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Child Sleep Series 1: How to survive the 4 Month Sleep Regression

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Whether you are a first time parent or a second time parent, there is nothing like the shock of the 4 month sleep regression.   How can a baby go from “sleeping like a baby” to waking her parents up multiple times per night?   How little sleep can parents and baby get?

The story I hear usually goes something like this:  “I was rocking this new motherhood thing.  I had all my gear lined up and picked out.  My stroller was killer, my diaper bag was adorable, and she slept!  Yes, she slept 4 hours, maybe even 6-8 on a good night.  It was amazing.  I was so proud of her.  But then somewhere between 3 ½ and 4 ½ months she just stopped sleeping.  She started waking up every 3 hours at night time, and would only go back to sleep if I fed her, and her naps were terrible.  Where I used to be able to take her out in the car seat and have her nap during all my errands, she was waking up after just 45 minutes and grouchy.  What happened?”

Around 4 months, children are coming out of that “4th trimester”.  That beautiful period where they are portable and sleep easily on the go.  They were awake for merely 1.5 hours at a stretch and will sleep just about anywhere, and your social life is not so impeded.  At 4 months though, your baby wakes up to the world and is aware of her surroundings and in particular YOU!  She knows where you are, and when you are not there. 

A daytime sleep cycle is 45 minutes in length.  At 4 months, a child will surface from the sleep cycle, and then be distracted by their surroundings and will not fall back into the next sleep cycle.  Often you get naps only lasting 45 minutes in length.

A nighttime sleep cycle is 3 hours.  During the 4 month sleep regression, a child will surface from a night time 3 hour sleep cycle and because of her increased awareness, she will look for the same help that she had falling asleep at bedtime. Often that mechanism is being nursed back to sleep, taking a bottle, or being rocked. These are what we call “sleep crutches”, something external that she needs to fall asleep.

You’ve probably heard the term “sleep training”.  That is an endeavor that parents take on to teach their child to sleep without needing that “sleep crutch”.  Parents usually engage in this activity when they reach a point when they can no longer continue spending a lot of time getting their child to fall asleep and/or waking frequently through the night.

I prefer the term “sleep teaching” to “sleep training” as the latter has a strict, unloving connotation to it.  In addition, the term “sleep training”, is inaccurate, for we aren’t training your child to sleep, as we have already trained your child to fall asleep during that 0-3 month period when we used the pacifier, the boob, motion or a bottle to get her to sleep.  We actually need to do some “re-training”! 

How do you get through this 4 month sleep “regression”?  While it is known, as a “regression”, its actually not a regression, as it will not receed. 

Usually a parent waits the 4 month sleep regression out to see what will happen.  Answering those multiple night time cries with feeding, and perhaps having naps on Mom.  There is nothing wrong with this, there is no right or wrong way to raise your child.

However, there will come a time when you look at your child struggling to fall asleep, or you see the deep bags under your eyes in the mirror and you’ll say to yourself, I can’t go on like this.  My baby, my husband I and we deserve more. 

And that is when you are ready to do some sleep teaching so that your child can learn to relax herself into sleep without the help of a boob, bottle, or pacifier, but with your presence or your quick response.  There are many different types of sleep training techniques, which you can read about in my article Is It Time To Sleep Train My Baby?  Sleep Trained Techniques Defined.

Do you have questions about your child’s sleep?  Feel free to join my FREE Facebook group Helping Babies Sleep Support Group.  You can post sleep questions and I’ll help you with the answers and have other Moms share their experiences so you know that you are not alone.  This is a journey.  Hang in there. 

Sarah Mitchell has a Bachelor of Kinesiology from McMaster University and a Doctor of Chiropractic Degree from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College.  She has always been interested in health and the human body.  Having children of her own uncovered a new passion, helping parents get their children to sleep.  Her 1st child would not sleep, which led her down the path of researching everything she could about baby and toddler sleep, and now she wants to empower you. She coaches parents and blogs at Helping Babies Sleep., twitter: @sleepcoachsarah

Tags:  sleep  sleep regression 

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