If you are reading this, you are probably in the throes of the dreaded four month sleep regression, or at the very least, preparing for it. First of all: take a deep breath. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
What is the four-month sleep regression?
The four-month sleep regression is a period of time, lasting anywhere from two to six plus weeks, when your baby is going through a change in their sleep schedule. It can start as early as ten weeks to as late as five months old. You might find your baby suddenly waking frequently during the night or resisting sleep in general when they used to sleep well. Some other signs include changes in appetite, less napping, and fussiness.
Since this is the first sleep regression your baby will experience, it can be the hardest to deal with. The good news is, it’s all because your baby is growing and gaining a new level of awareness, so they’re more curious about their world!
The science behind it
At four months of age, your baby will need approximately twelve to fifteen hours of sleep over a twenty-four hour period. This means a four to six-month-old baby will have around ten to eleven hours of sleep during the night, with one or two awakenings to feed.
The four-month sleep regression is linked to a permanent change in your baby’s sleep cycle where he or she will start to experience more time in a non-REM sleep stage, causing them to wake up more frequently.
As a newborn, your baby’s sleep comprised of 50% REM sleep. Now, as he or she is getting older, they’re moving onto sleep cycle of 25% REM sleep so they’re able to make room for the other sleep stages. Even though their REM sleep is lighter than an adult’s, the new sleep stages added to their cycle are lighter than what they’re used to. As a result, there’s a higher chance your baby will wake up as they settle into sleep.
Not to mention, this sleep regression might coincide with developmental milestones such as learning to roll over and early stages of teething; all of which will cause your baby to wake more frequently.
Can I avoid the four-month sleep regression?
The answer is: no. It’s an inevitable and permeant change as it’s part of your baby’s development and their changing sleep cycle. However, it doesn’t have to be a waking nightmare! There are ways to prepare for the sleep regression and to manage it.
1.) Give Time to Practise New Development Milestones During the Day
If your baby has discovered a new skill, such as rolling over, it might be keeping them up at night as they try to practise it. By giving your baby time to practise their new developmental skill during the day, they won’t spend all their nights trying to learn it!
2.) Slowly Break Sleep Associations
While this step works best in preparation of the four-month sleep regression, it can also work once the sleep regression starts. Often a baby falls asleep while being nursed or held. As a result, a sleep association is created, where your baby will associate being held while sleeping. Try to slowly break these sleep associations by replacing them with new ones that don’t require your presence.
3.) Put Your Baby Down Drowsy
When your baby is drowsy, put them in their cot right away rather than waiting until they’re asleep. This will help teach your baby how to sleep on their own and will help break any sleep associations they’ve made.
4.) Fully Feeding During the Day
As your baby is more curious about the world around them, you might notice their attention shifting away from feeding. This can lead to your baby finishing feeding before they’re actually full, so make sure to feed your baby in an environment where they can feed effectively. Full feedings during the day and before bed can help prevent your baby from being hungry at night. A dream feed (feeding while your baby is sleeping) might help as well!
5.) Adjusting Bedtime
When a baby is overtired, they can resist sleeping A LOT (similar to when adult’s get a second wind at night). Try to adjust your baby’s nap or bedtime, so they are going down before that overtired state.
6.) Ask for help!
This regression can be an especially exhausting time; in order to take care of your baby, you have to take care of yourself too. If you have a partner, family or friends who are willing to help, let them! Try to switch night shifts or even have someone watch over your little one during the day so you can get some much needed rest.
This post originally appeared on mynewborn.com.au, and it has been published here with permission.