Bub has finally settled into a sleep routine that has you feeling like you’ve got the hang of this whole parenting thing. But looming on the horizon is the four-month sleep regression.
Mum’s Grapevine sleep consultant Tara Mitchell is offering expert advice on how to help guide bub through this tricky time.
The four-month sleep regression – it’s certainly a hot topic and tends to be something many parents dread. Before I give you some advice on tackling it, it’s important to first cover what it is and why it happens.
What is the four-month sleep regression?
Around the four-month mark, your little one goes through a dramatic shift with their sleep cycles. Sleep becomes a much more dynamic state around this time. Your baby’s sleep cycles will consolidate into more defined cycles. These cycles last between 60-120 minutes during the night and approximately 45 minutes during the day.
During these cycles your baby drifts between light and deep sleep, at the end of these cycles they come to a more aware state. So if you or an external aid are playing a role in getting your little one off to sleep this is what they will require to re-settle time and time again.
What you will also notice is that your little one will develop a greater awareness of the things that get them to sleep and their preferences for particular ways of achieving sleep will strengthen. It’s a perfect storm for poor sleep. In short, your baby will wake more often and require ‘their learned preference’ to put them to sleep.
Top tips for tackling four-month sleep regression
Here’s my advice for getting through the four-month sleep regression.
1. Keep bub’s awake times short
Overtired babies have a much harder time settling well for sleep and extending sleeps. When little ones are overtired they find it much harder to wind down. Simply put, overtired = over wired. They are also less likely to get into good quality sleep rhythms and tend to be more prone to catnapping and frequent night waking. In turn, this will exacerbate poor sleep, especially around the four-month mark when these sleep cycles are becoming more distinguished. Short awake times and early bedtimes are a great place to start.
2. What baby associates with falling asleep
What your baby associates or relies on to get to sleep will most likely be what they think they require time and time again throughout the night. I am a great believer in self-settling, however, I also believe that if alternative measures are working for the entire family unit to get great sleep, then there is no pressure to change.
Above three months of age, when we change a babies reliance from external props and allow them to become familiar with putting themselves to sleep, their sleep is dramatically transformed. It all comes down to what your baby associates with falling asleep and if that is an external measure, such as rocking, feeding, patting, dummy etc, you may find yourself repeating that measure a number of times a night in order for bub to get into their next cycle. When we change what they are familiar with to get to sleep and allow them to understand they don’t need to rely on external input each time, the changes in their sleep are beyond comparison.
Through the four-month sleep regression, those who are in a cycle of needing to play a role generally find this time really problematic as now their little one is not only waking more frequently but has become more aware of and reliant on that source of re-settling. This can be turned around by making changes to what they rely on to get to sleep.
3. Create a pattern for bub to become familiar with
I truly believe consistency and routine are so important for children as a whole. That’s not to say babies need to be on strict time-specific schedules, but offering them predictability through patterns is a great way to see improvements and stay on track during regressions.
I tend to recommend a feed, play and sleep pattern after the newborn stage. You can also have a little pre-bed routine, for example, change your little ones nappy, sing them a song or read a book, into their sleeping bag and off to bed.
4. Set the scene
Make sure your baby’s sleep space is conducive to good sleep. I am a big believer in dark rooms and love to use white noise to help block out external disruption. I would remove things that can distract your little one when transitioning from one sleep cycle to the next, for example, mobiles above the cot, night lights that are too bright or change in colour and keep your little ones sleep space clear.
I cannot tell you how many clients I have worked with that simply survived the first one, two and even three
years in a fog of sleep deprivation simply because they thought it was a normal part of parenthood or they had blamed teething, regressions or reflux, but it doesn’t have to be the case.
Little ones thrive on good sleep – developmentally, physically and emotionally. Don’t simply survive – thrive.
Tara Mitchell a Paediatric Nurse, former international nanny, mum and qualified Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant, she’s also the founder of The Gentle Sleep Specialist – a place for families to get help for sleep issues. Resolving sleep issues, establishing routines, creating healthy sleep habits and managing behaviour at bedtime is what she specialises in.