Understanding and Surviving the 4-Month Sleep Regression

Understanding and Surviving the 4-Month Sleep Regression

For many parents, sleep becomes a thing of the past once you have kids. I’ve been blessed with two kids who started sleeping through the night at approximately 2.5 months. I seriously cannot complain and know that I’ve hit the sleep jackpot when it comes to babies. However, approximately two weeks ago Kate decided to give me a run for my money. She had been sleeping through the night and I thought we had her sleep schedule pretty much figured out. Then one day it all changed. I could not figure out why she suddenly began waking up at weird times. During the day she was much more fussy than her usual happy self and her appetite wasn’t very good. She became very inconsistent during her feedings, as there were times where she quickly drank the entire bottle and other times where she initially seemed ravenous but after just a short time would fuss and push the bottle away. She had been sleeping so well since the end of March so what was this drastic change? Could she be coming down with an illness, had her formula began to bother her for some reason, or was she possibly teething? Once these obvious causes were ruled out I really became perplexed.

Kate in Crib

That’s when my wonderfully smart mother took it upon herself to do a quick Google search. She sent me a text with the link to an article about the dreaded 4-month sleep regression, and I began to do some research. Why hadn’t I heard about this? Furthermore, had I completely missed this with Chase? Then I recalled that Chase had some nights where his sleep was off when he was about four months old, but we were out visiting family in Oregon when I noticed his sleep disruption so I had simply attributed this to the time zone change and new environment.

If you’re a new mom, or if you’re like me and missed this the first time around with your baby, you may be wondering what the 4-month sleep regression is. Just the name itself doesn’t sound particularly positive. However, it is a completely normal phase of developmental that occurs in babies from as early as 3 months to as late as 6 months of age. At around 4 months, babies go through a developmental spurt where many neurologic changes occur. Babies begin to become more aware of their surroundings and their brains are working much more than they did at an earlier stage of life. They are also learning new skills such as rolling over and they are beginning to exhibit more control over their extremities. It’s an exciting time of massive growth and development!

Also during this time period their sleep patterns change significantly as they begin to experience REM sleep for the first time. REM sleep is lighter and babies are more easily disturbed during this stage of sleep. When babies are first born they do not have distinct sleep stages like their adult counterparts, thus they sleep most of the day. At around 4 months, babies begin to sleep more like adults when they start to cycle in and out of deep sleep. However, unlike most adults, babies have yet to learn how to soothe themselves as they transition between non-REM sleep and REM sleep. This is why your once perfectly sleeping baby is now waking up multiple times throughout the night. While this is a permanent change to their sleep, babies will learn to adjust, but it may take some time and definitely some patience!

6 Helpful Tips for Surviving the 4-Month Sleep Regression

1. Develop a special bedtime routine for your baby. Consistency is key! Try to aim for getting your little one to bed around the same time each night. Babies are creatures of habit and they appreciate the predictability of their nighttime routine. I realize that occasionally there will be nights when their schedule gets off and that’s okay. As long as you aren’t away from home every night with bedtimes all over the place, you should be just fine.

2. Have your baby sleep in his or her room. I know that both of our kids slept in our room for a couple of months in a bassinet next to our bed, but as soon as we felt comfortable we made the big move and had them start sleeping in their own room. That can be a bit nerve wracking, but it’s necessary so that they can start developing some independence. Trust me, it’s definitely a good thing when you’re going through the 4-month sleep regression!

3. Maintain a dark sleeping environment for your baby. I have been very happy with the Eclipse Kids Kendall Blackout Curtain Panels. I have these curtains in both of my kids’ rooms. If you do need to get up in the middle of the night with your baby I recommend trying to keep the room as dark as possible by minimizing the use of the overhead light. A nightlight is a good option to consider if you need to change a diaper. You want your baby to begin learning that nighttime is for sleep and keeping the room as dark as possible will help with this.

4. Try using a swaddle. This worked wonders for Chase when he was a baby. Even though at the time I didn’t realize that he was going through the 4-month sleep regression, he quickly associated the swaddle with sleep. Kate has always seemed to get hot easily, so I haven’t been able to swaddle her as much. I have been using a sleep sack for her and this seems to work well. Each baby is unique and you will quickly learn what works best for your baby.

5. Use a fan for background noise. Babies get used to hearing the noise when they go to sleep and anything that can trigger their brains to remind them that it’s time for sleep is good. Some people use fancy white noise machines, but a fan is typically a cheaper alternative. Also, in 2008 a research study showed that babies who sleep in rooms with a fan have a significantly lower risk for SIDS. We have used a fan for both kids and it really works well. As a matter of fact, Chase now lets us know if we forget to turn the fan on before leaving his room at night!

6. Don’t run into the nursery the second you hear your baby fussing. It’s okay if they fuss, though it can be really hard to keep yourself from rushing to their room to pick them up. Give your little one a few minutes to calm down. They need to begin learning how to self soothe and if you race in right away they won’t be able to work on this. There are a zillion opinions on when to start trying to have your baby self-soothe – another situation that is a mama’s choice for her unique baby.

The list above is not meant to be fully inclusive; however, these are just a few of the things that I found worked well for getting Kate through this tricky phase. These sleep tips are also good to consider even when not in the thick of the 4-month sleep regression.

The 4-month sleep regression can be a bit unnerving if you aren’t familiar with it or aren’t expecting it. I know I was super frustrated at first because we were enjoying 8 solid hours of sleep and then all of a sudden it seemed like Kate was losing all of the progress that she had made. Thankfully this phase didn’t last very long and she was soon back to her regular awesome self. The biggest thing to remember is that like most things in life, this too shall pass. Hang in there! You’re doing a great job!

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