There is a long list of why exhausted parents reach out to me for sleep help. It could be because of a long and frustrating bedtime, multiple night wakings, or poor naps. When I hop on an initial sleep evaluation call with a family, they typically ask if their baby’s poor sleep might just be due to a “regression.” And, once that passes, “will they just grow out of it”?
The ‘R’ word is thrown around left and right. And none more so than the dreaded four-month sleep regression.
What’s Going on Around 4 Months Of Age?
You will hear a lot of talk about the 8-month, 12-month or 18-month sleep regressions. All of which are simply your baby going through a developmental milestone like learning to crawl or walk or create simple sentences.
The four-month sleep regression, although inappropriately named, is a real thing, ya’ll. Ask any parent who has suffered from the sleepless nights and chronically short naps. Many parents go from a baby who falls asleep easily and wakes up for a quick feed or two during the night, to long and exhausting bedtimes and a baby who wakes up every 1-2 hours all night long.
A regression, however, is defined as “a return to a former or less developed state”. Due to the fact that your baby’s sleep is going through the exact opposite, parents should be talking about the “four-month sleep progression”.
Let’s back up a bit.
The Reason Newborns Are Deep Sleepers
It is because they only have 2 stages of sleep compared to our 4 stages. Newborns are either in deep sleep or deeper sleep which explains why they can sleep in a loud room with tons of light and it doesn’t seem to bother them.
At this age, most babies are learning to fall asleep during a feed, with a pacifier or while being rocked. Now this can be a major contributor to the 4 month fiasco when their sleep starts to develop.
Between the third and fourth month, a baby’s sleep reorganizes from two stages into four stages. As they start to spend more time in light sleep there is more of an opportunity for your baby to come out of a sleep cycle, which is typically about 45 minutes long. Now, everyone wakes or almost wakes in between sleep cycles. The problem is that if your baby is depending on something external to get to sleep like a feed, pacifier or being rocked, they are going to need that same external help a lot more often during the night once the development of sleep occurs and they are in and out of four stages of sleep instead of two. With this comes the fight-or-flight, doses of adrenaline and lots of crying. Parents can find themselves in a pretty awful predicament with night wakings in between every 45 minute sleep cycle.
What Can You Do? A Four-Month Checklist:
1. Dark isn’t dark enough
Science has proven that we all sleep best is a SUPER dark room. I’m talking so dark that you can barely see your hand when put in front of your face. So do what you can to cover every inch of light coming through the bedroom window. You can invest in some pretty great custom blackout blinds, but you can also cover the window with foil or cardboard. It will do the trick!
2. Sound machine to the rescue
White(or pink or brown) noise is a great addition when creating the perfect sleep environment. The constant buzz of background noise drowns out the occasional dog barking or door slamming that might prematurely jolt your baby out of a sleep cycle. It’s best to place the machine about 4-6 feet away from your baby and keep in on all night long and during naptime, as well.
3. Prevent over-tiredness
Over-tiredness is one of the most common reasons for lots and lots of crying at bedtime or nap-time. Know how long your little one should be awake depending on their age and watch for sleepy cues. The combination of knowing those cues and watching the clock will make a huge difference.
4. Just wait
Becoming a great sleeper is a learned skill. If you are teaching your baby how to fall asleep independently and how to get themselves back to sleep upon nighttime wakings you must give them the chance to do just that. When you hear your little one start to protest, set a timer. Now how much time is up to you. Can you start with 10 minutes? If not, try 5. But if you don’t set a timer 2 minutes will feel like 30 and you’ll run into your baby’s room before they have even had the opportunity to show you they can do it. Just pause. And breath, mama.
By teaching your baby to fall asleep at night, prop-free, without feeding, a pacifier or bouncing, you are giving them a lifelong skill that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. And let’s not gloss over what parents gain from a well-rested baby. Sleep not only benefits your health, but can also have a positive impact on your relationship with your partner.
Now, there are going to be setbacks in your baby’s sleep. Teething, sickness and travel are a few that can do a number on sleep a few nights in a row. I’m happy to share that once you and your little one have made it through the four-month sleep “progression”, you are done. It’s a one time deal.
Of course, all baby’s are different and some are going to take to learning this whole sleep thing quite easily and some will be more resistant. If your child falls into the latter category, reach out for help. I’m happy to help in any way I can.
Just take a peek at my website or book a quick call and we can discuss your baby’s needs. After working with clients in this age group I often hear how proud they are of their sweet babies. It’s pretty amazing to see them learn to fall asleep happily and peacefully each night.
Andi Metzler is a (formerly tired) mom, wife, and certified Sleep Sense™ consultant from California.
Learn more about sleep training and services on her website: amsleepconsulting.com
Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors.
This blog post was originally published 10/06/2020 but has been updated for 2022.