You thought that your baby was an angel sleeper. She slept through the dogs barking or the doorbell ringing, but everything has changed! Your perfect sleeper has suddenly changed, and you have no idea what in the world is wrong!
I can tell you what is wrong. Your four month old has entered a dreaded sleep regression. These periods change your baby from predictable and relaxed to a difficult terror. You may end up waking up every hour to feed or walk your child. They are tired; you can tell just by looking at your baby! However, nothing works to get them to stay asleep. It is a frustrating time for everyone involved.
While a sudden change could teething or an ear infection, nearly every four month old will face some sleep regression. If your baby is around this age, there is a good chance that it is a problem.
What is a Sleep Regression?
Despite the trouble, it causes parents; a sleep regression is quite standard. They are periods of time when your baby, who normally sleeps well, starts to wake more frequently at night. They may fight sleep or refuse to take a nap. The regression lasts for a period, and there are a few typical months you can count on experiencing one.
- 3 or 4 months old
- Nine months old
- 18 months old
Why Do 4 Months Old Have a Sleep Regression?
The four-month regression is a doozy, for some reasons. This regression makes a permanent change in your baby’s sleeping habits. Until this time, your child’s sleep closely resembled newborns. However, as they age, their cycle looks more similar to that of an adult. Newborns don’t sleep anything like an adult, but your baby is about to make a drastic change.
When your baby was born, they more than likely slept through anything anywhere. If the dog was barking at the cat, he probably never noticed and snoozed right through it. However, your four-month-old is entirely different! Their brains have drastically changed, and they have developed a sleep cycle. Your precious child is now alternating between light and deep sleep – just like you do!
Most people have heard of rapid eye movement, which is a period of active sleep. REM is important for babies; it is the time when your child’s brain is development, and they are gaining stimulation. Once they cycle out of REM, they enter a stage of inactive sleep. This step allows your baby’s brain and body to rest and rejuvenate in preparation for the hours ahead.
It may not sound like an exciting milestone, but your baby is making huge developments when they hit the four-month sleep regression. Now, they are going to cycle through light and deep sleep. It is a normal and healthy period of their lives.
The problem comes when your baby makes it through a cycle of sleep. You are likely to notice a lot more night waking and shorter naps. As your child leaves the deep sleep stage and enters the light sleep, they may wake up. Once he is awake, he needs his parent to help him fall back to sleep. What a cycle!
The New Sleep Cycle
A newborn enters deep sleep and stays on that stage while they are snoozing. You can typically transfer a newborn to another person or lay them down without disturbing them. However, would you wake up if your husband tries to pick you up or remove you from the recliner if you were taking a nap? More than likely, you absolutely would! Just like your four-month-old, you respond differently, especially to disturbances.
There are some significant changes to understand about this development. Your baby will probably take longer to get to sleep. When you finally get your child to fall asleep, they will not immediately enter the deep sleep stage. After they have 30 minutes of light sleep, they enter deep sleep. In that first 30 minutes, sounds or movements that didn’t disturb him before may cause issues. Your baby may wake himself up and not be sure how to get back to sleep.
Adults cycles through deep and light sleep as well. During an average night, we have four to six cycles. Each lasts approximately 90 minutes. Your baby’s cycle is close to an hour long. Gradually, as they grow, the cycle will length. Adults can wake up during light sleep and go directly back to sleep without any trouble. Our job is to help our baby get back to sleep when they wake up during the light sleep stage.
How to Survive the 4 Month Sleep Regression
There is one significant difference between this regression and the other standard months – this one doesn’t go away. A baby’s sleep cycle will stay this way indefinitely. They are now on their way to sleeping just like you. Waiting a few weeks won’t change anything; your baby has entered a new milestone, and you have to work with them to make the situation better.
Don’t fret! There are so many ways to help your baby learn how to sleep, and you will make it through this tough time.
For the first few days, you may just want to focus on surviving. This regression is hard! Everyone is exhausted and frustrated. You need a sleep plan before you can make a difference, so develop a strategy and get to work. Try to take a few naps beforehand.
1. Help your baby fall asleep the way he was before the regression
You may opt to continue with the sleep associations set previously. If your child likes to nurse to sleep, keep doing it. Some kids want to be rocked or bounced to sleep. Whatever you did beforehand, do it now. You want your baby to fall asleep, and you want him to be rested. An overtired baby is dreadful. Focus on getting your baby (and yourself) as much sleep as possible. At some point, you will have to wean your child from the sleep associations, but that day isn’t today.
