Maybe your baby slept pretty well those first 3 months. Some babies manage to even sleep 5-6 hours straight already. Then everything changed around 4 months. Out of nothing you are dealing with frequent waking, struggling to settle and difficulties soothing your baby. Something that worked so well before, doesn’t work anymore and you have no clue how to solve this.
How do you know if your baby is in the 4 month sleep regression? If your baby is changing its sleep behaviour, he/she might be in it. Some typical signs are:
- Your baby is more fussy and hard to calm down
- Frequent Waking at night
- Shorter naps
- Takes longer for your baby to settle/fall asleep
- Change in appetite
Why does this happen? And how do you deal with it?
To say it simple: your baby’s sleep rhythm is upside down. You may wonder, what’s good about that? It’s something positive, because it means your baby is developing. He/she is learning how to interact with the world and starts to recognize that its actions can influence certain things and that he/she has more control over its surroundings. Often a Sleep Regression is combined with a growth spurt. Maybe you have noticed that your baby doesn’t fit in any of its clothes anymore or that there is a huge increase in mobility. Most babies learn to roll over around 4 months as well. But why does this have such an influence on sleep as well?
Baby sleep rhythm
As a newborn, your baby may have slept well no matter where you were. And maybe sometimes even longer stretches. This is because a newborn has no specific sleep cycles like older babies or like us adults. Newborns spend most of their sleep time in a deeper sleep. That is why it’s sometimes so difficult to wake them up or they can really sleep through everything, no matter how loud it is.
Why does sleep change around 4 months?
Your baby is a little older now and is constantly developing. Around 4 months, the sleep cycles change and are changing more into an adult sleep cycle. This means that there are different sleep phases (REM and non-REM sleep) within 1 sleep cycle. The problem is that your baby is not quite sure how to handle it. If you breastfeed or rock your baby to sleep, you may notice that it takes a good half an hour before your baby is in a deeper sleep. And 15 minutes later it’s awake again. This happens because your baby is startled and wakes up a bit when he goes from one sleep phase to another. If they haven’t learned to fall asleep themselves, they’ll need your help again.
As if all of this wasn’t stressful enough, your baby spends most of his deep sleep in the beginning of the night / evening. That’s why many babies sleep a longer stretch during the first part of the night. The second half of the night, your baby’s sleep will be less deep. This means they wake up more often. And here it gets a little more difficult. Your baby grows, develops, the world becomes more and more interesting and somehow we expect them to manage to fall asleep independently when they wake up at night. This is a lot to process for your little one. No wonder your child is having some difficulties and/or is more fussy. A big part of the processing is happening during sleep.
How do I survive the 4 month sleep regression?
Your baby is learning so much and is most likely a little overwhelmed. Try to “go with the flow” until the regression is over. That means if your child sleeps in a stroller, carrier, on your arm etc., during the day, just stick with that for a while. It’s important that your baby gets its sleep during the day so it doesn’t go to bed overtired in the evening.
What may have worked well yesterday may suddenly no longer work today, so prepare to have a few alternative methods on hand. At 4 months it is still OK to rock, breastfeed, pad your child etc. The goal is that your baby gets his sleep and does not get overtired.
Every child is different and some children show clear signs of fatigue and you hardly see it in others. Some examples of tired signs are:
- Rubbing eyes or ears
- Looking away / avoiding eye contact
If your baby shows no tired signs, keep an eye on his awake time. The awake time / wakeful window for a 4 month old is about 1-2 hours (depending on how long your baby slept before. The shorter the nap, the shorter the awake time.
If you have reached the wakeful window or see tired signs, bring your baby to bed. Like this you can avoid that it gets overtired. An overtired baby has much more difficulties falling asleep.
It looks like the sleep regression will end soon, what to do now?
If you notice that this phase is slowly coming to an end and your child is in a better mood again, you could start putting your child to bed awake but drowsy. This will encourage your baby to learn to fall asleep by itself. It is best to start with 1 nap a day, for example the morning nap. If your baby cries and can’t be calmed down, pick him/her up, calm your baby in whatever way works. Try again the next day. Don’t get demotivated if it doesn’t work. Your baby may just not be ready yet. Many babies are only ready to learn to sleep independently from 6 months of age.
Be careful not to create a new “bad” sleeping habit
Feel free to use the sleep crutch that has always worked so far, but do not try to introduce new sleep crutches. It can be very difficult during the 4 months sleep regression, especially when you are both extremely tired. If you have always rocked your baby to sleep, just keep on using that crutch to get him to sleep. But try not to add a new crutch like for example breastfeeding, if your baby hasn’t used that to fall asleep before. Extending the list of sleep crutches only makes it more difficult afterwards to get rid of them. Should it happen that you have used several new sleep crutches do not worry too much, we are only human and sometimes you are just at the end. It may take some more time and effort but in the end your child will be able to fall asleep independently.
Cuddles, love and reassurance
During the 4 month sleep regression, not only you but also your baby is overtired. Extra cuddling, giving lots of love, reassurance and gentle words will help your baby feel safe and secure. Talk to your baby calmly (I know this is not always easy when you’re all very tired), carry your baby around a lot, stroke and cuddle a lot. This makes this strong development easier for your baby to process.
During this phase you may notice that your baby suddenly no longer fits in his clothes. It’s more hungry and wants to be (breast)fed more often. Take a close look at whether your child is actually drinking or just sucking to relax. A growth spurt often takes 12-48 hours.
Try to keep your daily routine as good as possible. Babies thrive from routine. If you’re not already doing it, now is the time to start a nice bedtime ritual.
“The 4 month sleep regression is not easy but it’s a good thing!
This sleep development is actually a progress, not a regression. “