What is the dreaded 4-month sleep regression?
The 4-month sleep regression is a topic that comes up over and over again! Whether it be in playgroups, amongst mums in cafes or searched for at 2am by desperate parents – it is something that so many of us struggle with. You are not alone.
Sleep regression effects all parents at some point or another and can be one of the most challenging things you will go through… sleep deprivation is no joke!
So, what is this dreaded sleep regression? What are the signs? But most importantly, how can you make it more bearable!?
Tip 1 - understand what the sleep regression is
Until the age of 4 months old, many new parents are eased into what I can only describe as a false sense of security.
Your little angel may have slept through anything, anywhere at any time! In fact, our little one fell asleep in some of the most outrageous positions and places as a new-born!
We thought we had an excellent sleeper and felt so smug when talking to other parents with slightly older babies who were really struggling! My how things changed…
At 4 months old, the first of 3 sleep regression episodes will storm its way into your life as your baby adjusts between sleep schedules and starts to become more aware of his or her surroundings.
As your little one is growing, their sleep pattern will change. Where once they would fall in to a deep slumber from the onset, now they will cycle in and out of deep and light sleep throughout the night.
Things you may expect:
- It will likely become much harder for them to fall asleep initially
- Little one will stir / wake up between sleep cycles
- Once awake (often in the middle of the night) baby will be very fussy and find it much harder to fall back to sleep
This 4-month sleep regression is the one that doesn’t go away – your baby’s sleep cycle has changed for good. They have developed and are now operating a more ‘adult-like’ sleep pattern. Although the way they sleep won’t change, there are some things you can do to make this less challenging for them as they learn to adapt to this new pattern.
Tip 2 - accept that things have changed
Yes, there was a time where you could simply lay your little one in their cot, sing a lovely lullaby and walk out of the room – you knew that within 10 minutes, they would be fast asleep.
There was a time where you could guarantee that a gentle rocking in your arms, a car journey or a ride in the pram would send your little one off into a deep peaceful slumber.
Those days are well and truly over and the struggle is real…
When babies hit the 4-month sleep regression everything changes. You will need to accept that, at least for a little while, things will not be as easy as they once were! – Except for the annoying parents who have perfect sleepers! Don’t fret – it will get easier, eventually…
Tip 3 - bedtime routine
To tackle that 4-month sleep regression it is best to introduce a consistent, relaxing, and well thought through routine. Make sure that your baby knows that sleep is expected at certain points and that they are prepped and ready for this.
After dinner in our house (about 6.30 pm) it’s time to start our night time ritual. We give our little one a relaxing bath, followed by a massage, get dressed ready for bed, her normal bedtime story (the same one every night) and then some milk. She knows that once this routine starts, the expectation is that sleep will soon follow.
Consistency is key when tackling the 4-month sleep regression. Your baby will soon find ways to recognise when sleep is expected and will eventually form habits to help themselves get to sleep and fall back asleep on their own.
Tip 4 - create the right sleep environment
Once you have the routine sorted, the next step is to make the sleep environment as conducive to sleep as possible. Unlike when they were tiny, the baby may no longer be able to sleep in the bright of day, with loads of noise and being swung from side to side as you do your shopping.
They have developed and are now operating a more ‘adult-like’ sleep pattern. So just think, what do you like to fall asleep to? For me, it’s darkness, meditation music or white noise, comfortable clothing and the room needs to be the right temperature. So this is what we do for our little one. Regardless of whether it is a day time nap or her night time sleep, we make sure that her sleep environment is just right.
Some of the things we have found very helpful included: The Gro Company Owl, White noise machine, The Gro Company Sleeping Bag (make sure you purchase the correct tog for the temperature of little one’s room).
Tip 5 - comfort rather than train
Now this may be a controversial one… many people swear by sleep training and for so many it works. If this sounds like something that you’d like to try, then by all means go for it. We did. For us though… well, it just couldn’t work.
Sleep training, no matter how mild, will involve leaving your baby to cry for a little while. Rather than being conducive to sleep, we found after a few terrible attempts that this did the opposite. The whole experience stressed our little one out far too much and left both our baby and us anxious messes!
After much thought, reading and talking to other parents, we took another route – comfort when needed. Your little one is constantly learning and evolving – their little bodies and brains need time to adjust to the changes happening every day. This can be a stressful time for them and very overwhelming. Between physical growing pains, teething, mental leaps, separation anxiety and confusion as they try to figure out the world around them, it’s not surprising that babies sometimes find it so difficult to unwind, be away from their care givers and put themselves to sleep.
An interesting article on sleep training and other baby questions
The premise of much of this article establishes that humans as a species are a “carrying species” – meaning that when our babies are born, they are born expecting to be held and comforted. Being close to their care-givers (especially mum if breastfeeding) is a totally natural and expected part of their development.
After many a sleepless night, we decided to take the comforting approach rather than the training approach – it took a while. A long while. When she was mentally ready (at about 13 months) she slept through from 7pm to 6am. That was an enormous win! Most importantly, it happened naturally – 0 crying. 0 training. All love.
I know that right now it feels like you will NEVER sleep again. That your baby, who you love dearly, has turned in to a gremlin who’s mission it is to ruin your sleep and break your spirits.
Remember, there will come a time (it’ll come sooner than you can imagine) where you’ll be dragging your teenager out of bed. You’ll be begging them to get to school on time. You’ll be wishing they woke up past 10am to make use of your weekends together. At this point, you’ll reminisce on those long nights of holding your little one in your arms and dare I say it – you’ll miss it! Embrace it while it’s here!
Embrace this dreaded sleep regression with open arms and welcome it in to your lives. This is a natural stepping stone for your little one. It shows you that your baby is developing well and that they have a secure attachment to you. Most importantly, remember that eventually your little one will learn to sleep independently. Have you honestly ever heard of a teenager who can’t sleep through the night? Eventually, in the near-ish future – you will sleep again. I promise.
For more parenting posts please check these out: ‘Knowing what’s best for your little one’; ‘Expectations Vs Reality of Giving Birth‘; ‘The First Year of Being a Mum‘ and many more on our parenting page.