If you’ve ever done a 4am Google search for the 4 Month sleep regression you would see that there are over 8 Million Search results. In any parents group you will hear people sharing stories of how their child hit 16 weeks and just stopped sleeping, their poor friends with 12 week olds listening in horror. Other parents will share that their child has been sleeping well from early on and hasn’t been affected at all by this so called regression which then makes us wonder if this ‘sleep regression’ is a real thing or just an urban myth?
Some time around the 4 month mark babies go through a massive change in sleep architecture. Their familiar and comfortable sleep cycles completely change and that can be quite unsettling!
When a newborn falls asleep they fall straight into REM (dreaming sleep), from this they then fall into deep sleep and then back into REM. Your newborn probably sleeps through a lot of noise and disturbance and is pretty portable.
At around 4 months everything changes. Your baby will start their sleep with falling into light sleep first. This can be rather tricky as its very new to them. Babies may struggle to fall asleep or startle themselves awake after 10 mins. If we make it through light sleep they will then fall into a deep sleep and come back around into light sleep and REM sleep. During light and REM your baby will be very easily woken and the feeling of transitioning into light sleep may startle them awake again – Hello cat naps and frequent night wakings.
No. But all babies will experience the change in their sleep cycle architecture. The degree to which this disrupts a babies sleep will vary greatly from baby to baby. Some will glide through sleep states easily, some will have a few nights or weeks where they adjust to the changes and in some cases your baby will experience a true regression and will need some help getting back on track.
It’s easy to pin a lot of changes in a babies sleep on the ‘regression’ but there are some big developmental changes happening in a baby’s world that may also change their sleeping habits.
Babies are learning new skills, grasping, rolling, sitting and just being more interested in the world can make life very fun for babies and they can sometimes find it hard to switch off to sleep. Babies brains can also be very active during sleep as they consolidate memories and new skills.
As babies grow they become more interested in the world and can become distractible when feeding. A baby will regulate their calories over a 24 hour period and if they aren’t getting enough during the day they will make them up a night.
As babies become more aware of the world they will seek lots of support and comfort from their main caregivers and will understand when they are not there. Babies will often wake from sleep for comfort and reassurance.
Understanding the changes going on in your baby’s world can be really beneficial and a sanity saver. Try and see the changes in your baby’s sleep as a positive and that their brain and sleep are maturing well.
There are some things that you can do to help make the transition easier for both you and baby.
– Keeping the start and end of your baby’s day at a fairly consistent time will help to set their body clock. Huge variances in morning and bedtime can leave your baby feeling jet lagged.
– Where possible give your baby the opportunity to fall asleep by themselves. If this doesn’t happen don’t stress. A well rested baby is the most important thing.
– Try to help prevent your baby from becoming overtired. When we are overtired we release a hormone called Cortisol which makes us feel stressed and wired. An overtired baby will find it harder to fall asleep. Looking out for your baby’s tired signs and helping them to fall asleep at the first sign of tiredness will really help.
– Take a look at where your baby is sleeping. Your newborn may have slept through the dog barking, the tv and the hoover but your 4 month old may not be able to. If there are lots of disturbances try eliminating some to see if that helps. In busy households pink noise can be great at helping to block out external noise.
– Seek help! If your baby really isn’t sleeping well and you are both exhausted there is no pride lost in speaking to a health professional or a sleep consultant. We really do want to help and you absolutely do not need to leave your baby to cry to help them to achieve better sleep.