The 4 Month Sleep Regression
Living in Dunedin, New Zealand, Lisa Rutter is a certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Consultant at Sleep Eazzzy. She has helped over 500 parents, both locally and internationally, to improve their families sleep quality and experiences. As a mum of three, Lisa understands first hand the sleep challenges many parents face during the early years of parenting.
What is the 4 month sleep regression?
The four month sleep regression is a permanent change in how your baby sleeps. I like to think of this as more of a sleep progression rather than a regression. Your baby is experiencing incredible, significant developmental growth. They are becoming more aware of the world around them, and are learning new skills every day. If you consider the magnitude of what is happening for your baby during this time, you begin to understand why things are starting to change in the sleep department.
Around 4 months of age, your baby's maternal melatonin, the sleepy hormone, has completely disappeared, which means they’re becoming more and more alert, and less able to fall asleep so easily. During this period, your baby may also be starting to find hands on settling overstimulating.
What are the signs your baby may be going through the 4 month sleep regression?
Frequent night waking (often 2-4 hourly), and catnapping (only sleeping for 30-45 minutes at a time during the day) are the first telltale signs that your baby may be going through this regression/progression.
Catnapping can begin to occur because your baby wakes after one sleep cycle and cannot get back into another cycle on their own (compared to when they were younger, the maternal melatonin, the sleepy hormone we spoke about earlier, enabled them to drift between sleep cycles more easily). When they wake between sleep cycles, they then rely on someone, or something, to help get them back to sleep. At this stage, your baby hasn’t learned the skill of linking sleep cycles on their own. Hence, the frequent waking.
This is the time where it can be very easy to begin developing some deep-rooted sleep associations that become habits that are difficult to break. Everyone’s journey is different, and for some parents, sleep associations such as rocking or feeding to sleep don’t ever become an issue, what matters most is how you feel about your family's journey.
Is there any tips you can offer parents to help them get through the 4 month sleep regression?
Firstly, ensure your baby is sleeping in the best environment to promote good sleep. In practice, this looks like a dark room, white noise and appropriate sleepwear for the temperature of the room.
Stay consistent! This is really important because it shows your baby that nothing has changed, and that they are safe, secure and responded to during these leaps.
Teaching your baby to self-settle (fall asleep on their own) and resettle on their own is key to progressing through this regression/progression. Putting your baby down slightly awake helps them feel safe and secure when they wake between sleep cycles. This is because baby recognises the environment as being the same as when they fell asleep, compared to being confused if their environment has suddenly changed.
Finally, try not to overthink it. We can build ourselves up so much in preparation for these regressions that we end up putting that anxiety and stress onto our baby without realising it. Try not to talk yourself into assuming you have hit it. Yes it exists, but your experience might be vastly different to your friends.
The 4 month sleep regression can be really difficult for parents to navigate. Do you have any tips on how parents can ensure they are looking after themselves during this time?
When it comes to our mental health, it is so important that we reach out for help when we need it. Asking for help with your little one is okay, and often comes with a weight lifted off your shoulders. Having a really good support system and knowing when to take a break and allowing someone else to step in is important. Talk to a friend, keep yourself accountable for taking a nap while the baby does sleep if you can, say yes to that family member offering to hold the baby while you have a shower. It’s often these seemingly small moments that make all the difference.
Will the 4 month regression ever end?!
Absolutely it will end! While the four month sleep regression is a permanent change in your baby’s sleep, the frequent waking's will end. But, there will be more developmental leaps to come that alter your baby's sleep. Each phase is a new journey for your baby, and we can only support them through these.
Sometimes, we need some extra support. If you want to reach out, Lisa's contact information is: