The 4 month sleep regression gets a bad rep. It is blamed for most sleep difficulties after 4 months, while parents patiently wait for it it to pass.
Unfortunately the 4 month sleep regression isn’t so much a regression as it is a permanent change in your babies sleep patterns, and it doesn’t always start at 4 months.
To better understand the 4 month sleep regression, lets first go back to the beginning and look at newborn sleep development……Lots of newborn are born very sleepy, they have a lot of melatonin on board which has come from mum across the placenta. This means often in the first 3 weeks we can get away with feeding them, wrapping like a burrito and popping them down for a nap, and they sleep!
After this blissful 3 week stage most newborns start to gradually “wake up”, as they do this maternal melatonin has worn off, and their bodies don’t catch up and start producing it’s own sleep hormones for a few weeks or months.
At the same time your babies sleep cycles are starting to emerge and develop as their circadian rythym is slowly starting to mature.
These sleep cycles start to emerge anywhere from 8-16 weeks on average. That is your baby who used to nap for 1-2 hours might start to wake up after 45 minutes and seem wide awake.
This is perfectly normal and to be expected. This is your baby neurologically maturing, and their sleep isn’t broken. You might not notice this development for a few reasons.
- Your baby can already self settle, and they simply re-settle themselves back to sleep and you are blissfully unaware that they are waking and going back to sleep.
- They have been in a consistent routine for a few months before the progression starts. Often these babies continue to sleep well since their sleep is very much a habit already.
- Your baby naps on you, or in a carrier, so you assist them to sleep, and back to sleep when they wake from a short nap.
So can the 4 month sleep regression occur early?
The word regression refers to something getting worse or going backwards. Parents use the term 4 month sleep regression to describe the results they see after this neurological development of sleep cycles.
4 month sleep regression observations
- 45 minute naps
- 30 minute naps
- Difficulty re-settling baby
- Frequent wake ups at night
- Regression in night sleep
- 2 hourly wake ups at night
- Loss of nap routine
Yes we start to see these signs as early as 8 weeks, or as late as 6 months!
A few of the signs are due to over tiredness which takes some time to occur as your baby gets progressively more and more tired as the weeks go by with these short naps. Sometimes it takes as long as 6 months for the result of over tiredness to show up (frequent night wake ups).
Each baby is different in how they respond to this change and development of sleep cycles which is why it appears like a regression which starts as early as 8 weeks for some people, or as late as 6 months for others.
Is there anything you can do to help?
Lots of people will tell you the 4 month sleep regression is a phase that will quickly pass. But I only observe this in babies with the classic “easy” temperament. Other babies who are a bit more tricky can spend months in this sleep pattern, and everyone is getting more and more tired!
Some practical suggestions to help
- Avoid over tiredness by offering 4 naps if no long naps are achievable.
- Early to bed to combat that rising sleep debt and protect night sleep.
- Work on re-settling into a longer nap at least once a day.
- Evaluate your sleep associations to see if they are helping or hindering your baby’s sleep.
- Try a consistent nap routine to help with longer naps. View ours HERE.
- Respect your baby’s need to sleep and watch those tired signs.
Reach out for help from your local certified sleep consultant. Book a free chat with the team HERE.