The 4-month sleep regression is one of the most widely discussed topics on the internet. You can find hundreds of articles by doing a simple Google search. Hundreds of books have been dedicated to sleep research in infants. Wading through all this information can be overwhelming.
Research is great. Reading through tons of research while sleep-deprived, going back to work, and trying to keep a 4 month old child alive is, well, not so great.
Thus, I’ve reviewed the current literature for you and turned them into 3 easy steps to conquer the 4-month sleep regression.
Step 1: Get familiar with your child’s current stage of development.
Understanding where your child is developmentally will give you keys to developing your baby’s ideal sleep plan. I’ll outline the highlights below.
Ever wonder why newborns can sleep through nearly anything while your 4 month old wakes up over the slightest movement? You can thank your baby’s growing brain.
Newborn sleep patterns only have one phase called deep restorative sleep. They do not cycle in and out of light and deep sleep like you and I do.
Around four months, the brain begins to transition to an adult sleep cycle. Adult sleep cycles start naturally flow in and out of REM and non-REM sleep through the night.
Your 4 month old’s transition to an adult sleep cycle is a sign that the brain in maturing. Consider looking at your beautiful baby’s newfound sleep behaviors as less of a regression and more of a sign of healthy brain development!
Your baby is likely reaching a lot of milestones right now. She has developed enough neck strength and arm strength to lift off the ground from a tummy position.
She can grasp toys with both hands and bring them to her mouth. She is likely rolling over and may be feeding more often due to increased mass and muscle size.
Your baby is beginning to learn that she is a separate person from you. She may imitate simple facial expressions like a smile or a frown. She may smile when you smile or make noises to get and hold your attention.
These milestones are signs that she has learned that she can interact and make an impact on the world around her. These are first lessons in learning cause and effect!
Your baby has learned to cry in a variety of ways to signal different needs. Crying and cooing at you are your baby’s first attempts at communication and expression of needs. She may even be babbling, a form of baby talk that later turns to first words.
Step 2: Formulate a healthy sleep plan.
Many parents try to start sleep training at four months. I know I did! After all, my baby was ten pounds at birth. Surely, he could sleep through the night at four months.
After a few sleepless and nerve-racking weeks, I admitted defeat and turned back to the research. What I discovered is that most four month old’s brain and nervous system have not matured enough to self-soothe (a necessary skill needed for sleep training).
They can, however, learn healthy sleep habits that will translate to easier sleep training in a month or two.
Here’s a bullet list of things you can introduce now to make your sleep training transition a bit smoother.
Routine, routine, routine:
Use your baby’s newfound knowledge of cause and effect to develop a solid sleep routine. Try to keep it at three or four steps that you do in the same order every night. For us, that meant bath, feed, book, song.
Be mindful of sleep associations
Now may be a good time to instill an eat-play-sleep routine. Instilling this routine early helps break the food-equals-sleep crutch that many people continue into adulthood.
Babies first show their ability to develop memories around four months. If your baby is not yet sleeping in her crib, considering moving her there. Remember the ABCD’s of safe sleep: Alone, on her Back, in a C, and Don’t Smoke. Sleep related deaths are most common between months two and four.
Support their natural circadian rhythm
Spend time outside during the day. Get plenty of fresh air. Go for walks. Play in the grass. Put baby to bed at dusk. Early bedtimes are beneficial for developing healthy sleep habits. Strive for a bedtime no later than 7pm.
Most babies this age take anywhere from 3-5 naps per day. Watch for your baby’s sleep cues and put her down before the crying starts. Try not to let wake times stretch longer than 2 hours or naps last past 5 pm.
It may be helpful to track naps to look for times when wake times stretch longer than the recommended two hours as these can lead to over-tiredness which makes it harder to get baby to sleep.
When baby wakes during the night, allow a few minutes to see if she can put herself back to sleep. If not, go on in and be with her. You can’t spoil a baby under six months. I promise!
Night feedings are normal and expected. Try to do these feedings without speaking and in the dark. Put baby back in her bed promptly to signify it is nighttime, a time to sleep.
Ensure your baby is getting enough sleep. Infants at this age need 14-16 hours of sleep per 24-hour period.
Step 3: Evaluate how your plan is working.
Write down what you’re going to do. What changes will you make with your current sleep routine? Are you going to make one small change or many?
Writing down what you are going to do makes it easier to stick to the plan. It also makes it easier to re-evaluate if the plan is working or if a change is needed.
I suggest sticking to your new plan for one week before re-evaluating. It’s easy to keep changing things as you come up with more ideas, but this may hurt your routine more than help.
Write down your ideas in a notebook. I label a page called “Parking Lot.” By noting your ideas, you can return to them later in case you need to change the plan.
And finally, give yourself and your baby some grace. Change is hard for everyone. You and your baby are going through many changes at this stage. Celebrate the successes and use learn from the setbacks. You got this!