How To Ride Out the 4 Month Sleep Regression And Come Out The Other Side
If there’s anything new parents are anxious about, it’s usually the 4 month sleep regression. And I get it! You’re bleary-eyed from the endless newborn nights, and well intentioned friends can’t help but tell you what you’re in for - horror stories and all. Augh, no thanks! I know your first big sleep struggle (or 3rd, or 17th) can be daunting, but trust me when I say that I’ve guided hundreds of families through this regression, and every single one has made it through. I look at a regression as a positive thing, and it’s important to remember that when you’re frustrated about getting up with your baby (yet again!) in the night.
A quick science lesson
Believe it or not, there’s actually a lot that goes on BTS when it comes to your baby’s sleep. Many of us think you’re either awake or asleep, but it’s more complicated than that. You’ve heard me talk about “sleep cycles” a lot over here, and on Instagram, that all of us cycle through – babies and adults alike! If you zoom into these sleep cycles even closer, you’ll notice that each cycle has multiple stages of sleep. The 4 month sleep regression is a big one because your babe now has additional sleep stages their little mind wasn’t contending with before.
So what are the stages? Here’s a quick rundown:
Stage 1 – That familiar stage where you can just feel yourself drifting off, but don’t feel like you’ve fallen asleep. You’re sorta asleep, but still aware of what’s going on around you.
Stage 2 - The first stage where you’re actually sleeping – the kind where you actually know you slept when you wake up.
Stage 3 – Ahhh, the deep & restorative stage. This is where your body gets to work repairing your systems after a long day of living.
Stage 4 – Here’s where you’ll have REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Your brain is more active during this stage and you’ll do more thinking and dreaming.
Once you’ve gone through all of the stages, you’ll come close to waking up (or actually will!) and cycle through them again.
Newborns only experience stages 3 & 4, so it’s no wonder their sleep habits are pretty straightforward. The 4 month sleep regression is when another stage of sleep is introduced, so be prepared for a bit of a rocky transition.
Why is sleep different now?
The 4 month progression means that your little one now experiences a new sleep stage. They spend more time in a lighter sleep stage, so they can wake more easily. The kicker is, around this time is when your little one can start learning to put themselves to sleep. But up until that point, they’ve typically had a lot of help going to sleep. You’re combining more wakings because of their new, lighter sleep cycle, with a lack of practice falling asleep independently. Of course you’re going to run into sleep hurdles!
If you haven’t already, now is a great time to start practicing independent sleep skills! I’m sure your little has enjoyed falling asleep by rocking, feeding, a soother or some other cozy method of going to bed. Nothing is wrong with this of course, but at 4+ months babies clue in to “needing” these actions to fall asleep, and call out to you every time they wake up. When you show them their own capabilities, they learn that they can put themselves back to sleep when they wake in the night, or too early from a nap. Talk about a serious win for a tired parent who just wants an 8 hour stretch!
It's all in the details
Take a look at your baby’s sleep environment. Their room should be dark, dark, dark! Light tells your little one’s brain that it’s time for activity, which is definitely not what you want when you’re trying to get them to sleep.
Next, is noise an issue? Doorbells, barking dogs, or poorly timed visitors can wake your babe more easily now that they spend more time in a lighter sleep stage. You’ve gotta keep living, right? A white noise machine is an easy fix, and your best friend when it comes to a happier, better rested baby.
Routines are a must! Doing the same things (in the same order!) every time you put your baby to bed signals to them that it’s time to go to sleep.
Using age-appropriate Awake Windows throughout the day means your little one is properly rested to go down at their bedtime. No more undertired babies ready to party in their crib, or overtired wee ones so exhausted they can’t sleep. Awake Windows are everything.
Don’t rush in the moment your baby peeps. Wait 10-15 minutes to create space for them to practice putting themselves to sleep. If those 10 minutes feel like 4358 minutes, set a timer to hold yourself accountable as they figure things out. If the timer goes off and baby is still upset, comfort your little one and try again next time.
Can I let you in on a little secret? Sleep training is every bit as much about training the parents as it is the baby. It’s true! How we respond to our children tells them how to react, and that definitely includes them believing they need you to fall asleep. My expert opinion is that you don’t need to wait until the 4 month regression to start sleep training! At 12+ weeks, most babies are ready to learn their own abilities in putting themselves to sleep.
Need help? You know I’ve got you! Book your call to see how I can guide you to your sleep goals and get your whole fam the rest they need.