I have written this blog to explain what is happening and why, when your baby goes through the sleep regression. I also want to give you some useful tips on how to deal with the 4 month sleep regression stage.
The 4 month regression!
At around 4 months of age your baby will go through the ‘4 month sleep regression’, this is the only true sleep ‘regression’ that your baby will go through. Many people believe that there are several more sleep regression periods down the line but in fact these are developmental. Developmental stages that could effect sleep include things such as rolling, babbling, crawling, weaning, illness, teething and any big life changes like moving house or starting nursery. These events may or may not have an effect on your babies sleep, it all depends on how your little one responds.
Since my sleep practitioner training I came to understand the 4 month sleep regression as more of as a ‘progression’ as it is in fact, it is a massive cognitive development and the time their sleep cycles are maturing and they are developing sleep cycles . I appreciate however that during this stage it is hard to see this is a ‘progression’ as beforehand your baby may have slept for longer and more often.
So what is happening during the 4 month sleep regression?
New-born baby sleep is made up of 2 stages of sleep. They spend 50% in deep sleep and 50% in light sleep. Their sleep has a tendency to be random and it is not long after they have had a feed that they are then sleeping again.
When a baby has come to the end of the 4 month sleep regression their sleep and cycles become more structured very much like ours but our sleep cycles are 1.5 hours in length and little ones sleep cycles tend to be 30-60 minutes in length. They now have 4 stages of sleep known as ‘sleep cycles’.
Stage 1 and Stage 2 (light, REM sleep)- dreaming, processing memories and learning, putting together the previous days’ events, semi-conscious wake between each sleep cycle.
Stage 3 and Stage 4 (deep, Non REM sleep) –this is where the growth hormone is secreted, sleep is restorative including cell growth and repair.
Can you expect the sleep regression to start at 4 months precisely?
Four months is 17.3 weeks, no one child is the same and 4 months is an average. Your baby can start to go through the regression from 3 months of age and when the sleep changes start you can expect the sleep regression to last around 2-3 weeks.
When the sleep regression ends…
If you have introduced independent sleep skills to your little one, then you would expect sleep to improve when they finish their sleep regression period. Independent sleep skills are intrinsic to a child being able to sleep through their sleep cycles without a need for you or something to get them back into their next sleep cycle. The use of the word ‘independent’ sounds a bit harsh and optimistic at their age but it simply means that, if your little one needs something external to help them to fall back to sleep again, they do not have their independent sleep skills. The ‘things’ they use to help them to sleep are referred to as ‘sleep props’ and after the 4 month sleep regression they will need this prop after every sleep cycle to get themselves back to sleep again. Props include feeding to sleep, rocking, the motion of a car or pram, music, basically anything that they need to help them to sleep.
Why does your baby seem to wake up just as you are going to bed?
I work with lots of parents that say,’ baby was sleeping well up until a week ago and now they wake many times throughout the night starting at the point that we are on our way to bed’. Yes this is happening, it is not just them imagining that baby wakes just as they want to sleep. Post 4 month regression the first half of sleep is during the initial deep sleep cycle. Two to three hours later (possibly just as you are on your way to bed), the sleep cycles thereafter become much shorter and lighter. During the lighter stages of each sleep cycle, we all come to the edge of sleep and wake momentarily but we know how to get back to sleep again. If your baby needs help to fall asleep, they will then rely upon you during these wake ups, to assist them back to sleep again.
How you can help baby through the 4-month regression:
- Independent sleep skills- you can practice putting your baby into the cot or moses basket awake at any point pre- 4 month sleep regression. Try once a day popping them down in their cot after their feed, wide awake and if they get upset, pick them up and allow them to sleep in the way they prefer, and try again the next day. If you are going through the regression stage, wait to practice this skill until the regression has finished (normally 2-3 weeks from the time they start to wake every hour or less after their initial deep sleep cycle at the start of the night).
- Bedroom environment – make sure the room that your baby is sleeping in is as dark as possible, close to 10/10 for darkness. Try to block out any residual light creeping in from blinds and curtains as this will be stimulating and will encourage cortisol in your baby’s body which sets them ready to wake up and start the day.
- Bedtime routine – take a look at my blog on ‘a better bedtime routine’ for guidance but as a rule don’t allow any more than 20–30-minute bedtime routine every night. It should be calming and in the same order. Ensure they have a full feed in their dimly lit room and keep them awake (this might be tricky before your little one hits the 4-month regression) and create a ‘buffer’ between feeding and bedtime. For example, follow the feed with a story or a song.
- Timings – try to follow the correct awake windows for your little one. This is the amount of time your baby is awake between sleep.
As a guide here are the awake windows to follow but remember that every little one is different so it is advised to learn their sleepy cues as it may be sooner or later than the guide recommends.
- 0-6 weeks: 45 mins-1hr
- 6 weeks: 1 hour – 1.5 hours
- 3-4 months: About 1.5 hours
- 4-6 months: 1.5 hours – 2.5 hours
- 6-9 months: 2-3 hours
- 9-12 months: About 3 hours
- 12-18 months: 3.5 hours – 4.5 hours
- 18 months: 5-6 hours