The 4 month sleep 'regression'

The 4 month regression is arguably one of the most talked about topics when it comes to baby’s sleep. But what actually is it and what can you do about it?

In this blog I’ll be explaining what causes it, when does it start, what are the signs of it, how long it lasts and how to deal with it.

But what is a sleep regression?

As your baby or toddler grows, they go through many stages of development- both mental and physical. They may be becoming more aware of what is around them, or learning to roll, crawl or sit up. Teething, talking and walking are more examples of the many changes they are going to experience.

As they go through these milestones, it’s very normal for their sleep to be temporarily disrupted- most commonly seen by them waking more frequently at night, taking shorter naps or having trouble falling to sleep at bedtime.

These periods of disruption care often referred to as sleep ‘regressions’ even though they are all just simply phases of developmental progression.

While most babies reach these key milestones at roughly the same age, all babies are different so experience these phases of development whenever they are ready. It can be really easy to compare your baby to others of the same age but it’s important to not feel disheartened if you feel like others are there sooner than your little one. As a parent you are there to support and nurture your child through their development at their own pace.

What is the 4 month ‘regression’?

Now this isn’t really a regression at all, more like a progression in your baby’s development. It is a sign that your baby’s sleep cycle is maturing.

Newborns have a simple awake/asleep cycle of sleep which is replaced (around the 4 month age!) with more complex phases of sleep which each serve different purposes. These include cell growth, storing memories, energy restoration and allowing physical and mental development to take place during sleep.

This phase is the biggest change in sleep that your baby will go through, making the structure of their sleep cycles much more like those of an adult. Once this change in sleep has occurred, we all (both adults and babies) naturally wake between each of these cycles.

When does the 4 month regression happen?

While it’s referred to as the 4 month regression, this change can happen earlier or a little later than 4 months. It’s common for it to happen anytime between about 3-5 months of age.

What are the signs?

For some families, it’s very obvious when their baby starts to go through the 4 month sleep regression, while for others it might be more subtle.

Some typical signs that they’re going through this change in their sleep structure are:

- Finding it harder to fall asleep. They may have been happily falling asleep before but are suddenly fighting sleep more than usual. You may also find that your way to help them fall asleep isn’t working anymore e.g. they’ve always been easily rocked to sleep but now not amount of rocking will help them.

- Shorter naps. Very typically just the length of one sleep cycle which is approximately 35-45 minutes long.

- More frequent night wakings- You may find that they are now waking every 1-2 hours throughout the night

It is very normal for babies to wake at night for feeds and for some naps to be short and unpredictable so we’re looking for any changes in sleep over a number of days around the age of 3-5 months to know they are going through this change in sleep structure.

How long does it last?

Unlike other developmental ‘regressions’ and periods of disrupted sleep, this one represents a permanent change to your baby’s sleep structure.

For some babies, especially those who are able to fall asleep independently without lots of external support, this can be a smooth change that they pass through with little to no disruption to their sleep.

However, for others, the impact of this change in sleep structure can lead to broken nights, short naps and difficulty falling asleep.

These babies may need some more help to practice how to fall asleep and return themselves to sleep every time they naturally wake between sleep cycles.

Although this is a permanent change to their sleep cycles, don’t think that you’ll be stuck with permanent ‘bad’ sleep. The key to more restful sleep is for babies to be able to know how to fall asleep and return to sleep each time they naturally wake between cycles- both for naps and at night-time.

How to deal with the 4 month sleep regression

You can help your baby to get their sleep back on track and support them to practice how they can fall asleep themselves.

Learning to sleep independently can be hard for some babies but it is absolutely achievable over time. Some babies will naturally adjust to their newly matured sleep cycles and sleep well again within a few weeks, but others may need some extra help to practice new skills to help them sleep well.

These are some things that may help you get their sleep back on track:

- Support your baby to be able to fall asleep and return to sleep independently. This can be a really gradual and gentle process to help them. At this stage, it’s just about gentle practice. Choose a method that suits both your parenting style and your baby’s temperament and personality.

- Introduce a predictable routine. It can be really helpful to plan naps at the right times for your baby. This’ll mean your baby will be more inclined to fall asleep and stay asleep. A predictable day and night routine can help us all relax and sleep better at night.

- Optimise their sleep environment. A dark, calming space that your baby associates with sleep will help them relax and sleep soundly.

- Ask for help. Don’t forget about your own needs. Take help whenever it is offered. Get an early night yourself and take naps whenever you can- sleep is just as important for you.

It is very common and very normal to struggle with sleep at this age. It can take some babies a bit of time to adjust and get used to any new skills and absorb new experiences and everything that’s going on around them.

Introduce any changes at your own pace to suit both you and your baby. As cliché as it is, every baby truly is different and it can take time and practice to help your baby achieve more restful and predictable sleep.

If you want more information about the 4 month regression and how to teach gentle, independent sleep to your little one, why not book a spot on my 0-5 months seminar or get in touch via a free consultation call to discuss getting started on a bespoke plan.

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