The Infamous Four Month Sleep Regression

Tips for survival
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Chamille White / Shutterstock.com 

The four month sleep regression. Everyone talks about it, you've read about it but you could never have imagined it would actually be this hard!

You may have gone from an easy baby with decent enough or even great sleep habits to a baby who will not sleep at all. Or, and it certainly happens a lot, a newborn who has never been a great sleeper to one who has taken you to a whole new level of sleep deprivation. 

The four month sleep regression is a doozy. It is one of the hardest regressions a baby will go through. For some, like my first three, it didn't seem to bother them too much. They definitely woke more and ate a lot but they got back on track relatively quickly - it was just a bump in the road.

And then I had my fourth. Wow! I was actually quite surprised with how much harder it was with him. He was up all night, wanting to nurse all the time and just plain miserable. His regressions was not just a bump, it was a pothole! 

Why is this sleep regression so hard?

There's a really good reason this regression happens. Right now your child’s brain is developing at an amazing speed. They are learning, growing and developing more now than they ever will be. They are no longer able to fall into a deep restorative sleep anywhere or through anything. The way they sleep is changing and their sleep patterns are being turned upside down. There's a big a hormonal surge and it is rough!

Part of what's happening during this development is that the circadian rhythm is establishing. This internal clock synchronizes their whole system and causes their body to function on a light vs dark cycle. Light means awake and dark means sleep! Seems pretty simple but can cause so much hardship.

What can you do to make it easier?

There are definitely things you can do to help speed up the process to make it easier for both you and your little one. Incorporating some of the foundations for healthy sleep will get you started on the right track.

The right environment for sleep

Setting up the right environment for sleep including black out curtains to make it nice and dark for naps and bedtime. A sound machine is also useful to help block out household and neighbourhood noises, which can help your little one get into the nice deep, restorative sleep he or she needs.

Being mindful of wake windows

At four months the goal is to start working on having your little one back to sleep within 90 minutes after each nap. Having baby awake for too long in between sleeps can cause them to become overtired very quickly leading to more sleep challenges.  

Establishing a consistent routine

A short consistent routine before each nap and bedtime will allow your little one time to decompress and relax as well as let cue them that it is time for sleep.

Creating a new association

The easiest way to survive this regression is by creating a new association. Seriously! For the children who just will not settle, creating new habits is necessary otherwise they will just not sleep.

The best way to do that is to find one or sometimes two things that work really well. Whether it's baby wearing, bed-sharing, rocking, bouncing, the swing, or eating. There will always be something that works really well. Instead of fighting it, work with it. Allow your child to sleep with you, to rock them to sleep, or feed them to sleep. You will both get a lot more rest if you do. Once this regression is done, you can plan to start working on breaking that association. You do not want the four month sleep regression to last until they are eight months! With creating only one (or two) new associations, it will be significantly easier than if you had been using four or five different soothing methods. Baby wearing during this regression was a lifesaver for me!

During this regression the goal will be to ensure as much sleep as possible. The better rested your child remains, the easier it will be from them to get back on track and then when ready, to teach them independent sleep. It will be hard and some days it will feel like all you are doing is trying to get your baby to sleep.

Try, try, try again

Even in the throes of a regression you can still work on adjusting your baby to the sleep habits you want. If your goal is to have your little one in the crib at some point, start attempting the first nap of the day in the crib every day. It will more than likely not work right away and you will have to pick him or her up and put them to sleep the way they like. However, the more times you try, the more comfortable they will be with it and the more likely they will adjust.

You time

It is very important to get out and take time for yourself. It doesn't have to be far or for a long time it can even be in the house (if your partner agrees to leave you alone). Chances are you are with your baby day in and day out. Dealing 24 hours a day with a miserable or fussy baby who refuses to sleep can be so overwhelming. If you are struggling with a post partum mood disorder, it will feel 10 times worse.

Something as simple as a shower in the dark, a walk with the dog, or coffee by yourself. Twenty minutes or even a full hour to be alone in the first few months can do wonders for your own sense of self.

Go with the flow

Take a deep breath. If you are doing all that you can to help your little one deal with this regression, taking a deep breath and going with the flow will help save your sanity. Some days will be good, some days will be awful. Just know that tomorrow is another day. If you need help, reach out. We are only one person and asking for help will be necessary at times through the years to come - it takes a village!

*Originally published September 11, 2016