2. Stick to a predictable schedule
You don’t have to stick to specific times for everything, but a general schedule or routine is good for everyone in the family. Infants and older children like to have an idea of what is coming up. For example, my son loves knowing that after lunch time, he gets to watch his favorite cartoon while his brother lays down for a nap. It is part of our daily routine, and he knows it is coming up.
During the day, here is an example of what our infant’s schedule looks like:
- Once they wake up from their nap, it is play time. Typically, they are ready to interact and have fun with mom, dad or their siblings.
- After they have been awake for some time, it is time to eat. I give my infants solids around six months old, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing solids between four and six months old. Lunch is a great time to give your baby some of his first tastes of food!
- With a full belly, my little ones typically have a bit more time before they are noticeably tired. For naptimes and bedtimes, we read. We get their favorite blanket and snuggle up with a book. Then, it is naptime.
Your bedtime routine can be longer and more elaborate. Many parents include things like a lotion massage, bath time, snacks or a warm bowl of oatmeal, and multiple stories. Remember, it is never too early to introduce reading!
3. Don’t let your child get too sleepy
Despite what you may think, an overtired baby is a nightmare to handle. Whatever you do, don’t try to keep your child up longer during the day in hopes that it leads to better nighttime sleep. This myth will backfire on you, in a huge way. An overtired baby is over stimulated with heightened levels of cortisol and adrenaline. You will face a huge fight to get him to sleep, and he likely won’t stay asleep very long. Instead, you need to watch your baby for signs of sleepiness. You want to put your child to sleep when he is getting tired, not when he is beyond exhausted. Here are some signs:
- Not making eye contact
- Rubbing their eyes
- Some babies pull their ears when sleepy
- Whining or overly cranky
Typically, you want your child to head to sleep before they are crying and having a meltdown. A well-rested baby is easier to get to bed and will adjust to this sleep regression stage much better.
4. Find ways to soothe your baby until you have a good strategy
You want a baby that is well-rested, so that means soothing you baby in whatever method that works until you figure out a plan. Here are some ideas that parents find help their baby get to sleep so that they can get sleep as well.
Keep swaddling or offering a pacifier. If you don’t typically try these methods, see if they help your baby get some more shut eye than before.
Offer a dream feed. Not every child likes a dream feed, but it can be an excellent way to get a few more hours of glorious sleep. A dream feed requires the parent to feed the baby while they are asleep. The idea behind this method is to “top off” or fill up your child so that everyone gets a few more hours of sleep.
Use a swing or vibrating seat. A four-month-old may still like a swing or a vibrating seat. If your baby is a fan of these items, there is no reason not to use them to ensure everyone gets some sleep during this regression.
5. Set up a great sleeping environment
To get your child to sleep well, he is going to need the right sleeping environment. Everyone wants a cozy bedroom, and your baby is the same way. Your baby’s bedroom should be totally dark. Some parents add a nightlight, especially to avoid tripping over toys left by siblings. However, your baby may want the room to be totally dark. Blackout shades are ideal. Turn off the lights outside of their bedroom. Dark is good! A white noise machine is a favorite among parents. Many babies are unable to sleep if they don’t have background noise. It is comforting and lets them know sleep is on the way. You can purchase machines just for this purpose.
Always make sure your baby isn’t too hot or too cold. I can’t sleep if I am too hot. If I am cold, I will wake up, searching for a way to get warm again. Your baby is the same way. Make sure their bedroom is the same temperature as the rest of the home. Blanket sleepers are ideal until your child is old enough to have them in their bed.
Let your baby feel as if you are nearby. Children want their parents close. If you can, try to mimic your presence. Place your shirt nearby, so your baby can smell you. A breast pad placed into the crib can help your child stay asleep. Some parents even put a crib sheet on their bed for a few days before putting it in the crib.
Surviving the four-month-old sleep regression can be difficult. It is so important to remember that your child’s brain is undergoing rapid change. Their sleep is similar to yours now. While this milestone doesn’t feel exciting, it means your baby is developing and is right on target.
Your first goal is to endure the sleepless nights and try to ensure everyone gets as much sleep as possible. From there, you need to create a comfortable sleeping environment and work on getting your baby to sleep again. A routine, developing new sleep association and introducing a dream feed could be the solution to your problems.
One day, you will be able to say you survived the dreaded four-month-old sleep regression.