Sleep Solutions: Tackling the 4-Month Sleep Regression Head-On for Restful Nights
Hands up if you've faced the 4-month sleep regression!
Just when you thought you had your baby's sleep routine down, the once-smooth patterns take a turn. Naps are shorter, waking occurs every 45 minutes, getting them to sleep becomes a challenge, and overnight, they may wake up every 2 hours. Let's navigate this phase together!
What's going on?
This is what sleep consultants and parents refer to as the 4-month sleep regression.
Fundamentally it is actually more a progression in terms of your baby's sleep maturity, but it is a regression in terms of how well they are sleeping, and likely how little you are sleeping!
What do you need to know?
It’s 100% normal for your baby to suddenly start waking after 45 minutes.
This is a full sleep cycle for a baby, they take 15-20 minutes to drift off from a light sleep to a deep sleep, and this deep sleep is over 25 minutes later. If your baby is napping for more than 45 minutes, they are completing more than one of these sleep cycles. (See the above diagram)
If when your baby falls asleep they require a sleep association such as rocking, holding, feeding, or a dummy, often when they wake from a sleep cycle, this sleep association is gone, and instead of a brief wake up, and back to sleep, they'll fully wake up and cry out looking for that sleep association.
Overnight in the first 3 months often your babies sleep cycles are 4-6 hour’s long, this can mean you baby sleeps for 4-6 hours has a quick feed and then returns to sleep for another 4-6 hours, bliss!
Once this 4-month sleep regression hits and your baby’s night sleep patterns change, babies often start to wake every 2-4 hours overnight looking for that same sleep association.Exhausting!
This is due to the change in sleep cycle length, and often over tiredness from the short day time naps.
We only expect a partial wake up every 2 hour’s, a well-rested baby will stir and easy drift into a light sleep phase, and then back into a deeper sleep for a further 2 hours before fully waking up.
But an overtired baby or a baby who falls asleep with a sleep association can't re-settle themselves they'll fully wake when they reach that light sleep phase, and often cry for assistance to go back to sleep.
What can you do to help your Baby?
As the 4-month sleep regression is not really a regression but a progression in your babies sleep maturity, it is not something which your baby will “come through” or something which passes by.
I have clients come to me at 10-12 months, their baby is still cat napping and still waking every 2 hours, they feel their baby never came out of the 4 month sleep regression.
But don't panic their sleep will improve with time and a little help from you!
Babies need to adjust to the changes they are experiencing, and you can help them with small easy changes to their sleep hygiene and self-settling skills.
First and foremost is sleep hygiene:
Ensure their sleep environment is conducive to good sleep, a nice dark sleep space will promote melatonin production and be less distracting when you baby wakes after 45 minutes’.
Ensuring your baby has an age appropriate awake window, one which means baby is not over or under tired. We generally aim for around 2 hours awake time by 4 months, this is of course give or take depending on the baby.
Some positive sleep associations such as white noise, swaddles and sleeping bags will also be useful in good sleep hygiene.
Once your basics are in place, you can consider if your baby can self-settle, or if they are heading in that direction?
If your baby relies on your to rock, hold or feed them to sleep, once their sleep cycle finishes......... they're looking for the same association to get back to sleep.
Therefore your first goal should be to teach your baby to self settle to sleep initially, before worrying about re-settling at after a short nap, or at night.
Sometimes when your baby is taking short naps and waking frequently overnight, this fragmented sleep causes a big increase in sleep debt...............The result? ............. even shorter naps! Often 30 minutes long, and more and more crying from your baby throughout the day.
This is often when we receive a desperate phone call from parents.
At this stage I would recommend you try assisted naps for a few days to get on top of that sleep debt.
This means going for a walk for your baby’s naps, or baby wearing, anything which will easily ensure your baby gets some longer more restorative naps.
You might also want to peg back those awake windows for a few days to help reduce those stress hormones associated with this kind of sleep debt.
Are they hungry at night?
I don't want to assume to know your baby, but.......if they previously slept well at night, and are suddenly waking every 2 hours (to the minute), it is very very unlikely that this is a growth spurt, especially if their feeding in the day has become fussy, which is another common problem associated with this regression.
This fussiness comes from a lack of hunger due to multiple night feeds putting them off their feeds in the day.
A growth spurt typically lasts 48-72 hours, which is long enough for your supply to pick up, and is characterized by longer feeds, and possibly an extra feed at night, not 2 hourly feeding.
Avoid this situation which is called reverse cycling, by trying to settle your baby without a feed, as long as....
- Their weight gain is tracking well
- They previously slept longer
- It has been less than 4 hours since they last fed
- You have no supply issues
- Baby has no milk transfer issues
Using self-settling strategies to gently teach your 4 month old to go back to sleep independently is the key to those longer stretches of sleep at night.
Hang in there!
If your baby has started taking these short 45 minutes, and their night sleep is regressing you are probably finding yourself in a very stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted state!
You are not alone, this is one of the most common issues we deal with at Baby Sleep Consultant.
Concentrating on more night sleep will help both of you to feel less over tired, and consequently you will both have more patience to deal with the short naps once you are ready.
Try the night plans in our online sleep program. We teach parents how to drop from multiple night feeds, to 2 night feeds, then 1, then none!
All without cry it out.
Plus you get free email support with every online sleep program!
What did these mum's do?
Chloe “My daughter went through it between 3.5 and 4.5 months and it was a month of hell. Went from sleeping through the night with a dream feed to waking multiple times and crying, and she was just unable to be settled. Her 45 minutes’ naps dropped to just 20 minutes! It was worse than when she was a newborn. I ended up contacting Baby Sleep Consultant as I was exhausted physically and emotionally, Emma sorted her day sleeps and her night sleeps.”
Kelly Johnson “The 1 big thing that helped me was research, so by the time I had my 4th child I learnt about the 4 month change in sleep patterns. I was prepared, I had a baby carrier so he could be if I needed a long nap and it wasn't happening, and I was made sure I was eating properly as I was breastfeeding and he was on a nap routine by 4 months. I followed the Baby Sleep Consultant 3-8 month sleep program and we got through it with less drama than my other 3!!"
Kate Gentile “ I have four kids and con honestly say if the 4 month sleep regression hit, I didn’t notice it! We had a strict nap routine by 3 months every time, and I made sure my babies took at least 2 naps a day in their bassinet”
Sharai de Klerk “ My little one seems to have started it at 13 weeks. We went from great day sleeps and sleeping all night, from 5/6 weeks to waking every 1.5-3 hours, worse than a newborn! I had some advice from a Baby Sleep Consultant to ensure good day naps, I baby wore for the first few days, and it really helped. We are back to 1-2 feeds max a night. Try the sleep program, it works!!!”
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education.
Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
Our Baby Sleep Program helps tired parents TO DEVELOP HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS BY FOCUSING ON NAPS, SETTLING AND NIGHT SLEEP.
- Empowered: Feel empowered as a Mum as you learn to understand your growing baby's needs and cues.
- Simple effective settling: Gentle, proven self settling, evidence based techniques.
- Content happy baby and parents: Better sleep creates content babies & happy parents.
- Freedom: Predictable routines and longer nights creates freedom. Solve your sleep problems for more freedom.
- Work with your babies circadian rhythm: Work with your babies biological clock for faster easier results.
- Awesome naps & nights: You'll create consistent naps and nights with our support.
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