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The 4 month sleep regression

This wasn’t a thing I had even heard of 14 years ago when I had my first baby but now it's a hot topic! Let’s discuss what's going on for your little one during this turbulent time and how you can help your little one’s so you are all getting more sleep!

Sadly, the newborn days are over and your little one is growing up fast! This is such a precious age when your little one is becoming more aware of their surroundings. Generally, reflux and colic struggles are settling down and your little one is able to interact with you in fun ways. However, just when you think you have figured out your baby’s sleep pattern and getting the hang of things, suddenly bubs starts to cut their naps short, waking every 45 minutes throughout the day, becoming more and more difficult to get to sleep in the first place and starting to wake more frequently overnight. Ouch, this can really hit hard!

Whilst it's typically called the 4-month sleep regression, I’m not a fan of the term ‘regression’ because with every sleep regression our little ones face, something is actually PROgressing with them. Yes, we may see sleep regress and take a hit BUT it always accompanies some amazing developmental milestone. And in this case, it's to do with our little one’s sleep cycles maturing.

What is happening around 4 months?

Whilst it is called a 4-month sleep regression this can happen anywhere between 3-5 months of age but most commonly around the 16-week mark. Your baby's circadian rhythm matures and now sleep cycles have become defined. Your little one will now cycle between light and deep phases of sleep and at the end of these cycles, they’ll have a brief awake period. The things that we previously did to help them fall asleep can start to lose their effect and we see frequent wakes ups, short naps, and early morning starts.

Some babies may glide through this with ease due to their temperament and current sleep foundations. However, for others it’s a little rockier…okay A LOT rockier, and it may feel like you see every hour on the clock overnight! If your baby is being put to sleep by external measures (like the dummy, or feeding or rocking off to sleep) then this reliance becomes more apparent as they wake more often. Instead of your little one waking and having the ability to resettle back into their next sleep cycle, they will likely wake up and realise that something has changed or is missing and they aren’t in the same spot they were when they fell asleep. They are so much more aware now! They’ll likely cry out and become unsettled, requiring you to intervene and get them back off to sleep again.

Remember, if your little one doesn’t yet have the ability to fall asleep and self-settle at the start of their sleep cycle, how can we expect them to resettle through the night?

How long does the 4-month regression last?

Unfortunately, this regression doesn’t usually just stop and go away because it differs significantly from other milestone regressions. It’s a permanent shift in your little one’s sleep cycles and sleep structure. However, just because it's a permanent change in their sleep cycles, doesn’t mean that your lack of sleep has to be permanent!

How can we help our little ones through this and have more sleep ourselves?!

  • Ensure their sleep environment is conducive to good sleep. This means we want their sleep space pitch black! They have major FOMO at this age, they don't want to miss a thing and are very easily distracted. Having a super dark room really helps here! Check the room temperature is sitting around 18-20 degrees as we want your little one to be warm enough but not too hot so they can sleep well.

  • Use white noise - this can help lull them into another sleep cycle. Make sure your white noise is playing continuously for the duration of the nap and overnight. Some shusher’s can time out after 30-45 minutes and this isn’t going to work in your favour.

  • Watch their awake windows during the day. At 16 weeks of age we are aiming for about 2 hours of awake time. If you are still sitting on 1.5 hours awake time with your baby, I’d recommend gently shifting this out even 5 minutes at a time each day. Tired signs can be misleading at this age and we want to strike a balance between watching the clock and your little one. If you are unsure of awake times and ideal routines for your baby, check out “the ultimate guide of sleep routines”

  • Have a consistent bedtime routine. I recommend a bedtime between 6-7 pm. If your little one is still having a later bedtime it's now time to move this forward. Ensure the final nap of the day isn’t falling beyond 5pm.

  • Have a consistent start time for your day. If some days you are starting your day at 5.30 am and other days 7.30 am this is quite a big variant of start times for your little one. We want to help regulate their body clock and have a consistent start time for their day. Now, babies aren’t robots, they will wake at different times, but aim to get them out of the cot roughly within 15-20 mins each day.

  • Give them some space to move around their cot, remove the swaddle, encourage them to find their fingers and work on their rolling skills.

  • Make sure they are having plenty of full feeds throughout the day - amp up those milk calories if you can! Sometimes we get into a bit of a cycle where we may feed at each wake overnight. We know they likely don’t need a feed every 1-2 hours overnight but we don’t know how else to settle them. Often this can do more harm than good and we end up with some reverse cycling happening. This is when the excessive nighttime calories start to impact their daytime consumption. Their body adjusts to snack feeds and consumes less milk throughout the day because they know they will tank up through the night. Try to limit to 2 feeds overnight and resettle for all other wakes.

  • Work on putting them down in their cot more awake. This is the ideal age to work on teaching self-settling skills. If you are feeding, rocking, patting, holding, bouncing or popping the dummy in for them constantly, then its the perfect time to change these associations. We want to encourage them to use their own amazing abilities to self-settle and work on having them fall asleep independently. This doesn’t mean letting your little one cry it out - we want to support them through these changes.

If you are in the throes of this 4-month progression stage and your little one is now waking 1-2 hourly overnight, and has started taking short 45 minute naps you are probably finding yourself in a very exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed state. Know that you are not alone in this - this is one of the most common sleep struggles and stages we deal with. If you don’t know where to start with teaching self-settling then you’ve come to the right place. Send me a message and we can turn things around for you and have a more consolidated night sleep for you all!

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