Managing the 4 Month Sleep Regression
by Tara Mitchell - The Gentle Sleep Consultant
So, we’ve all heard about the dreaded four-month sleep regression! In order to know what we can do when it happens, it’s really important to have an understanding of what’s going on with your little one.
Around this age, your little one’s sleep cycles become more defined. This means that they now wake up to a greater extent between each cycle of sleep. So instead of just peacefully drifting between lesser-defined sleep cycles for 2-3 hours at a time, they become very dynamic. When this happens, if your little one lacks the ability to get themselves back to sleep each time they drift out of a cycle, you’ll now start to get them calling out approximately two-hourly during the night, and after 30-50 minutes during day naps. Many find the second half of the night particularly troublesome.
At the same time, your little one is now growing out of their newborn stage, and the things that we’ve been doing to get them to sleep are becoming recognised patterns for them. Think of it as conditioning. For example, if your little one is beginning to get used to the fact that they are rocked or fed back to sleep, that conditioning is what they will become to rely on. It’s the perfect storm!
So, here are some ways that I recommend you getting through the four-month sleep regression:
Firstly, it is going to be really important to avoid allowing your baby to become overtired during this time. The more tired your bub is, the more stress hormones are running through their bodies. This can really hinder their ability to get into a deep sleep. When they can’t get into deep sleep, they often tend to drift on light sleep cycles which causes them to wake more frequently and also to a much more awake point between cycles. Try not to get caught up on putting them to bed at a certain time (e.g. 7:00pm bedtime). Try to work with the standard-length awake periods that I recommend for their age, and pair that with observation and trial to see if they need to go down a little sooner or a tad later.
My second recommendation is that it’s really important to be mindful of what your little one expecting that they require to get to sleep (and to stay asleep!). Some really common examples here are using a dummy or rocking your little one. What you introduce them to when they’re little is what they will continue to expect, and continuing to pop the dummy back in or rock your bub to sleep may not be sustainable in the long term for you both. Along with this, you’ll want to put them down in their own safe sleep space as much as possible. Begin to work on getting them used to the idea of falling asleep where they will wake up. This will help them to get into deeper sleep cycles and better patterns.
Thirdly, during this time I highly recommend ensuring that your little one has a clearly defined awake period. It’s very common for young babies to get really drowsy on feeds, however this will lead to your little one fighting their upcoming nap, as getting drowsy on their feeds has allowed them to rest and has removed their appetite for the sleep ahead. So, work on keeping your babe more aware during feeds, followed by some playtime, then off to bed. This is a key point for me - I really believe in keeping babes properly awake in their awake period, but not making their awake periods too long.
This period can be a little tough, try not to overwhelm yourself with too much conflicting information, choose a couple of sources that sit right with your parenting style and stay confident in your abilities as a Parent. You’ve got this!