well today, so be prepared to try a few different options to get him or her to sleep. If you find you are needing to rock, feed, or pat your baby to sleep, it’s a good idea to start to practice putting her down more awake but this is just practice at this stage as you are not going to create any negative sleep associations that cannot be undone between now and 6 months. Do not feel broken if your baby does not respond well at first. It is ok to nurse/cuddle and support through this stage. Remember each child is different and will respond according to their personality.

2. Watch for your baby’s sleepy cues and try to respond to them quickly.

Depending on your baby, her sleepy cues may be anywhere from subtle to over the top. Watch for things like yawning, disinterest, glazed or fixed stare, rubbing her eyes, and increased fussiness. Your baby’s wakefulness window at this age is between 1-2 hours, and her fussiness may mean she is telling you that she needs sleep. When you see these signs, act quickly and help her get to sleep so that she does not become overtired, which will make falling asleep much harder on both of you.

3. Once your baby’s fussiness begins to calm down, consider introducing ‘drowsy but awake’ at bedtime.

This will encourage and help him learn to put himself to sleep. Stay by his side and offer physical and verbal reassurance. You can start by using your go to method to soothe into sleep, but right before he enters a deep sleep, pop him down in the cot/crib. If he does cry despite your soothing help, pick him up and rock, hold or feed back to sleep and try again the next night or whenever you both feel up to it. Don’t be discouraged if your baby isn’t ready to learn to put himself to sleep just yet, as you are only introducing good sleep habits – you are not sleep training your baby at this age. Some babies are more ready than others. Just know that it’s okay to take a break if you’re both frustrated.

4. Be wary of creating a new sleep crutch. Go ahead and keep whatever crutch is working, but try not to lengthen the list.

This can be hard advice to follow when you are both desperately seeking sleep. If you’ve created a habit of rocking your baby to sleep, keep rocking her, but don’t add feeding her to sleep into the mix. Likewise, if your sleep routine includes feeding and patting, that’s okay, but don’t add rocking to sleep. Lengthening the list of your baby’s sleep crutches just means more work later on. Please note this does not include the addition of comfort objects, sound or smell as these are external (not you) items to allow comfort for sleep times that don’t involve, feeding, rocking, shushing or patting. 

5. Offer LOTS of additional snuggles and reassurance.

During the 4 month fussy phase, both you and your baby are likely to be exhausted so extra snuggles, cuddles and soothing words go a long way. While your baby can’t really offer you reassurance, you can speak calmly to your baby, reassure him, and snuggle up to help ease you both through this developmental change. This is a good time to turn to extra help, particularly if you have a sensitive baby, who reacts to any development change by restless nights. At this stage, it is essential that you take care of yourself, and put your mental, emotional and physical health high on your list of priorities. 

6. Watch for signs of growth.

Yes, this is a trying time, but you’ll be amazed at all of the new discoveries that your baby will make during these few weeks. You may find that your baby learns to roll over, or perhaps she’s beginning to master sitting up. These developmental changes are both exciting and exhausting for her. You may also find that your baby literally grows during this time, as her body is changing and developing, which can lead to her needing even more sleep, so be sure to watch for those sleepy cues and act fast!

7. Follow your flexible schedule as much as possible.

Babies thrive on consistency and routine, so be sure to provide it. If you haven’t already, this is a great time to create a calm, soothing bedtime routine that consists of 3-4 items (such as book, song, bath ,massage then bed) that you can use before bedtime. You can abbreviate the same routine before naps, cutting out the bath, and choosing just one or two items from your night time routine to help your baby learn that it’s time to sleep. Within your flexible schedule, be sure to include consistent feedings so that your baby isn’t hungry, especially if he or she is experiencing a growth spurt.

Above all, don’t panic! Your little one is growing and needs your reassurance to get through this developmental fussy phase.

If you would like any further advice or support regarding your child sleep patterns or establishing a bed time routine, please feel free to drop Katie a message and she will explore some suitable options based on your families needs/requirements.

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