One day, your baby is falling asleep easily and dozing through doorbells, ringtones, and barking dogs. The next day, and the day after that, everything seems to wake her up.
Nights change. Literally, over night.
They go from predictable to difficult. From waking only to feed to waking every hour after midnight for no apparent reason. Your sweet angel is fussy, grumpy, and clearly tired but nothing you can do will convince him to sleep!
You’re beyond scratching your head. You’re ready to pull your hair out! What has happened to your easy-sleep baby?
No need to panic, fellow parents.
You have entered the not-so-phenomenal phenomenon known as sleep regression and it’s just one of many big developmental milestones that your baby hits in her first year of life.
Let’s take a look at sleep regression – what it is, why it happens, how long it lasts, and how you can survive it together.
So, what exactly is the 4 month sleep regression?
First of all, let’s go over what exactly this phenomenon is and why it happens.
At around the age of four months, a baby’s sleep pattern changes. This can happen as early as three months or as late as five months. Premature babies will be age adjusted according to their due date.
At this time, a permanent change occurs in your baby’s brain. And that change means that your sweet child moves from sleeping in deep sleep most of the time to cycling back and forth between deep sleep and light sleep.
Even though it’s a normal milestone all baby’s go through, what you end up experiencing is a period of transition. Transition means change. And babies generally don’t like change.
Change equals grumpiness and grumpiness equals exhausting days – and nights – for everyone.
To sleep deeply, lightly, or not at all
As a baby’s brain matures, they begin to cycle between deep and light sleep. At one time, you passed your sleeping doll from one set of arms to another without fear. Your newborn quickly and easily entered into deep sleep and it was easy for them to remain asleep.
As your child develops an adult-like pattern with cycles of light sleep and deep sleep, things change. Significantly. Your baby takes longer to get to sleep. And when they do fall asleep, they do not immediately enter deep sleep like they used to.
Deep sleep occurs after about 30 minutes of light sleep. And during those 30 minutes, or during any period of light sleep, sounds that previously didn’t bother her now wake her up. If your child startles while in a light sleep cycle, he will probably wake himself up and may not know how to get back to sleep.
And that is the real issue here. Your job is to help your baby learn how to fall back asleep when they wake during a light sleep cycle. Try explaining that to a four month old!
Adult sleep patterns
An adult cycles through deep sleep and light sleep (also known as Rapid Eye Movement or REM) between four to six times during a typical night. Each cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes. An infant’s deep and light sleep cycle is about an hour long.
We are usually not aware of waking up during our light sleep cycles. Sometimes we won’t even remember night time bathroom visits the next morning. We have learned how to roll over and go back to sleep.
How to deal with your child’s new sleeping problems.
So how can we help our babies learn how go back to sleep and not wake after every hourly sleep cycle?
Hold tight, I have a few tips that will give you hope as you struggle to help your baby learn the etiquette of sleep over the next few months.
Sleep, Eat, Play, Repeat
My first piece of advice is to stick to a predictable schedule. By schedule, I don’t mean following a clock. The schedule that I followed with my infants gradually made nap times and bed times easier.
After they would wake up, I’d get them ready to eat. If they had cried at all before falling asleep, that might mean a good burp was needed.
Most hungry babes won’t put up with sitting on your lap to be burped, so take a quick walk around with them on your shoulder.
After a full feeding, it’s play time! Interact with your sweet one and reward them with lots of face time and eye contact. Night time feedings follow another set of rules. But during the day, offer as much appropriate and varied stimulation as possible.
Watch for Sleepy Cues
- avoiding eye contact with you,
- rubbing their eyes
- loss of interest
- and yawning.
Don’t let them get too tired. An over tired baby is much harder to get to sleep than a baby that has just start rubbing her eyes.
You don’t want to wait for the crying to start. Before the third yawn, you are heading to the crib to avoid a complete meltdown.
A well-rested child of any age has a much easier time falling sleep.
The ideal sleeping room.
Create the ultimate sleep space for your baby. White noise, such as a fan, blocks out or muffles noises, especially during the day. You can even get a white noise sound machine made specifically for this purpose.
Keeping the room as dark as possible will also encourage your baby to sleep and stay asleep. They will learn that darkness is associated with sleep.
Keep the room at a comfortably cool temperature and dress your baby accordingly. It is usually best to have the room on the cool side for a healthy four month old, but take into consideration the fact that they will likely sleep with a light blanket and end up uncovered within a short period of time.
Have your baby’s crib free from as many distractions as possible when it’s sleep time. After they fall asleep, you may want to put one or two child-safe toys back into their crib with the hope that they will learn that waking up isn’t a bad thing.
The perfect night time routine
You may think that starting a night time routine with your infant is trivial, especially when they’re likely to wake up in only a few hours. However, creating a familiar bedtime routine is one of the best ways to differentiate day time naps from bedtime sleeps.
A good night time routine will have three or four things consistently. For some little ones, you will need to get them in the right order every single time or they can’t sleep! You may need to play around with this in the early months to find what works best for you and your child.
- pajamas and a clean diaper
- read a book and cuddle
- brush teeth
- sing a song with more cuddles and kisses
- a top-off feeding
- then into bed.
It helps to get your baby to bed at the same time every night. However, when they are only a few months young, following a bedtime routine consistently will gradually help you both learn what time that will be. Consistency is the key to healthy sleep habits.
How to deal with night-time wakeups.
Night time wake-ups are unavoidable. When they happen, there are things you should do – or avoid doing – in order to help your baby avoid day time and night time mix up:
- Avoid turning on bright lights. Use only a dim light when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t speak to them, but hum a quiet song.
- Avoid direct eye contact.
- Don’t change diapers unless they’re dirty or very wet. Consider going up one diaper size at night to account for that.
- Feed them and put them back to bed as soon as you can.
When all else fails…
Sleep Regression can be a very difficult transition for parents and babies. When your little one fights sleep and ends up grumpy and irritable all day and all night, it is exhausting for everyone.
Consider the tips I’ve suggested to help your baby learn good sleep habits. I’ve used these tips for my five children and although my first four babies slept through the night in six hour chunks by the age of four months, my fifth baby reminded me that I didn’t know it all.
If all else fails, ask for help. Don’t struggle on your own for too long. Have someone take your baby out for a walk so you can catch up on some missed sleep. Or ask someone to do house work and prepare meals for you. Rest as much as you can.
And take comfort in the fact that your baby will eventually learn how to roll over and sleep on their own. Your patience with teaching good sleep habits will eventually pay off.
Angela Bergmann, BA, Personal Trainer, Mom of 5