Guide to the 4 month sleep regression.

In our guide to the four month sleep regression we’re going to cover these topics:

  • What are sleep regressions?
  • What causes the 4 month sleep regression?
  • When does the 4 month sleep regression start?
  • What are the signs of the 4 month sleep regression?
  • How long does the 4 month sleep regression last?
  • And tips on how to deal with the 4 month sleep regression.

What are sleep regressions?

As our babies and toddlers grow they pass through phases of huge mental and physical change. Becoming more aware of the world around them, learning to roll, crawl and sit up, teething, expanding their vocabulary and taking their first steps are just a few examples of the many changes they are going to experience.

As they move through these different milestones it isn’t unusual for sleep to be temporarily disrupted. They may wake more frequently at night, take shorter naps or fight falling sleep.

These periods of disruption are often referred to as ‘sleep regressions’ even though they are triggered by phases of developmental progression.

Whilst most babies tend to reach key milestones at roughly the same age as each other, all babies are different and will experience these phases of development when they are ready.

It can be easy to compare your baby to others of the same age, but don’t feel disheartened if you feel others are getting there sooner that your own little one. Your baby may take longer to crawl or may even skip that part completely and jump straight to walking. You might see their first teeth in the first few months, or they may wait a little longer and have a few appear all together. As parents we are there to support and nurture our children through their development at their own pace.

What is the 4 month sleep regression?

The ‘4 month sleep regression,’ isn’t really a regression at all, it’s actually a progression in your baby’s development. It is a good sign that your baby’s sleep cycle is maturing.

The simple awake/asleep cycles of newborn sleep are replaced with more complex phases of sleep, each serving different purposes, including: cell growth, storing memories, restoring energy and allowing physical and mental development to take place during sleep.

This phase of change represents the biggest change in sleep that your baby will go through, making the structure of their sleep cycles much more like those of an adult.

Once this change in sleep has occurred, we all, babies and adults alike, naturally wake between each of these cycles.

When does the 4 month sleep regression start?

Whilst it is referred to as the 4 month regression, this change in the architecture of your baby’s sleep can happen a little earlier or a little later. It is common for this period of development to happen between 3-5 months of age.

What are the signs of the 4 month sleep regression?

For some families, it is obvious when their baby starts to go through the 4 month sleep regression, while for others the changes might be more subtle.

Classic signs that your baby is going through this change in their sleep structure are:

  • They find it harder to fall asleep. They may have been happily dropping off to sleep before, but suddenly they are fighting sleep more than usual. You may find that your approach to helping them fall is asleep is no longer working in the same way, for example you may have easily rocked them to sleep previously and now no amount of rocking is helping them drift off easily.
  • Naps are shorter – perhaps just the length of one sleep cycle which is approximately 35-45 minutes long.
  • Night wakings become more frequent – you might find they are now waking every one to two hours through the night.

It is normal for babies to wake at night for feeds and for some naps to be short and unpredictable. We are looking for changes in sleep over a number of days around 3-5 months of age to indicate that they are going through this change in sleep structure.

How long does the 4 month sleep regression last?

Unlike other ‘regressions’ and periods of disturbed sleep, this one represents a permanent change to your baby’s sleep structure.

For some babies, particularly those who are able to fall asleep independently without lots of external support, this is a fairly smooth change that they pass through with little or no disruption to their sleep.

For others, the impact of this change in sleep structure can lead to broken sleep, short naps and struggles falling asleep.

These babies may need more help to practice how to fall asleep and return themselves to sleep each time they naturally wake between sleep cycles

Although this is a permanent change don’t think that you will be stuck with permanent wake ups. The key to more restful sleep is for babies to be able to know how to fall asleep and return to sleep each time they naturally wake between their sleep cycles.

Tips on how to deal with the 4 month sleep regression.

You can help your baby to get their sleep back on track and support them to practice how they can fall asleep themselves.

Learning to sleep independently can be tricky for some babies, but it is absolutely achievable over time. Some babies will naturally adjust to their newly matured sleep patterns and sleep well again within a few weeks, others need some help to practice new skills in order to sleep well.

There are a few things that will help you get sleep back on track:

  • Support your baby to be able to fall asleep, and return to sleep, themselves. This can be a gradual process to help your baby learn to fall asleep independently. If your little one is rocked to sleep, for example, you may start by cuddling to sleep, then move towards putting them into their cot drowsy or awake. At this stage it is all about practicing independent sleep. Choose a method that sits well with your parental belief system and suits your baby’s personality.
  • Introduce a predictable routine. It is beneficial to plan naps at the right times for your baby. This will mean your baby will be more inclined to fall sleep, and to stay asleep. A predictable daytime and bedtime routine can help all of us to relax and sleep well at night.
  • Optimise your baby’s sleep environment. A dark, calming space that your baby associates with sleep will help your baby relax and sleep soundly.
  • Ask for help. It can be easy to forget about our own needs. Take help whenever it is offered. Get an early night and take naps wherever it is possible – all sleep counts.

It is very common and very normal to struggle with sleep at this age. It can take babies some time to adjust and get used to their new skills and to absorb the new experiences and things going on around them.

Introduce changes at your own pace to suit you and your baby. Every baby is unique and it can take time and practice to help your baby achieve more restful predictable sleep.

Want more support with your child’s sleep?

If you would like to learn more about sleep and have guidance on how you can approach achieving a predictable routine and well-rested night’s sleep then check out our online courses.

Available from newborn to 4 years old, our courses are designed to help you learn how you can support your child to sleep better.

We share all the information you need to help you really understand your little one’s sleep and how to help them achieve more predictable naps and restful nights – all from your own computer, phone or tablet whenever it suits you.

Early Days & Foundations of Sleep: 0-5 Months

This course will teach you how you can work towards great sleep habits, without ‘sleep training.’ It provides gentle solutions for settling and works towards the end goal of a settled night’s sleep, whilst understanding and responding to your baby’s needs.

Sleep Success: 6-9 Months

This course covers a range of topics including the science of sleep, sleep associations, creating a great sleep environment, a suggested daily routine and a choice of settling methods including how to make gradual changes. The course will lead you through step by step how to create your own sleep plan to support your baby to sleep in their own sleep space.

Sleep Success: 10-18 Months

This course covers a range of topics including the science of sleep, sleep associations, creating a great sleep environment, a suggested daily routine, the transition from two naps to one and a choice of settling methods including how to make gradual changes. The course will lead you through step by step how to create your own sleep plan to support your baby to sleep in their own sleep space.

Sleep Success: 1.5 – 4 years

This course which covers a range of topics including the science of sleep, sleep associations, creating a great sleep environment, potential sleep disturbances in this age group, a suggested daily routine, the transition from cot to bed, dropping the daytime nap, early waking and a choice of settling methods including how to make gradual changes. The course will lead you through step by step how to create your own sleep plan.

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