HELP… The 4-Month Sleep Regression Ruined My Baby

Ahhhh, having a baby can be such a blissful time. The newborn stage is quite a dream. Babe sleeps pretty much anywhere, anytime. Snuggling them to sleep is idyllic {and let’s face it, we like being able to nap while baby naps too}.

We don’t even always mind waking in the middle of the night for the extra snuggles while the baby feeds back to sleep. It all feels quite surreal. We’ve heard all the horror stories about babies not sleeping, but for now, your little one seems to be sleeping so well. You secretly wonder when the bottom will fall out.

Four months in, everything changes. That idyllic snuggling babe becomes an all-night snacker. The rocking goes on for hours. The sleep lasts for what seems like mere minutes {both day and night}.

Help, the 4-month sleep regression ruined my baby!

First, as a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I want to clear up a big misconception. The 4-month sleep regression isn’t a regression at all! Before four months of age your little one hasn’t developed any sleep patterns, so a regression in sleep isn’t possible. Until now, your baby’s daily needs have been random, meaning your little sleeps and eats when they want to with no pattern.

Now I know what you’re thinking. My baby was sleeping so well and now he/she is just not sleeping at all. I got you, mama!

baby sleeping in a crib, close up Babies are born with two sleep states – active and quiet. Their sleep cycles are relatively short, each lasting only 50-60 minutes each. At the end of each cycle, they move back into that active sleep state, which causes partial arousal. From there they either go into another sleep cycle or the wake-up. At this age, nearly 50% of their sleep is spent in an active state, which is equivalent to REM sleep in an adult.

But infant sleep is not adult sleep.

Around four months of age, babe’s sleep needs start to change. They start to sleep more like an adult and less like a newborn.

Wait, what does that even mean?

Well, your little’s brain goes through a physiological change. They are starting to develop biological rhythms that affect sleep. Their circadian rhythm {or internal 24-hour clock} is starting to evolve. While these rhythms are produced by natural factors within the body {genetics}, they’re primarily affected by light and dark cues thanks to the biological clock. The circadian rhythm regulates things like body temperature, eating patterns, and fluctuating hormone levels {melatonin}. All of these things affect the sleep-wake cycle.

And if that’s not enough scientific jargon, their master clock regulates it all. This master clock is located just above the optic nerve and is highly light-sensitive.

An ideal sleep environment IS important.

Because your little’s circadian rhythm is starting to control that sleep-wake cycle, where and when you get babe down to sleep is more critical than it ever was before. One of the best things you can do for your little is to put him/her down for naps and bedtime in his own safe sleep space in a dark, cave-like room, with constant white noise.

You also want to make sure that babe isn’t too warm or cold. An ideal temperature for sleep is between 68 and 72 degrees. For an infant under the age of 12 months, that means using a swaddle or sleep sack with a light layer underneath and nothing more. Just be sure that if your little is showing any signs at all of rolling that you discontinue the use of the swaddle as this can increase the SIDS risk.

An ideal schedule is also important.

Once you have the ideal sleep space for your little, getting him/her on an ideal schedule is important too. The time that sleep occurs is just as important, if not more than for how long they sleep! One of the biggest things I try to stress to families is to understand that healthy sleep for our littles means that they’re getting the right amount of sleep, at the right time, for the right consolidated length.

While your little’s sleep needs and sleep schedule will change as he/she gets older the need for quality, healthy sleep will always be just as important.

At about five to six months of age, your babe will likely still be on a 3 to 4-nap schedule. Until about nine months, that 3-nap schedule will be important to keep him from getting overtired between morning wake-up and bedtime. Naps will still be erratic, lasting somewhere between 20 minutes to 2 hours. They will consolidate with time.

Having a regular feeding and activity schedule during wake times is also important. All of these things play into the circadian rhythm being in sync. If you’re watching babe’s sleepy cues and getting him to bed before he gets overtired chances are he’ll sleep better and for longer stretches. His nighttime sleep will consolidate first, but the naps will follow with consistency.

So what does that mean for me?

    1. Celebrate that your little is maturing developmentally.
    2. Be sure to watch for babe’s “sleepy cues” and get him down before he gets overtired.
    3. Place babe down to sleep in an ideal sleep space.
    4. Have a consistent schedule for feeds, play, and sleep.
    5. Give babe the opportunity to learn self-soothing techniques.
    6. Celebrate babe figuring all this out… and pat yourself on the back too.

Great job mama! Now go relax and get some rest yourself {or go enjoy some time with your other kiddos or spouse}.

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Becky is a work from home mom of 3 crazy boys…19, 3, and 1. She was a single mama of a special needs son for 15 years before reconnecting with a close high school friend and the rest is history. Together, she and Ben have 2 boys and are busy planning their summer wedding. A mid-Michigan native, she moved back to Grand Blanc in 2015 after spending years living out of state. When she's not busy with her boys, she is hard at work as a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and running The Sleep Priority. Follow along on Instagram as Becky shares her passion for sleep and life full of crazy boys.

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