How to Manage Your Baby’s 4-Month Sleep Regression
Sleep expert and consultant Emma Purdue shows how you can survive the challenging time of your baby’s sleep regression
6 min read
Just when you think you have figured out your baby’s sleep patterns and you have navigated your way through the tricky “fourth” trimester, suddenly your baby starts to cut their naps short. They are waking every 45 minutes throughout the day, becoming more and more difficult to get to sleep in the first place, and often waking more frequently overnight, sometimes as much as every 2 hours.
What is going on?!
This is what sleep consultants and parents refer to as the 4-month sleep regression. It is actually more a progression in terms of your babies sleep maturity, but it is a ‘regression’ in terms of how well they are sleeping.
What you need to know about sleep regression
It’s 100% normal for your baby to suddenly start waking after 45 minutes. This is a full sleep cycle for a baby, they take 15-20 minutes to drift off from a light sleep to a deep sleep, and this deep sleep is over 25 minutes later. If your baby is napping for more than 45 minutes, they are completing more than one of these sleep cycles.
In the first 3 months, your babies sleep cycles or phases are often 4-6 hour’s long – this can mean your baby sleeps for 4-6 hours, has a quick feed and then returns to sleep for another 4-6 hours. Bliss! But then this 4-month sleep regression hits and your baby’s night sleep patterns change and babies can often start to wake every 2-4 hours overnight. This is due to the change in sleep cycle length, and often overtiredness from the short daytime naps.
We only expect a partial wake up every 2 hours. Therefore a well-rested baby will stir and (if being monitored for sleep), they will drift into a light sleep phase, and then back into a deeper sleep for a further 2 hours before fully waking up. But an overtired baby will wake fully when they reach that light sleep phase and often cry out for comfort, settling or a feed.
Here’s what you can do to help with baby’s sleep regression
As the 4-month sleep regression is not really a regression but a progression in your babies sleep maturity, it is not something which your baby will “come through” as such. Their sleep will improve with time and a little help from you! They need to adjust to the changes they are experiencing, and you can help them with small easy changes to their sleep hygiene and self-settling skills.
First and foremost is sleep hygiene: Ensure their sleep environment is conducive to good sleep. A nice dark sleep space will promote melatonin production and be less distracting when your baby wakes after 45 minutes. Ensuring your baby has an age-appropriate awake window, one which means baby is not over or under tired. We generally aim for around 2 hours awake time by 4 months, this is (of course) give or take depending on the baby. Some positive sleep associations such as white noise, swaddles and sleeping bags will also be useful for good sleep hygiene.
Once your basics are in place, you can consider if your baby can self-settle, or if they are heading in that direction? If your baby relies on you to be rocked or held in order to sleep, then it’s unfair to think after one sleep cycle (day or night) minutes they won’t need this again to go back to sleep. So before thinking about re-settling skills, focus on self-settling skills, and teaching your baby to put themselves to sleep from drowsy or wide awake.
Here’s some other things you can try
Sometimes when your baby is taking short naps and waking frequently overnight, the sleep debt can accumulate and this buildup of sleep debt can result in even shorter naps, often 30 minutes long, and more and more crying from your baby throughout the day. They are miserable. This is often when we receive a desperate phone call from parents. At this stage I would recommend you try assisted naps for a few days to get on top of that sleep debt. This means going for a walk for your baby’s naps, or baby wearing, anything which will easily ensure your baby gets some longer more restorative naps.
You might also want to peg back those awake windows for a few days to help reduce those stress hormones associated with this kind of sleep debt. The second action point is to move to a much earlier bedtime, often as early as 6pm will allow your baby to catch up on some much-needed sleep after a day of short naps, and prevent the night from completely falling apart. Finally, we recommend working on night sleep while you do those nice easy naps during the day. Using self-settling strategies to gently teach your 4-month-old to go back to sleep independently is the key to those longer stretches of sleep at night.
Hang in there!
If your baby has started taking these short 45 minutes, and their night sleep is regressing you are probably finding yourself in a very stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted state! You are not alone, this is one of the most common issues we deal with at Baby Sleep Consultant. Concentrating on more night sleep will help both of you to feel less overtired, and consequently, you will both have more patience to deal with the short naps once you are ready.