Many moms think they have sleep mastered and then BOOM, the 4-month mark hits and suddenly things go sideways! Naps start getting shorter, falling asleep becomes harder, and more frequent night wakes start happening…Your whole schedule and “plan” has gone off track!
What is going on?
It’s what industry experts and parents call the 4-month sleep regression. However, it is actually more of an evolvement developmentally. A baby’s sleep is actually maturing but regresses in the sense that changes happens and sleep habits change – and not for the better!
What you need to know
A full sleep cycle for a baby is 45 minutes and it is the norm for a child to wake after 1 sleep cycle- almost like clockwork.
A baby can take 15-20 minutes to drift off into a nice deep state of sleep and once that dreamt state ends, about 25 minutes later, they wake at the end of the sleep cycle.
If you baby is sleeping longer than 45 minutes- BRAVO- they are getting through one of these sleep cycles.
During the nights, in the first 3 months, babies sleep cycles or phases are 4-6 hour’s long, this can mean your baby sleeps for 4-6 hours, wakes and has a quick feed and then returns to sleep for another 4-6 hours, DREAMY!
Once a 4-month sleep regression comes your way, your baby’s night sleep patterns will change. Babies often start to wake every 2-4 hours overnight. This happens because of the change in the sleep cycle length, and quite often over tiredness from daytime naps that are short. Bad day sleep = bad night sleep. They go hand-in-hand.
A well-rested baby will often have a partial wake every 2 hours, stir, and then likely drift back into the light sleep phase and then back into a deeper sleep phase for another 2 hours before a full wake. An overtired baby will wake full when they reach that light sleep phase and will shout out for some comfort or a feed.
How can you help your baby (and your sanity)?
This is a stage which may need a little work on your part and isn’t necessarily just going to “go away”.
Here are a few things you can do to help your wee one out at this time:
Ensure their sleep environment is conducive to healthy, solid sleep. It should be dark to promote melatonin production and by being dark, your baby will have less distraction when they wake after that first sleep cycle (45 mins).
Make sure your child is comfortable and has positive sleep associations like a sleep sac, a swaddle (if you are using) or a sound machine (set to white noise or rain).
Have your baby on an age appropriate schedule. This means making sure your child isn’t up for too long or for too little! At the 4-month mark, we usually recommend about 1 hr. 30-45 minutes of awake time before they are ready to sleep again.
Get rid of those props for sleep– rocking, nursing, bouncing on an exercise ball, driving around the city…..Teach your baby to go to sleep before they are drowsy. When they know how to get from awake to asleep on their own, that is where the magic sleep skills begin!
An early bedtime (as early as 6 pm) is better than a late bedtime. Don’t think that if you keep your baby up longer that they will sleep longer. That actually leads to a very tired baby and more night wakes due to the amount of sleep debt built up.
Don’t let this 4-month regression get you down. Instead, let it encourage you to take action to get that healthy sleep your child, you, and your family deserves. It’s a stressful and tiring time for families. It doesn’t have to be with the right tool and guidance.