We’ve all heard of the dreaded four month sleep regression, right? (Or as I like to call it: The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Sleep Regression!) But what is it? What causes it? And, maybe most importantly, can it be avoided? In this post, I aim to inform you about the ins and outs of this agonizing four month sleep regression
When my sweet boy was three months old, he woke up once or twice a night. Usually, he slept 7-9 hours, woke up to quickly eat, then fell asleep for another 1-3 hours. It was complete bliss. I wondered why moms were so sleep deprived. I mean, I could generally get 8 straight, uninterrupted hours of sleep. What was wrong with everyone else? I patted myself on the back for being such a brilliant parent and raising the world’s most perfect baby.
Um, then my son turned four months and I thought I’d never survive. He was waking up every single hour! All night long. If he made it two hours, it was a huge win. That’s how bad it was. Rather than bragging about how wonderful my child was, I began to wonder who the hell this stranger inhabiting my son’s sweet body was. And what on god’s green earth did he want from me?? The four month sleep regression had hit us full force.
So, what is this dreaded regression? I figured if I could just uncover what brought it about, maybe I could fix it. Right? So, I did copious amounts of research. And I’m here today to share with you what I’ve found.
What causes the four month sleep regression?
When our babies are born, they sleep very deeply. Do you remember having to fight to wake up your child to eat those first few weeks? (A bit longer for us, my son preferred to sleep instead of eat for over a month!) I know at least in our case, it was very hard. That’s because when newborns fall asleep, they go straight into a deep, non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Sure, some infants struggle with the Moro (or startle) reflex and might wake themselves up that way (which is why so many people swaddle). But in general, it can be hard to wake a sleeping newborn. Your baby doesn’t have the distinctive stages they will get at four months.
At four months, your baby is not instantly put into a state of deep sleep. This is when a lot of parents struggle to put their babies down (I know I’m guilty of holding my son for 1+ hours before putting him down *just to be safe*). And much of the time, you’ll put your baby down only to have him or her wake up moments later. This is because your baby’s sleep cycles have changed. Your baby now cycles between light and deep sleep, much like you! Only, for a baby, this might wake her up and leave her needing mommy to help her fall back asleep again.
This is a permanent change. Your baby will never revert to his/her newborn ways and cease to cycle between light and deep sleep. This is why some parents struggle with this regression for much longer than a month. If we do nothing to help our baby sleep differently, then nothing will change. This is when a lot of people begin sleep training. If you’re curious about sleep training, I’ve got a quick and dirty guide for you!
What did I do?
I learned all I could about infant sleep. In the meantime, I did whatever it took to get by. I would suggest putting off sleep training until you have more than two hours of sleep under your belt. What truly helped me was, first, tracking my child’s sleep (lucky for you, I made a nifty little tracker to share with you). It can be life changing. You don’t want your child to get overtired, so naps can be your best friend. If you’re one of the lucky ones whose child takes naps, that is. My child, unfortunately, only naps for about 10-30 minutes at a time. He usually takes 3-5 of these per day.
The second thing that saved me was starting a bedtime–and even a naptime–routine–which you can read about HERE. It was the only thing that saved my sanity. Once you are more well rested, you can consider sleep training.
Can the regression be avoided?
The short answer is: no. Your child’s sleep cycles will change no matter what you do. The longer answer is: maybe. You can try to set up a routine before your child hits four months. Experts are split on when the best time to sleep train is. So if you’re comfortable with it, you could potentially sleep train before the regression hits. However, as with any major change, you should ask your pediatrician before doing this. And remember, most babies are not ready to sleep through the night just yet, so chances are, you will still need to feed your baby in the middle of the night. Please, do not let your child go hungry!!
Knowledge is power! Tell me all about your child’s sleep regression, and don’t forget to share this article if you learned something new.