Happening around 3-4 months, this is the first of the sleep regressions and is often times the hardest one for parents. During this regression, your baby, who was previously sleeping longer stretches at night, will begin waking more frequently throughout the night and struggling at nap times, often only taking 30-45 minute naps or resisting naps entirely.
Why does the 4 month regression happen?
By around 4 months old, your baby is going through a lot of developmental changes. At this age, baby is transitioning from newborn sleep patterns to more adult-like sleep patterns with frequent night wakings and shortened naps.Your baby is also learning “object permanence,” the realization that people and things continue to exist even though baby can no longer see them. For example, baby realizes that you still exist even when you leave the room. Additionally, baby is learning exciting, new physical skills and will wake up to practice his new skills, such as rolling over.
How does sleep change?
As your baby transitions from newborn sleep patterns to adult-like sleep patterns, he will most likely no longer be able to sleep anywhere, anytime and with any noise and stimulation. The days of baby sleeping through a trip to the grocery store or lunch at a busy restaurant may be numbered. At this age, your baby will take longer to fall asleep, will become more restless during the night, and will begin to wake up at the end of each sleep cycle.
This sleep regression happens fast and can be a doozy of a regression. The good news is it’s temporary and usually only lasts 2-6 weeks; however, your baby's new, adult-like sleep patterns are permanent. If your baby continues to struggle with sleep after 6 weeks, it could be a sign that some negative sleep habits are forming. Keep in mind that when baby wakes up in the night, he’ll expect to fall back asleep the same way he originally fell asleep. If baby is waking up needing you to nurse, rock, hold and soothe him back to sleep, it may be time to teach your little one how to fall asleep on his own so that when he wakes up he can self-soothe back to sleep without depending on your help each time.
How do I survive?
Establish a routine. Baby is old enough now to be aware of a routine and to anticipate what’s happening next. Establishing a simple EASY (Eat, Activity, Sleep, Your time) routine from early on can be helpful in letting baby know what to expect next.
At 16 weeks old, getting baby on a consistent schedule can provide him with a huge sense of comfort and security knowing when he’ll be eating, playing and sleeping. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with a consistent morning wake time (natural wake time for infants is between 6 AM - 8 AM). Waking baby up at a consistent time each day establishes the schedule for the day and allows both you and your baby to have some consistency in your day, leading to better sleep at night!
What To Do
After your infant has gone through that 4 month regression, they are now developmentally ready and able to self-soothe. This is when you can begin sleep training if you so desire.
STEP ONE: Transition out of the swaddle
If your little one is still in a swaddle at 16 weeks adjusted age, it's time to transition out, even if they're not rolling, even if they're still startling. Why? Because we want to encourage use of their body to self-soothe, and if they're all swaddled up, they can't get to their hands.
Think about it - you and I move around a ton at night, we get into a comfy sleep position, and we use our body to soothe ourselves back to sleep through movement. Your infant will do the same if you let them.
You can do one arm out for 2 days, the other arm out for 2 days, then Velcro the swaddle around their torso with arms out until you purchase a sleep sack.
STEP TWO: Practice the Pause
If your little one is used to you rushing in the moment they awaken, it's time to start giving them a few minutes to try to settle back to sleep on their own before you intervene and do it for them. Start small, give them 5 minutes, and increase that over time.
STEP THREE: Crib naps
Unfortunately, naps that involve movement are not restorative. Think back to the times you've tried to sleep in the car or on an airplane. You wake up feeling like you barely slept, and sometimes you're even more exhausted than when you first fell asleep.
So let's focus on getting to 80% of naps in the crib, and 20% of naps on the go or in a carrier. This gives your baby the opportunity to start connecting their sleep cycles instead of being lulled back to a less restorative sleep through motion.
When Should I Sleep Train?
Whenever YOU are ready. If your child is 16 weeks adjusted age, then they're usually developmentally able and ready to self-soothe. So it's really about when you're ready to get some solid sleep again.