They Call It the “4 Month Sleep Regression”.

Apr 30, 2018

Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn, you will hear new (and not so new) Mums talking about it. They say it’s “horrendous”, they say it’s “exhausting”, they tell you to “brace yourself, things will never be the same again”. What am I talking about? I’m talking about what they call the “4 Month Sleep Regression”.

At 3-4 months of age (sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later) your baby will go through a period of change when it comes to their sleep. Prior to this, sleep for them is relatively basic. A sleep cycle consists of two stages – “light (or active)” sleep and “deep (or quiet)” sleep. If your baby is healthy, well fed, warm, clean, in the correct sleeping environment and has all the correct processes and foundations are in place 24/7, they will move through the difference sleep stages and sleep cycles relatively easily, going from light to deep sleep and from one sleep cycle to the next, without too much hassle and without too much intervention.

This all begins to change, and your baby’s will become much more like adult sleep around the 3-4-month mark. Adult sleep is more complex in nature and each sleep cycle consists of more stages. More stages within the sleep cycle means more opportunity for your baby to wake. Because whilst once, your baby needed to just move through light and deep sleep then into the next sleep cycle, they now need to move through multiple stages during “deep (or NREM)” sleep, into “light (or REM)” sleep. Add to that, that by 3-4 months of age, your baby is much more alert and aware of their surroundings than they are when they are a newborn and bam, enter the dreaded “4 Month Sleep Regression” that everyone is talking about.

If your baby who is needing to fall asleep under a certain set of conditions, whether that be being fed, held, rocked, bounced on a gym ball and so on, the changes that occur around this 4-month period can be tough. Why? Because when they fall to sleep, then they rouse or wake fully while trying to move their way through the multiple stages within the sleep cycle and into the next one, chances are they will need those conditions i.e. being held, fed, rocked etc. repeated to fall back to sleep. They might fully wake 20 minutes in, 30 minutes in, 40 minutes into their sleep and because they don’t know how to put themselves back to sleep without your help, they cry out for help. This pattern is not only exhausting for your baby, it’s also stressful, exhausting and very frustrating for the you too.

On the flip side, if your baby is already in a great routine, has all the right processes and foundations in place, can self-settle and can fall off to sleep independently in their own cot or bassinet yes, they will go through the same changes to their sleep cycles. The difference is that when they move through the different stages within the cycle, they will rouse or wake fully but then be able to fall back to sleep on their own often without you even knowing.

Tips to help you during the Four Month Sleep Change period -  

  • If your baby isn’t self-settling in the lead up to this period, work on eliminating any sleep aids you may be using to get your baby to sleep i.e. feeding, rocking, holding, the dummy etc. and start putting your baby down in their cot or bassinet by themselves so they can explore their own ways to fall to sleep independently.
  • Make sure your baby is getting the optimum amount of sleep for their age, day and night so they are not exhausted and overtired. An overtired baby will always find it a lot harder to fall to sleep and fall back to sleep than a well-rested baby.
  • Understand that your baby has basic needs, in that they need to sleep, be well fed, clean, dry, warm and cozy, comfortable, and if you meet their needs, they will be able to happily fall to sleep and put themselves back to sleep when they rouse or wake fully in between the different stages of the sleep cycle and in between sleep cycles.
  • If your baby is unsettled during this time and finding it hard to adapt to the changes in their sleep, do comfort them any time they need. But remember, the more intervention, the more you interfere with your baby’s natural ability to fall to sleep. And the more intervention your baby needs, the more intervention your baby will become reliant on. 



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