You’ve made it through the 4th trimester and things seem to be going smoothly. Then, suddenly your baby seems to stop sleeping! What happened? Meet the 4-Month Sleep Regression.
Your Rockin’ Blinks Crib Sheet for four-month sleep regression:
- Around 4 months many babies will wake more often at night. While this happens to every baby, some babies are able to get themselves back to sleep. Others might not know how to fall back asleep without a helping hand.
- Increased night waking does not require increased night feeding. Since the major reasons that babies begin to wake at 4 months are due to non-hunger related reasons, feeding a baby at every night waking may accidentally reinforce the night waking.
- Increased night wakings at 4 months reflect a permanent change to sleep. In fact, brief awakenings are part of the nature of sleep for the rest of our lives. No one truly “sleeps through the night”.
- Putting your baby down awake at bedtime is the best way to help your baby sleep better. Your baby is more aware of her surroundings and expects to wake during the night to find things the same way they were when she fell asleep at bedtime.
- Most babies are capable of sleeping through the night by 4-6 months of age.
What is 4-month sleep regression?
The 4-month sleep regression is a fairly common phenomenon for parents, even those that thought they had a pretty “good” sleeper. Suddenly your sleepy, oblivious baby is waking up to the world…and letting the world know about it, loudly. But this sleep regression is often reinforced by habits (yours!) that you can change quickly and easily before they become ingrained. Below our resident sleep expert answers the most common questions around the 4-month sleep regression and offers tips on how to stop it in its tracks.
Signs in your baby that could signal you are entering the 4-month sleep regression stage?
- Your baby is abruptly waking more frequently at night, particularly toward morning.
- Fussiness has increased during the day.
- Your baby has learned how to make a toy move.
- Feedings are more frequent because your baby is easily distracted.
- Rolling, or attempts at rolling, are happening.
What causes the 4-month sleep regression?
Two major things are happening around 4 months of age: a development in how baby thinks, and a development in how sleep happens.
Begin to interact with the real
Prior to 4 months, a baby could see nearby objects. And a baby could move their hands around. However the baby’s brain could not combine those two signals. But while a newborn’s movements are not intentional, a 4-month-old baby is seeing cause and effect. A newborn cannot reach for a toy, or control bringing her thumb to her mouth. But a 4-month-old will start to grab toys. They will be distracted while eating: there’s so much to take in!
The ability to combine seeing something with an intentional movement is a huge change for a baby. She now realizes that she can interact with her world. It’s similar to the difference between watching television versus playing a virtual reality game. Babies realize they are no longer spectators. With this amazing new ability to not just watch the world but to play in it, babies may wake up during the night excited to continue playing.
Beginning of more complex sleep cycles
The development in how sleep happens occurs around the same time. Before 4 months, newborn sleep is made up of two stages: active sleep and quiet sleep. But at 4 months, sleep becomes more complex. Babies now move from light sleep, to deep sleep, to dream sleep–completing one sleep cycle. This is a development that will last throughout their life.
The transition from deep sleep to light sleep is often marked by a brief awakening, built into the nature of these changing sleep cycles. This allows all of us to have limited watchfulness on our environment while we sleep. We take in quick information about what’s going on around us, then return to sleep.
In adults, one cycle lasts about 90 minutes, so we typically wake 4-6 times each night. In babies these cycles are short, lasting about 45-50 minutes, so it’s natural for babies to wake frequently.
When your baby wakes and doesn’t have the strategies to get back to sleep on their own, they might cry out. Since their sleep cycles reset every 45-50 minutes, this waking, crying and persistent inability to get back to sleep can happen several times a night. This is considered sleep regression.
Does every baby experience a 4-month sleep regression?
- While every baby wakes several times during the night, not every baby experiences sleep regression. Babies who seem to “sleep through the night” actually wake multiple times. These babies are called “non-signallers.” They do not cry when they wake, and return to sleep quietly.
How long does the 4-month sleep regression last?
Since there are two components to what causes the 4 month regression, there are two parts to this answer.
For some babies, having sleep cycles that now naturally contain a brief awakening, plus the excitement of being able to interact with the world, means that babies may wake and want to keep using their new skills. As with all new skills that your baby will learn, the initial thrill will ease as your baby gets used to it.
The change that happens in sleep itself is not something that will ease with time. Brief awakenings are part of the nature of sleep for the rest of our lives. No one truly “sleeps through the night”.
Could my baby’s sleep regression be due to a growth spurt at 4 months?
Some parents understandably assume that the reason their baby is suddenly waking more often at night is due to a growth spurt and an increased need to eat around the clock. However, since growth hormone is released during deep sleep, growth spurts typically mean increased sleep, not reduced sleep.
Additionally, since the major reasons that babies begin to wake at 4 months are due to non-hunger related reasons, feeding a baby at every night waking may accidentally reinforce the night waking.
Can a 4-month old sleep all night without eating?
The ability to sleep for longer periods at night is directly related to your baby’s strengthening circadian rhythms. This means hormones regulating sleepiness and wakefulness, hunger and fasting, digesting and a slowing of the digestive system.
Typically, these rhythms develop quickly over the first 3-4 months. Babies at this age are able to go for at least 5 hours at night without eating, particularly if parents consistently pause for just one minute before feeding when the baby wakes. Some babies will hang on to 1-2 night feedings until closer to 6-9 months of age.
What should I do if my baby keeps waking and crying during the night?
Change your habits. Sleep associations are the things your baby associates with falling asleep. If these sleep associations are not constantly present throughout the night, then your baby will likely cry during a natural night waking, needing you to replace the sleep association. Choose positive sleep associations that can remain constant throughout the night, such as white noise, the coziness of the crib or bassinet, and thumb-sucking. These will help baby get back to sleep easily. Reduce negative sleep associations that require your assistance. Feeding to sleep, rocking, walking with baby and even pacifiers that need to be replaced during the night will frustrate your baby (and you!).
So how can I get my baby to sleep for longer at night?
Once your baby is 4 months old, the best way to increase their ability to sleep for longer stretches at night is by putting them down awake at bedtime. Your baby is more aware of her surroundings and expects to wake during the night to find things the same way they were when she fell asleep at bedtime.
- Start with a consistent bedtime routine, made up of 3-4 brief steps in the same order each night.
- Separate feeding from sleep, so that the bedtime feeding happens first in your routine.
- Keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark.
- At the end of your routine, place your baby awake in her crib.
- With time and practice, she will quickly learn how to fall asleep on her own at bedtime. This will lead to her being able to wake during the night and return to sleep on her own.
You will also want to follow an age appropriate schedule for your baby. Going to sleep at the right time for both naps and night sleep it’s going to be necessary to have good quality sleep throughout your baby’s life.
Good sleep is essential for a happy healthy childhood and life. Book a consultation with us now!