Your once awesome sleeping baby is now waking up every hour, and you can’t figure out what is wrong. If your baby is between the ages of three and four months old, you have entered the dreaded 4 month sleep regression.
This sleep regression is a big one, and it often pairs up with a growth spurt to make everyone in the house lose sleep. It’s not a myth either; experts have shown that this is the time when your baby’s sleep cycle changes and becomes similar to the adult sleep cycle.
Your little baby has a lot going on, and they show this by waking up all night long and taking horrible naps for weeks on end.
Don’t worry; you’re in good company. A majority of babies, no matter how good of a sleeper they are, hit a stumbling block when they come to this regression, but with the right tips and tricks, you can get your baby back on the right sleeping track.
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What is the 4 Month Sleep Regression?
The 4 month sleep regression is a time when your baby is between 3 to 4 months old, and their sleep patterns start to change. Their sleep cycle includes times of light sleep and deep sleep.
You may have had a great sleeper for a month or two, but now, your baby has a lot of disruptions during his sleeping. Babies often need help to get back to sleep and prefer not to be away from you.
It often looks like this.
You rock your baby to sleep in your arms and attempt to move him to the crib. Then, they wake up shortly later and want you again. You help him get back to sleep, and then your baby wakes up again.
This continues throughout the night, disrupting everyone’s sleep in the family.
Signs of the 4-Month Sleep Regression
How does a parent know that their child has hit this sleep regression stage? There are a few usual signs; if your baby has more than one of these and is the right age range, chances are you are in the sleep regression!
- Frequent waking at night, especially when they used to sleep long stretches at night. Your baby may wake up every one to two hours.
- Short naps, between 20 and 45 minutes.
- Your baby cannot be put down awake or even asleep; he may only want to sleep while being held.
- Increased irritability and fussiness
- Needing to be put back to sleep the same way every time, such as rocking or being nursed to sleep.
Why Do Babies Have the 4 Month Sleep Regression?
This sleep regression is caused by a biological change in the way your baby sleeps, rather than a regression caused by a temporary issue. Your baby is waking up more at night because of growth and development.
Now, your baby’s sleep cycle includes times of light sleep, along with a traditional REM sleep that adults experience. Your baby has to learn how to fall back to sleep during the light periods of sleep.
Let’s look at the changes your baby is experiencing during this sleep regression.
Developmental Changes Between Three & Four Months Old
Newborns don’t produce melatonin, commonly called the sleep hormone, but they start to between three and four months old. This hormone regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
At the same time, babies develop their internal body clock called the circadian rhythm that starts to control their sleep. Your baby cycles through light and deep sleep, and they experience a brief period of wakening after each cycle. Adults experience the same thing, but we rarely notice.
Your baby notices.
These periods of wakefulness is a built-in protective mechanism that lets the body check out their environment and make sure things are fine. Your baby is developing a mature sleep cycle, but that brings new challenges.
When Will the 4 Month Sleep Regression Start?
As the name suggests, this sleep regression starts between three and four months of age, whenever their sleep cycles start to change. However, if your child was premature, they may hit it later.
How Long Does It Last?
The 4 month sleep regression lasts two to six weeks, depending on how quickly your baby goes back to their sleep habits and links their sleep cycles together on their own. Since part of this is developmental, it is hard to set a true limit on how long it lasts.
Will The Sleep Regression Affect Naps?
Yes, it’s possible for this sleep regression to affect nap times. Babies often take shorter naps during this period since they wake up every 30-45 minutes of sleep. Unless you help your baby back to sleep, expect much shorter naps.
8 Tips to Handle the 4 Month Sleep Regression
Sleep is important for brain development and your baby’s overall health. Here are some tips to help handle the four month sleep regression.
1. Stick to a Bedtime Routine
The first thing you want to make sure you do is stick to a consistent bedtime routine, along with nap time routines. This is an easy way to allow your baby to calm down ahead of going to sleep as their bodies relax and get ready for sleeping.
A bedtime routine doesn’t have to be complicated; it should be easy enough to replicate each evening.
It could look like feeding time followed by bath time or clean up time before switching into pajamas and a clean diaper. You may read a book beforehand followed by topping off with more nursing or the last of a formula bottle.
Typically, a bedtime routine needs to have predictable steps that make transitioning to bed easier.
2. Help Your Child Fall Asleep on Their Own
Your baby’s new developmental stage causes your baby to wake frequently at night in between sleep cycles, so helping your baby learn how to fall asleep on their own is imperative. Give them opportunities to fall asleep in their sleep space, so when they wake up in the middle of the night, they aren’t scared or worried.
3. Keep Up with Pacifiers & Swaddling
Now isn’t the time to change things unless your baby is breaking out of the swaddle regularly. If that’s the case, use a sleep sack or a transitional sleep sack.
If your baby is taking a pacifier, now isn’t the time to change it up and try to take it away. You’re more likely to need it during this time to stay sane.
4. Consider Your Baby’s Hunger
If your baby is waking up often in the middle of the night, you typically will want to make sure they aren’t hungry. Babies often hit a growth spurt around the same time as their four month sleep regression.
A three to four month old baby needs one to four feedings at night, which is a big range but it’s quite individual. You may need to offer more formula or breast milk during the day to help curb your baby’s nighttime hunger. A few other options are cluster feeding before bedtime, dream feeding before you go to sleep, or increasing the ounces of your baby’s bottle in the middle of the night.
5. Keep The Sleeping Space Dark
A darker room is easier and better for sleeping. I always have blackout curtains in our nursery’s and bedrooms.
Light exposure tells our internal clocks that it’s time to wake up rather than sleep, so a dark bedroom leads to longer nap times and later waking up times. This is especially true in the summer time when the daylight hours are longer.
During the four month sleep regression, seeing light can signal your baby’s bod to wake up early every day. So, darkening the room to stop sunlight from waking your baby too early is essential.
6. Prevent Your Baby from Getting Overtired
Babies won’t always fall asleep when they’re tired; they have the habit of staying awake too long and becoming overtired. When that happens, your baby may fight bedtime and cry more, making it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.
So, watching your baby’s schedule is essential. Make sure they go to sleep within the appropriate wake window of time. When it comes to babies, sleep begets more sleep. If someone tells you to keep your baby awake longer so they sleep longer, ignore them; chances are they aren’t a parent.
7. Let Your Child Fuss a Bit
It’s tempting to rush in and get your baby as soon as you hear noises, but don’t do that! Babies often make noises in their sleep, or they may stir in between cycles. If you rush in, they fully wake up, but many times, babies fall back to sleep on their own.
8. Be Patient Throughout the Sleep Regression
No matter how many steps you take to improve your baby’s sleep during this sleep regression, most babies experience a small set back. It takes time for your baby to learn how to consistently fall asleep on their own, and that typically won’t happen until five to six months of age or later.
Also, it’s important to set up age-appropriate expectations. If you expect your baby to sleep 10-12 hours straight at this age, you’re likely to be disappointed. Many babies cannot sleep through the night at this age, so set good expectations and continue to give your baby the chance to practice.
No matter how frustrating this time may seem, the four month sleep regression eventually comes to an end, and your baby will start to sleep better again. Continue using these tips, and before you know it, everyone in the house will get good sleep.