Ahhh the 4 Month sleep progression..probably one of the most commonly asked questions… see details below:
As a professional sleep consultant, I hear the term “regression” used in regards to just about every
imaginable circumstance. Essentially, if baby doesn’t sleep well for a couple of nights, parents start
dropping the ‘R’ word. Some people subscribe to the idea that there’s an eight month regression, a 9
month regression, a 1 year regression, as well as teething regressions, growth spurt regressions, and
so on. Others see these as simple hiccups caused by extenuating circumstances.
But the four-month regression, everybody agrees on, and for good reason. It’s the real deal, and it’s permanent.
So in order to understand what’s happening to your baby during this stage, first you need to know a few things about sleep in general.
Sleep actually has a number of different stages, and they make up the “sleep cycle,” which we go through several times a night.
• Stage 1 is that initial stage we’re all familiar with where you can just feel yourself drifting off, but don’t really feel like you’ve fallen asleep…. Like your husband falling asleep on the couch and you nudge him and he says “ I’M NOT SLEEPING”
• Stage 2, which is considered the first “true sleep” stage. This is where people tend to realize, once woken up, that they actually were sleeping.
• Stage 3 is deep and regenerative. Also known as “slow wave” sleep, this is where the body starts repairing and rejuvenating the immune system, muscles tissue, energy stores, and sparks growth and development.
• Stage 4 is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is where the brain starts to kick in and consolidates information and memories from the day before. It’s also the stage where we do most of our dreaming.
Once we’ve gone through all of the stages, we either wake up or come close to waking up, and then start over again until the alarm goes off. So what does this have to do with the dreaded regression we were talking about originally? Well, newborn babies only have 2 stages of sleep; stage 3 and REM, and they spend about half their sleep in each stage.
But at around the third or fourth month, there is a reorganization of sleep, as they embrace the 4-stage method of sleep. And these 4 stages of sleep will follow them the rest of their life into adulthood!
When this change takes place, our little one moves from 50% REM sleep to 25% in order to make room for those first two stages. So although REM sleep is light, it’s not as light as these 2 new stages that they’re getting used to, and with more time spent in lighter sleep, there’s more of a chance that baby’s going to wake up.
The other major contributor to this 4 month fiasco, I find, is that up until this point, parents have either been putting their baby to sleep with a pacifier, or by rocking them, or by breastfeeding them to sleep, or some similar technique where baby is helped along on the road to falling asleep. Now that baby’s spending more time in light sleep, and therefore has a higher probability of waking up, this suddenly becomes a much bigger issue. These sleep props or sleep associations can be very sneaky indeed, because although they may be helpful in getting your little one to that initial nodding off stage, the lack of them when they wake up means that baby’s not able to get back to sleep again without some outside help. When this starts happening every half an hour, parents can find themselves in a nightmare.
So, the good news for anyone experiencing the dreaded Four Month Sleep Regression is that it’s not, in fact, a regression at all. A regression is defined as “reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level,” and that’s actually the opposite of what your baby is experiencing. This would be much more aptly titled the “Four Month Sleep Progression” .
So what can you do to help your little one adjust?
First off, get all of that light out of baby’s room. I’m not kidding around here. Like all of it ! You might think that baby’s room is dark enough, or that baby might not like the dark, and that it’s comforting to have a little bit of light coming through the windows or seeping in from the hallway. Nope. Baby’s room should be dark. I mean coal mine on a moonless night kind of dark. Tape garbage bags over the windows if you have to, or cover them with tinfoil. Who cares how crazy it looks.. but your baby will sleep better and you will be happier J
Newborns and infants are not afraid of the dark. They are, however, responsive to light. Light tells their brains that it’s time for activity and alertness, and the brain secretes hormones accordingly, so we want to keep that nursery absolutely pitch black during naps and bedtime.
The other archenemy of daytime and nighttime sleep is noise. Whether it’s your dog barking at the neighbor walking by, the Fedex man dropping off another Amazon Prime shipment on your doorstep or your husband having a coughing attack, eliminate that noise. With your little one spending more time in lighter sleep, noises will start to easily awake them, so a white noise machine is a great addition to your nursery.
Now, there are going to be regressions, actual regressions, later on in your little one’s youth. Traveling, illness, cutting teeth, starting to stand, all of these things can cause your little one to have a few bad nights in a row. But when it comes to the four month “progression,” I’m happy to report that this is a one-time thing. Once you’re through this, your baby will have officially moved into the sleep cycle that they’ll essentially be following for the rest of their life! Four glorious stages repeated multiple times a night. And by taking the opportunity to teach them the skills they need they should be able to sleep thru those cycles, independently, prop-free, without any need for nursing, rocking, or pacifiers, you’ll have given them a gift that they’ll enjoy for the rest of their young lives. Of course, some kids only see a night bump, and some are going to be a little more resistant and struggle. If yours falls into the former category, count yourself as lucky, take delight in your success, and go ahead and share about it on Facebook and to your Mommy friends !
For those of you in the latter camp, I’m happy to help in any way I can. Just visit my website or book a Free 15 Consultation with me today and we can work on a more personalized program for your little one… Say Hello to Sleep again @ www.hellosleepgr.com