Updated: Nov 10, 2020
A deeper look into what exactly happens during this time and what we as parents can do to survive.
Firstly, it is important to understand that although the technical term is sleep regression, it is really a progression. Your baby is now developmentally progressing out of the newborn stage, and hitting developmental milestones which contribute to the regression, as they should. However, this regression is always the hardest for parents to survive, so let's take a deeper look at understanding the 4-month sleep regression.
I always overheard the whisper of the other mums about the 4-month sleep regression, but like so many others, I didn’t actually understand what this meant. Why was this happening? What is the true indication of this regression?
Now that I am all that much wiser, I look back and realize that I wish I had had someone who could have explained this to me better so that I felt more equipped to handle it. So, here I am, giving you some top advice when it comes to overcoming the dreaded sleep regression…
So what exactly is it?
The 4-month sleep regression is a stage in the baby's life that can happen anywhere between 3.5 and 6-months old. Not all babies necessarily go through it, and not all babies experience the same level of intensity as other babies do. The 4-month sleep regression is due to many mental and physiological developmental milestones, as this is about the time your little one begins to roll, notice objects, tries to touch their toys, and is generally more aware of what is happening around them.
With all this development going on, coupled with a permanent change in your baby's sleep cycles as the sleep cycles begin to mature, it is only natural to notice how nighttime sleep, and day time naps, can be affected. For night time, where they previously were able to go from 4-6 hourly stretches, they now are doing 2-4 hourly stretches, which is largely due to the second boost of melatonin they experience around this age.
As mentioned, these are permanent changes to your baby's sleep, so don’t think of this as a phase that they will get over at some point, but rather understand that how we respond to our babies during this regression, will lead to how long this regression lasts.
As for naps, if your baby was a serial catnapper as a newborn, the catnapping will become very apparent at this stage.This happens because day time sleep cycles are usually 45 minutes long, so your baby will often fully wake at the 45-minute mark when they have no self-settling skills.
Common signs of this sleep regression?
Sometimes parents think their baby is going through a sleep regression as they experience one or two days where things went a little south, but really, that’s just normal and not part of a sleep regression. The true determining factor is when your baby's sleep consistently gets worse. You may have had a really good napper on your hands before the regression, and then all of a sudden, you find yourself having to “force” your baby to either go to sleep, or go back to sleep, and it all becomes very exhausting and draining.
Signs to look out for include:
Your baby is waking at every 2 to 4-hour mark overnight and needs to be resettled back to sleep
They become overtired due to poor naps and excessive night waking
Day time naps become shorter as your baby consistently wakes at the 45-minute mark
A lot of fussiness and crying may occur
They no longer able to easily go back to sleep
Myths of this sleep regression
Parents often create ideas for themselves as they scramble to cope with the changes and feeling of sleep deprivation. In amidst the scramble, parents will begin to feed at every 2-hour wake overnight, or think it’s time to introduce solids, as my baby must be hungry and the milk is no longer enough?
A breastfeeding mother might think her milk supply is low due to all their fussiness. Due to this perceived “hunger”, the baby is slowly becoming a snack feeder, whereby they take small frequent feeds during the day. This often leads to reverse cycling, where the baby now takes most of their calories at night, and they are not as hungry during the day, so they don’t drink as much.
A breastfeeding mother begins to think her milk supply is low due to all the fussiness
Parents think it's time to introduce solids which might fill baby enough and in turn help them sleep longer
This is just and phase and it will pass
This is the same as a growth spurt
How long does the sleep regression last for?
Well, I know this can feel like an eternity, but this regression can last anything from 2-4 weeks. However, the changes in a baby's sleep cycles during this regression are permanent, which means that parents often bring in sleep associations that they feel will help their baby sleep longer. Unfortunately, until your baby is able to fully self-settle and resettle, those sleep associations will always need to be present to help your baby go back to sleep.