Sleep is crucial for the development of your baby's brain and overall well-being. However, around the three to four month mark, you may find yourself struggling with your baby's sleep patterns due to the onset of the 4-month sleep regression. At this age, your baby's sleep patterns undergo a significant change, leading to disrupted sleep and shorter naps. In this article, we will explore what the 4-month sleep regression is, its causes, and provide tips on how to handle it so that both you and your baby can get the rest you need.
Having the confidence and skills to guide your baby through this sleep regression may seem an impossible task, but by simply having the knowledge and understanding of what is happening and learning how to communicate desired sleep behaviors can work wonders. If you’re looking for extra support, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app , it combines expert sleep coaching with in-app tools that work with you, at your pace, to get your baby’s sleep on track, so even when regressions happen – you have the experience to get things back to normal, fast.
What is the 4-Month Sleep Regression?
Sleep regressions are typically categorized by short term sleep setbacks that are triggered when your baby goes through a developmental milestone.
At 4-months your baby has reached some pretty remarkable milestones, and is most likely:
- Learning to roll over
- Babbling sounds and listening to words you say
- Smiling and recognizing not only you but also other familiar faces
- Becoming more and more active
But also, their sleep cycles have evolved – this coupled with their developmental growth is what contributes to the 4-month sleep regression.
What Causes the 4-Month Sleep Regression in Babies?
You may have heard of the circadian rhythm. It's basically your body's natural 24-hour cycle, including the sleep-wake cycle. As a newborn, your baby's sleep isn't governed by circadian rhythms like an adult's. That is — not yet.
Until around 3-months of age, your newborn baby was still developing in countless ways, sleeping about 70% of the time. But this sleep is divided up into short intervals throughout the day and night. Newborns wake frequently for night feedings and nap often during the day . Ultimately, their sleep cycles weren’t fully mature, and they didn’t completely wake up between sleep cycles. For that reason they were able to sleep longer stretches, waking really only to feed.
But once they reach 4-months their sleep patterns adjust to be more in line with adult sleep patterns with more wakefulness during the day and greater sleep at night. This means they now spend more time in a lighter state of sleep which causes them to fully rouse between each 45-min-1 hour cycle.
This basically manifests as more frequent night wakings – a baby who previously maybe only woke every 2-3 or even 3-4 hours, is now waking every hour. And since the act of falling asleep is a learned skill, if your baby hasn’t learned how to fall asleep independently by this stage then they look for support from Mom or Dad to help them get back to sleep.
“The 4-month sleep regression takes parents by surprise, just when it feels like sleep is starting to settle into a consistent pattern – these frequent night wakings kick in. My best advice is to start sleep training now, the sooner your baby learns how to fall asleep independently, the less impact future regressions will have on their sleep.”
Mandy Treeby, Pediatric Sleep Coach and Co-Founder of the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers.
What happens to your baby’s sleep at 4-months?
As adults, we constantly alternate between four stages that range from light to deep sleep throughout the night. Until a baby is about three months of age, he spends his sleepy time in two sleep stages . Then, babies begin to go through four sleep stages once they're a few months old.
As an adult, you’ve fully adjusted to these sleep cycles and likely don't even realize you're going through them. But your baby is just learning to go through more complex sleep cycles. If your baby becomes woken during a lighter sleep cycle, he may have trouble getting right back to sleep, especially if:
- They wake up in a different place than where they fell asleep. Imagine falling asleep on the coach, all cosy and waking up on the kitchen floor? That’s how your baby feels after being transferred from your arms to the crib.
- They didn’t fall asleep on their own. If you nursed/fed or rocked your baby to sleep then when they wake they are looking for the same support to fall back to sleep.
Not only that, but at three to four months of age, your baby is conquering a lot more milestones than just sleep cycles! Your baby may be starting to teethe, rollover, or be going through a big growth spurt around this time. Research has shown that sleep disruptions can occur when your baby is going through milestones , like advances in motor development. So if your baby is showing some big changes around three to four months, it could also play into his 4-month sleep regression.
Signs your baby is going through the 4-Month Sleep Regression
How do you know if your baby is going through the 4-month sleep regression?
Sure signs your 4-month old may be experiencing the 4-month sleep regression include?
- Your four-month-old starts waking up at night more often than usual
- Your four-month-old is waking up every hour or two hours
- Your four-month-old starts waking for feeds frequently
- Your baby has a harder time falling asleep
- Your baby may be fussier when he wakes up
- Your baby is sleeping for a shorter length of time overall
- Your four-month-old is waking up crying
As your baby is hard at work taking in the world around him and learning new skills, sleep regressions usually happen alongside other milestones and changes.
How Long Does the 4-Month Sleep Regression Last?
Every baby is unique. But for most babies, sleep regressions last up somewhere between 2 and 6 weeks. Typically babies with healthy, strong sleep habits experience a shorter length of disruption and some babies may not go through a noticeable sleep regression at all. Your baby will most likely have sleep regressions that come and go at various times during his first year.
Have no fear —the 4-month sleep regression doesn't last forever. But this doesn't mean it's not a challenge for parents. Whether this is your first baby or you have other children at home, frequent nighttime wakings aren't fun. If your four-month-old is not sleeping, and you’re looking for help to get through this difficult spell – start our free sleep consultation and get sleep back on track.
How to Survive the 4-Month Sleep Regression from a Pediatric Sleep Consultant
If you're going through a 4-month sleep regression with your baby, you’re not alone! Coping with sleep regression is a normal part of parenthood, and also a temporary state. With a few easy strategies, you can help your baby get through the regression and support him on his path to more mature sleep. The upside of sleep regression is your baby may start sleeping for longer intervals at night, once he gets through the regression.
Mandy Treeby, Pediatric Sleep Coach and Co-Founder of the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers shares her recommendations to help establish healthy sleep habits for your baby and cope with sleep regressions:
1. Adopt a Healthy Bedtime Routine
It’s important to establish a stable routine to promote good sleep habits. Through a calming, peaceful atmosphere and consistent bedtimes, you'll help your child settle into sleep more easily. Whether or not your child is going through a sleep regression, a routine will help them feel safe and secure knowing what to expect each evening. A bedtime routine could include things like feeding, a warm bath, reading books together, applying lotion, giving an infant massage, and putting him to sleep in the same place each night.
2. Keep a Dark Sleep Environment
Natural light and dark cycles help your baby know when it’s time to sleep or wake up. Keeping the room pitck dark at for both naps and overnight sleep will help your baby know when it’s time for sleep. If they wake up during the night, the dark environment will help them fall back asleep.
3. Give your Baby the Chance to Practice Sleeping on His Own
It may be tempting to always pick up your baby, rock him, or cuddle him when he is sleepy. There's nothing wrong with giving him as many cuddles as he needs, but it can be helpful to let your baby try falling asleep on his own.
If your baby wakes up at night, don't talk or play. Instead, try to take care of his needs calmly and quietly and get him back to bed quickly. It's also helpful to put your baby down when he's drowsy instead of fully asleep, so he can get used to falling asleep on his own.
4. Ensure Baby Is Well-Fed Throughout the Day and Before Bedtime
Your baby is growing rapidly before your eyes — he needs lots of nutrition to fuel all those big changes! A hungry belly could leave your baby wakeful and fussy during the night. Try feeding Baby in a quiet place during the day so he'll have fewer distractions from eating. Then, feed him right before bed so he'll be less likely to wake up hungry at 4 a.m.
5. Be Gentle With Yourself
Being a parent is powerfully rewarding. But it's not an easy job. Don't forget to be patient with yourself as much as your baby as new challenges arise. With growth comes change. And it's a learning curve for both of you!
Going through a 4-month sleep regression can be difficult. But armed with knowledge and a few helpful strategies, you can survive it. Rest assured, a 4-month sleep regression is a normal part of your baby's development that will come and go. As always, if you have any concerns about your child's sleep patterns or overall health, talk to your pediatrician.