Is The 4 Month Sleep Regression As Bad As You Think? A Sleep Consultant Weighs In
For many parents, getting their baby to fall and stay asleep is one of the biggest hurdles they’ll face. With so much information flooding our newsfeeds on baby sleep, we asked Sleep Consultant, Steph Gouin, to weigh in on the infamous 4 Month Sleep Regression.
You don’t have to look very hard to find a mom who’s either been through it or is currently living it.
Often described as, “horrendous, awful, and exhausting,” I’m talking about The 4 Month Sleep Regression.
While you may have heard of this in your late-night forum reading or in a parenting book, I’m here to tell you why you don’t need to fear it. I’m also here to change the name of the game.
In this article, I’ll go over:
- What The 4 Month Sleep Regression is
- Why The 4 Month Sleep Regression should really be called The 4 Month Sleep Change
- Tips for helping your baby adjust to their new sleeping pattern
Scroll down to learn more!
What is The 4 Month Sleep Regression?
When a baby is in that precious milk-drunk newborn stage, their sleep is relatively basic and free-flowing.
Their sleep cycles are, on average, 45 – 50 minutes in length, and consist of two stages: ‘light (or active)’ sleep and ‘deep (or quiet)’ sleep.
A healthy newborn baby who is feeding well, in the correct sleeping environment and has all healthy sleep foundations and processes in place, will typically move through their sleep with ease, going from light to deep sleep and from one sleep cycle to the next, without much intervention at all.
However, around the four-month mark, this all begins to change.
What happens to baby sleep at four-months?
When a baby reaches four months of age, you’ll notice they become much more alert and aware of their surroundings. Their bodies are also transitioning into a sleep pattern that is much more like ‘adult sleep.’ In a nutshell, ‘adult sleep’ is more complex in nature and each sleep cycle consists of multiple stages, not just ‘light and deep’ sleep.
With more stages within each sleep cycle, there is more opportunity for a baby to wake.
And what happens where your increasingly alert and curious baby as more opportunities to wake? They WAKE FULLY.
This is the notorious 4 Month Sleep Regression’.
Here’s the thing though: Not all babies ‘regress.’ That’s why it should be called The 4 Month Sleep Change.
Why The 4 Month Sleep Regression should really be called The 4 Month Sleep Change
While you may be reading or hearing horror stories about babies suddenly raging all night around 4-months, I promise this is not the case for everyone and you definitely don’t need to be afraid.
It is much more productive to approach this change pragmatically.
For babies with established sleeping conditions (with external aids)
For a baby who is reliant on falling to sleep under a certain set of conditions i.e., sucking a pacifier, being nursed, held, rocked and so on, the changes that occur around this four-month period can be very tough.
Chances are they’re going to rouse and wake fully numerous times while trying to adjust to these new stages of sleep. Since they’re used to using established sleep conditions, they’ll instinctively search for those same ‘falling asleep’ aids such as pacifiers, breast, rocking, etc. Ultimately, they can’t learn to self-settle.
This leads to consistently broken sleep both day (during naps) and night.
Let’s be honest: this cycle is not only exhausting for the baby, but also hard work, stressful and very frustrating for the parents too.
For babies with established sleep routines (no external aids)
On the flip side, for a healthy baby who is already in a familiar daily routine, who has all the right processes and foundations in place, who can self-settle and who falls to sleep independently in their own cot or bassinet, yes, they will go through the same changes to their sleep cycles around four-months of age.
However, when they move through the different stages of sleep and from one sleep cycle to the next, they easily and naturally fall back to sleep on their own for much longer periods of sleep, often without anyone even knowing.
This baby’s sleep isn’t constantly broken and disrupted, Mom and Dad’s sleep isn’t either, everyone wins.
Tips for helping your baby adjust to their new sleeping pattern
- Make sure your baby is getting the optimum amount of sleep for their age, day and night, so they are not exhausted and overtired. An overtired baby will always find it a lot harder to fall to sleep and fall back to sleep than a well-rested baby.
- Understand that your baby has basic needs – feed, sleep, hygiene, warmth and if you meet their needs, they will be able to happily fall to sleep and put themselves back to sleep when they rouse or fully wake in between the different stages of the sleep cycle and in between sleep cycles.
- If your baby isn’t self-settling in the lead up to this period, work on eliminating any sleep aids i.e. pacifier and/or exhausting processes you may be using to get your baby to sleep i.e., feeding, rocking, holding, bouncing etc. Start putting your baby down in their crib or bassinet by themselves so they can explore their own ways to fall asleep and stay asleep independently.
- If your baby is unsettled and finding it hard to adapt to the changes in their sleep patterns around this four-month period, try not to panic. It is just a phase and it will sort itself out. Do offer more settling support any time they need. But remind yourself, the more you can get your baby sleeping and settling on their own, the better their sleep will be in the long run. The better your sleep will be in the long run too.
Steph Gouin is a Baby and Child Sleep Consultant, a Registered Nurse of over 15 years and Mama to three beautiful children. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Steph is one of Australia’s leading sleep experts, an International Keynote Speaker and prides herself on her ability to help parents go from feeling exhausted, hopeless, overwhelmed, and wanting to give up, to feeling knowledgeable, confident, happy and content. Learn more at www.sleepbysteph.com.au.
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