Top 5 tips for managing the 4 month sleep regression
So what is the four month sleep regression?
It’s not really sleep regression at all. It is sleep cycle maturation: a natural part of a baby growing up, developing from newborn sleep cycles into normal adult circadian rhythm.
Many significant developments are occurring in your baby’s growing brain at this stage. A major one is the concept of cause and effect i.e. this is now happening as a result of that happening. They have a new heightened awareness of their environment and how it all works. Throw teething and getting ready for solid food in the mix and it’s not hard to see why a baby’s sleep is affected. A common mistake I see frequently is parents expecting something that has worked so far to work forever. Your baby is growing and developing at lightning speed, and what works best for them will keep changing, too.
So how do you prevent or manage the four month sleep regression?
Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Establish a solid daytime routine with the right nap time duration. Check out our ‘your child’s sleep need’s’ chart as a guide.
2. Establish a solid bedtime routine that is conducive to sleep:
* Quieten down your baby’s environment before bedtime.
* Bath them every single night – the bath is relaxing and calming, then the drop in temperature after the bath causes the sleep hormone melatonin to be released.
* If you are still swaddling your baby make the switch to using a baby sleeping bag (such as the Grobag). Their startle reflex will have gone, they can use their free hands to soothe themselves, and importantly, when they start to roll they can turn themselves over again.
3. Create an environment that is conducive to sleep:
* Black out your nursery/baby’s bedroom. Now that your baby has a mature circadian rhythm light will wake them, that’s what the optic nerve and the brain is programmed to do, not just in humans but in literally thousands of different species on this planet. It’s millions of years of evolution. When I hear parents saying ‘but I want them to learn to sleep in the light’ I think good luck with that, maybe help them to learn to sleep first before adding in complicated tricks! With that in mind, I highly recommend a product like blocblinds where not a sliver of light gets through. Failing that the old tinfoil on the window trick will do. Your house might look a little dubious but your baby will get a good night’s sleep.
* Ensure a consistent temperature – make sure the temperature is even all night at around 18° to 20°C. A significant drop in temperature will not only wake a baby but it’s uncomfortable enough to keep them awake, meaning they have to wake you to come and fix it for them. Too hot or too cold and your baby will be unhappy, you need to ensure the temperature is even for them. They are not being difficult or fussy, it’s a survival mechanism that goes back further than our cave dwelling days.
* Control the noise – do you live in a noisy area or on a busy road? Is your baby still in your bedroom with you? Then I would strongly advise investing in a good white noise machine. You don’t have to use it for ever! Just to help through this developmental phase. It’s easy to remove it when your baby has learned to sleep.
4. Don’t let your baby go to bed hungry. Some babies are ready to begin the transition to solid foods, starting with pureed fruit and veg, and baby rice, at 17 weeks or just after. After the 17 week mark it is absolutely safe to wean, though don’t wean before 17 weeks as your baby’s digestive system is not ready. Check out our ‘signs & signals your baby is ready to wean’ advice.
[Most parents do not wait until 6 months, as the government advises. The majority of babies in the UK are weaned at 5 months as mothers do know what their babies’ needs are. The government’s advice has nothing to do with weaning to solids and everything to do with the World Health Organisation increasing breastfeeding rates around the world; weaning has been a casualty in this agenda.]
5. Don’t intervene! If you have considered these tips and applied the advice, the next step is to stop yourself from intervening with wake ups that are part of your baby’s normal sleep cycle. Your baby is learning to sleep – interfere too quickly and you will simply teach them to rely on you to get back to sleep. Inappropriate sleep associations can be rocking, feeding, cuddling, or many other routines where good intentions lead to bad habits (I can’t tell you how many gym balls I’ve seen being used to put babies back to sleep!)
Stay strong; crying is a normal form of self–soothing, it’s like self-created white noise. Give them at least 10 minutes to settle themselves (but no more than 15 minutes) before interrupting that process to check on them. Nothing terrible will happen to your baby if they cry for 10 minutes, I can promise you that. (If, after 15 minutes, you do need to go in to check on them, try to intervene as little as possible – crucially, as tempting as it is, do not feed them!) After just a week or so they will have learnt how to go back to sleep upon waking– an amazing new skill they can keep their entire life. Try not to worry about your baby’s cry waking your husband who has to go to work in the morning or your older children who have to go to school. It is one week of their lives. They’ll get over one week of disruption far faster than the alternative – the creation of a real sleep problem, where you, your baby, and everyone else in the family suffers sleep deprivation for months, if not years, to come. When you look at it like that, it’s really a no brainer.
Please remember that sleep is not a dirty word – you are not less of a mother for needing it. Everybody needs sleep, including your baby! It is as important as food and water to their growth and development. I get very cross when I hear people who do not understand the significance and science of sleep and give mothers advice to the contrary. Listen to your body and your baby – they will both tell you all you need to know about the effects of lack of sleep.
I hope you find these tips useful. I’ve learnt them over many years, and thousands of hours of practice with hundreds of babies from all over the world. Babies needs are all the same and are quite basic – GOOD FOOD, GOOD SLEEP, TO BE CLEAN, WARM, LOVED, AND FREE FROM PHYSICAL DISCOMFORT. The key to a happy baby, and a happy parent, is understanding and satisfying those basic needs. And who doesn’t want a happy baby?
If you have applied these tips and your baby’s sleep is the same (or getting worse!) simply get in touch with us we can help set you on the path to good sleep hygiene in no time.
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