I often hear the term “regression” when a baby doesn’t sleep well for a night or two. People often say the “R” word for every imaginable circumstance. Some people believe in regressions at eight-months, nine-months, one year, during teething, and during growth spurts. But one thing everyone agrees on is the fourth-month sleep regression. It often frustrates and confounds many parents. Don’t be blindsided; it is a real thing.
To understand what is going on with your little one during this stage, you need to be aware of a few general sleep facts. Sleep is not just an on-or-off time of the night where you either are asleep or awake. Sleep has different stages called a sleep cycle which every person experiences.
Stage One: The initial stage where you begin to drift off but don’t feel like you fell asleep. Ever had someone tell you to go to bed while you are watching TV, and you respond with, “I wasn’t sleeping!”? This is Stage One of the sleep cycle.
Stage Two: This is the “True Sleep” stage where you realize, once you wake up that you were actually sleeping.
Stage Three: A deep and regenerative sleep known as “slow wave” sleep. The body begins rejuvenating and repairing the immune system, energy, and muscle tissue, and sparks development and growth.
Stage Four: This is where REM sleep occurs. The brain starts consolidating information and memories from the day. This is the stage where dreaming happens.
Once we have experienced every stage, we come close to or actually wake up and start from the beginning again. How does this impact regression in your baby’s sleep?
Newborns only have two stages of sleep, stage three and four, and they spend close to half of their sleeping time in each phase. Around ages three or four months, there is a shift in sleep, and they start the four-stage sleep pattern which will continue for the rest of their lives.
Babies now move from half REM sleep to a fourth as their bodies begin to accommodate the first two stages. Now with lighter sleep time, there is a higher chance of the baby waking up, and we do not want to stop the baby from waking up. It is a natural process, and everyone wakes up three or more times a night in adulthood and even more as we age.
As adults, we recognize it is nighttime, the alarm hasn’t gone off, and we need to go back to sleep. Most mornings, we do not even realize how many times we woke up in the night. A four-month-old lacks these thinking skills and realizes they are alone, the room is dark, and there is no food. The fight-or-flight response is activated, and baby is not going to sleep without reassurance that everything is as it should be.
Now you understand how spending more time in light sleep can become a bigger issue. Sleep props that you have used, such as a pacifier, breastfeeding, or rocking them to sleep, means a baby will not be able to get to sleep without these outside forces. As the fight-or-flight happens every half an hour, you find yourself in a nightmarish situation.
A new way to look at this time is a “Four Month Sleep Progression,” not a regression. Regression is defined as “reversion to an earlier behavioral or mental level.” This is the opposite of what the baby is going through. So, how do you help your baby adjust?
Here are a few tips to support your little one:
Keep the baby’s room dark during bedtime and naptime. Infants are not afraid of the dark, but they are very responsive to light. Light signals the brain it is time for alertness and activity. A nemesis of daytime sleeping is noise. Noises startle them easily and wake them during lighter sleep. White noise can be a great addition. Since it doesn’t require your presence, it is a prop we do not have to avoid.
Bedtime routines are a necessary component to your baby sleeping well. Keep the routine around 4 or 5 steps, and do not make the last one a feeding. Keep the feeding time at the start of the routine along with songs, stories, and getting into pajamas at the end. The bedtime process should last around 20 to 30 minutes, and your baby should be put into their crib while they are still awake.
Contact Adele Thompson Sleep Consulting
Remember, all children are different. Some will take to this process quickly, and some will be a little more resistant. If yours is one of the resistant ones, I will help you through the process. Visit https://adelethompsonsleepconsulting.com and set up a FREE Discovery call. We will be able to chat about your child’s unique situation and decide if a full consultation is the right solution for your family.