What are the signs and tips on how to ease the transition?
What is the 4 Month Sleep Regression?
Between 3-4 months old our babies experience a transition from newborn sleep to more adult-like sleep. During this period, even babies who were good sleepers can suddenly wake frequently and start refusing naps altogether. It's actually a positive developmental sign that your babies sleep is maturing. At this age we also see babies develop a greater interest in the world around them, and some may begin rolling. Naturally, these too can cause sleep disruptions.
What is happening during this regression?
As a newborn, your baby only experienced two sleep phases called Active and Quiet sleep. At 4 months old, they begin cycling through four stages of sleep just like adults. Suddenly, they spend more time in light REM sleep which can cause more wake ups.
Why can this cause sleep issues?
As your baby comes out of deep sleep and enters light sleep they very slightly awaken and check in with their surroundings. This is a natural survival technique to protect them. However, if they check in and the conditions they fell asleep in have changed, they will fully awake and can struggle to return to sleep until the original conditions are met. Take for example, a baby that is rocked to sleep. After falling asleep in your arms you place them in the cot, but after 45 minutes you hear them crying out. What's happened here is your little one fell asleep quite happily in your arms and when they've woken up you're not there anymore and they need you to fall back to sleep. It must feel very confusing for them! This is where we start to talk about 'Sleep Associations' and how during this regression they can cause more longer-lasting impact.
Could it be the sleep regression or something else?
Even with things like teething or illness, a baby doesn't often wake up every 45-50 minutes, which can happen during the 4 month regression. The sleep regression commonly lasts between 2-6 weeks, a longer period than what you would expect other issues to affect sleep for. What other signs are there that it's the regression?
Shorter naps (45-50 minutes)
More frequent overnight wakes
What is a Sleep Association?
If a baby has been using an external sleep association to help them fall asleep, and settle back to sleep when they wake, they are likely to seek that external comfort again and again. Examples of a sleep association may be suckling, rocking or patting. This doesn't mean to say you cannot comfort your child. In fact they may need extra comfort during this period. This is all about balance, and finding the right level of support between comforting them to sleep and comforting them and then giving them space to fall asleep independently in their sleep space.
So, what can you do to survive the transition?
Whether you've noticed changes in your babies sleep, or you're preparing for the months ahead, here are a few tips to help ease the transition and make sleep go a little smoother:
1) Optimise the Sleep Environment
Darkness helps promote the sleep hormone melatonin which helps babies fall asleep and stay asleep. If their bedroom is too light it can be too distracting and stimulating for them to go to sleep, and they will be more likely to wake early. Make sure the room is between 16-20 degrees and you can consider using constant white noise which can help calm your baby and block out any unwanted noises that might wake them as they enter a lighter sleep stage.
2) Establish a consistent bedtime routine
Having a consistent pre-nap and bedtime routine can help signal to your baby that is it time for sleep. A baby that has a calming lead up to sleep will fall asleep quicker and is more likely to stay asleep for longer.
3) Watch for their sleep cues
An overtired baby will struggle to link their cycles at anytime, not just during the regression. Keep an eye on your babies sleepy cues, such as yawning or zoning out, and get them into their sleep space before they become overtired. Check out our instagram page for more info on sleep cues and wake windows: www.instagram.com/the_wideawake_club
4) Remain consistent with your approach
The 4 month sleep regression can be a real tough period. You might be feeling exhausted, and it is so easy to start feeding to sleep or begin co-sleeping if you weren't before, just in the hope for a couple of extra hours kip! My one bit of advice here would be to try and remain consistent with your approach and not introduce sleep habits which you don't want to continue once the regression is over. If you haven't been feeding your baby to sleep, don't start now.
5) Give your baby plenty of opportunity to practice new skills
Try and help your baby practice falling to sleep independently and within their own sleep space. It takes time and patience to learn new skills, and offering plenty of opportunity for your baby to try this will help in the long run. This also includes new skills like rolling, which can also cause sleep disruptions. If you're happy to co-sleep, you can still encourage falling asleep independently whilst remaining in your bed if you choose to. It's important to remember that each baby is different and some may need more practice than others. This is completely normal.
6) Try taking a Pause
Babies can be noisy sleepers! If they begin to stir in between cycles, take a pause instead of rushing in to help. Many will fall back to sleep after a couple of minutes if given the chance.
7) Share the Load
Anything that impacts your babies sleep with inevitably impact yours. This is a phase and it will pass. In the meantime, try and share the load with a partner, ask for help from a friend so you can get a nap during the day, swap who gets a lie in at the weekend and make some time for you to rest too.
If the regression feels like it's never-ending and you're into the 5-6 month mark, it is very likely the regression has ended. You might be feeling the impact more if you baby has become used to the extra comfort, or has a sleep association and is struggling to settle. If you feel like you need 1:1 support to resolve this, you can book your free 15 minute consultation with me here.