All you need to know about the 4 month sleep regression
Are you exhausted and tearing your hair out trying to understand just why your baby keeps waking up at night? Read on to find out all that you need to know about the 4 month sleep regression.
Your sweet baby who had finally started sleeping through the night is now waking up not once, but a few times a night! You’re tearing your hair out trying to find the cause for fussiness and crankiness every other hour. Colic? Ear pain? Teething? Now before you go making appointments with doctors or sprinkling holy water all around your house, relax, for it is likely that your baby is experiencing the 4 month sleep regression.
If you’re up at 3am furiously typing the words ‘why baby won’t sleep’ into the Google search bar, then welcome to my life. Even as I write this, my babygirl, who recently passed the 4 month mark, has started this new cycle of waking up at night. Turns out, she might very well be going through the 4 month sleep regression.
In a nutshell, the 4 month sleep regression is simply a transition phase. This is when an infant’s brain starts to mature, and her sleep patterns increasingly start to resemble that of an adult’s.
Some people don’t particularly like the term ‘4 month sleep regression’, for unlike the temporary sleep regressions that occur at say, 9 months, or 18 months, the 4 month sleep regression isn’t temporary. It marks a permanent change in your baby’s sleeping habits. And if you decide to just let it be and wait it out, there’s a high chance that your baby’s sleep patterns will never return to normal.
While it might seem disconcerting that your child keeps waking up, let me reassure you that this is normal. In fact, if your child is going through the 4 month sleep regression, it’s a good thing for it is pretty much a developmental milestone. It shows that her growth and development are on track, so don’t you worry mama!
At 4 months, a lot is happening with your baby. Her brain is starting to mature, she is more aware of her surroundings and her sleep patterns are starting to increasingly resemble that of an adult’s.
A newborn usually falls asleep and immediately enters a non-REM (rapid eye movement) type of deep sleep mode. That is why they do not wake up when you place them down in the cot after rocking them to sleep.
However, somewhere around 4 months of age, the baby’s sleep patterns start to resemble that of an adult and she goes between the REM and non-REM sleep mode. When she falls asleep, she is still in the REM mode and takes some time to fully go into the non-REM deep sleep.
As such, when you rock your baby, or nurse her to sleep, then put her down, she wakes up crying in a few seconds. You pick her up and rock her back to sleep only to have her waking up again when you place her down. This vicious cycle continues and you end up with an overtired baby and that makes it even harder to sleep.
This period is when your baby’s sleep pattern matures and night sleep starts to consolidate. Your baby, who used to sleep in to 7 or 8 in the morning starts to wake up earlier, between to 6 to 7am.
This is also the time that your baby is starting to roll, and so using a swaddle becomes increasingly unsafe. Previously, the swaddle helped your baby to go back to sleep when she experienced a startle reflex, but now that privilege is gone as well.
Moreover, it is increasingly difficult to get your baby to sleep on the go as their new-found awareness to their surroundings keeps them awake. So if you bring your baby around, or get her to work with your schedules, she might end up overstimulated, and overtired, and find it even more difficult to fall asleep at night!
- Increased fussiness for no apparent reason
- Waking up multiple times at night
- Reduced naps, or ‘disaster naps’
- Changes in appetite
While many parents like to believe that the 4 month sleep regression is only a phase that will disappear in time, unfortunately, it is not. It is more often a product of poor sleep habits and inappropriate schedules.
But the good news is, yes, with patience and a little bit of discipline, something can be done about it. It is unlikely that you will spend the next 2 years waking up 5 times a night.
1. Drop the naps!
No, I don’t mean don’t nap at all, but just ensure that your baby isn’t napping any time past 5pm. This will interrupt with her ability to sleep early and well through the night.
2. Early to bed, early to rise!
Don’t try to outsmart your baby’s sleep cycle by putting her to bed later in hopes that a tired baby will sleep in longer. Wrong. That will lead to an overtired baby, who finds it even harder to sleep, and in turn, will wake up even earlier. Don’t fight the early to bed, early to rise pattern as it is against the baby’s natural sleep rhythms.
3. Sufficient sleep
Before you eventually start sleep coaching, do remember that no amount of sleep coaching will work on an overtired baby. You need to ensure that your baby sleeps sufficiently during the day, at the right times and goes to bed at an age appropriate bedtime.
4. Darkness is good
Sleep in a dark room, preferably with black out curtains and do not leave a night lamp on while baby sleeps. Train your baby to understand that when there’s no light, it’s not time to wake up yet.
5. Use a white noise machine
White noise is comforting to the baby and it signals sleep. This is a useful and effective method of getting baby to sleep.
6. Routines are important
Establish a sleep routine. In fact, you can do this as soon as your baby is one or two months old. Start with a bath, lotion, jammies, some melodious music, bedtime stories or just about whatever works for your family. Babies will soon form the association with this routine and know that it’s time to sleep.
7. Drowsy, but awake
Don’t wait for your baby to be fast asleep before you place her in the cot. Lay her down when she is drowsy, but still awake. In this way, she learns to sleep on her own and will eventually learn to go back to sleep on her own, if she wakes up at night.
8. Limit or remove sleep associations
Sleep associations like nursing, or listening to you sing a song, can be used in the initial stages of setting a bedtime routine or beating the 4 month sleep regression. However, over time, the goal is for them to be able to sleep on their own without being dependent on any of these. This is so that you don’t have to keep doing these things when they wake up at night. As for feeding, try to gauge feeding intervals so you know when they are really hungry as opposed to just comfort feeding or latching.
9. Let the baby fuss
I know that this may sound cruel, but trust me, it’s not. Sometimes you just have to let the baby fuss for a bit and you’ll be surprised to find that often, they fall asleep eventually. If they are in pain, or need a diaper change, or are hungry, you can of course attend to them. But if they are just fussing, let them be.
There you go mums, all you need to know about the 4 month sleep regression and how to get around it. Do remember that these solutions are plausible options and take time, patience and practice in order to be effective. Unfortunately, there isn’t a panacea that will instantly make all babies fall asleep!
Every child is unique and I guess that it all boils down to recognising your baby’s changing needs and having a flexible schedule that is in sync with your baby’s natural sleep rhythm.