It’s so ominous as the first official sleep regression. And the name itself “regression” totally excludes the fact that there is a really cool progression going on during this!
So I want to reassure you of two main things: 1. Not all babies are even affected or if they are, it is not all encompassing of both naps and nighttime sleep. And 2. This too shall pass! It is not a sentence to a life of no sleep.
Why Does This Sleep Regression Occur?
To understand this sleep regression we must first understand infant sleep cycles and the science behind them. This is why this “regression” is so unique – it is actually marked by a permanent change/progression.
So first off, 4 months is not a magic number – none of the sleep regressions are! This change in sleep patterns can happen anytime between 3-5 months. At this time your infant’s sleep cycles change to more closely mimic adult-like sleep cycles.
Notice in the image below the various stages of an infant’s sleep cycle – prior to this your newborn spent 50% of their sleep in REM sleep, which is that deep sleep!
STAGE 1: NON-REM: Starting to fall asleep
STAGE 2: NON-REM: Falling deeper into sleep
STAGE 3: NON-REM: Heavy/deep sleep
STAGE 4: REM: Deepest sleep
STAGE 5: NON-REM: Light sleep, easily wakes
When families come to us experiencing this sleep regression it is often marked by naps ending at the 30 minute mark and/or their infant waking up roughly every 2 hours at night when they were previously going longer stretches.
To enter a new sleep cycle simply takes more effort and work for your infant now. So if they are pacifier addicts, that means sucking on that pacifier more each time they come out of deep sleep before reentering that drowsy state. Or if they are a movement junkie, that means bouncing on the yoga ball more to help them fall back asleep to cycle through those stages of sleep again.
However, if your infant was practicing going to sleep drowsy but awake and even completely awake for some or all of their sleep sessions, while at first they may notice this change to their sleep, they will be more confident in knowing what to do to help them fall back asleep as they cycle through these new sleep cycles.
What can further add to sleep disruptions around this age is the developmental progression of rolling from back to belly, which they then learn to do during their sleep. Once unswaddled that may disrupt their sleep for up to a week because not only do they need to get used to sleeping with their arms out and free but then they flip during sleep sessions and act all surprised why they are suddenly on their belly!
How Can I Handle This?
First, it may seem obvious but ensuring your child is on an age-appropriate feeding and sleep schedule as well as having an ideal sleep environment are the first steps. If your child is getting too much or too little daytime sleep or not enough full daytime feeds those can all impact your infant’s sleep ON TOP OF this developmental progression. So tackle those foundational items first before even attempting to make changes for how you are handling short naps and/or night wakings.
Second, I am big on patterns. So before you make changes to how you want to handle putting your infant down to sleep and handling this regression, wait until it has been roughly one week of sleep disruption. This will allow you to see what is consistently being affected as well as what may be improving or not improving based on how you have been responding to the regression.
If nights are being affected, take a look at bedtime since this is ironically likely where the changes need to take place. The onset of sleep at bedtime helps set the stage for how your little one handles the sleep cycles during the night. If you need help with making changes to how you put your infant down to sleep we have our Virtual Sleep School as well as one-on-one infant support packages.
As for naps, nap 1 is typically the easiest for implementing sleep changes to as we have that residual melatonin from nighttime sleep. So along-with those bedtime routine changes, you can practice with nap 1 as well. You don’t have to overwhelm your infant – and if you need help navigating this just remember we can help with that!
Will This Just Pass On Its Own?
Possible, yes. Likely, no. The reason for this is it’s a permanent change – it isn’t like they are learning to crawl and once they master that their sleep is back on track. This is different and therefore parents who often wait it out, find themselves desperate for sleep help after 4+ weeks of struggling.
What Can I Do To Avoid This?
I’m a firm believer that routines – both feeding and sleep patterns during the day as well as pre-sleep routines – can help skip this regression altogether or equip your little one with the tools to work through it relatively quickly! Giving your newborn tastes of independence for the onset of sleep as well as practicing “le pause” if you hear them during the night or up from a nap allows them to get comfortable with their body’s movement as well as their environment to help them fall asleep or back asleep.
I’m In It And I Don’t See An End In Sight!
First off, waving that white flag is not easy – especially as parents we just want to fix it ourselves. But when working with us here at The Sleepyhead Coach, we really listen to your unique situation and help you reach your goals. We equip you with the tools you need to confidently execute changes to your infant’s sleep in a way that feels natural to you and your parenting philosophy. If you need help choosing a resource or service you can schedule a free 15-minute assessment consult call with Kaylee.