Dr Golly’s Guide to 4 month Sleep Regressions
“Sleep regressions” traditionally describe a deterioration of a baby who was otherwise settled and sleeping well, that suddenly:
- has trouble self-settling
- won’t fall asleep independently
- can no longer link sleep cycles
- is taking frequent short naps and feeds
- becomes increasingly fussy overnight
- has difficulty falling asleep
- is generally “fighting sleep”
- decreased total sleep across a 24 hour period
Tooshies: When do babies have sleep regressions?
If you Google ‘baby sleep regressions’ there will be no end to when these regressions may happen ….a quick search will show information on sleep regressions for:
- 4-6 months,
- 8-10 months,
- 12 months
- 18 months,
- 2 years
The list is seemingly endless - it looks like there are only brief periods where your baby or child will actually be sleeping!
Tooshies: Are sleep regressions real then?
No - sleep regressions aren’t real. Sleep deterioration can definitely occur from time to time - BUT ….there’s always something driving the unsettled behaviour - it’s our job as parents and carers to understand our baby, what they are going through and identify what could be causing the problems.
Tooshies: If they’re not scheduled regressions - what drives the sleep deterioration that can happen?
A number of factors can cause a baby or child’s sleep patterns to change or deteriorate at any age
- A growth spurt:
- which will make your baby hungrier
- Developmental changes:
- both physical and cognitive
- FYI these will be different for every baby/child
- don’t follow a ‘LEAP App’ to tell you when your baby is having a developmental change - always watch your baby
- when your baby is sick hydration, comfort and recovery become the primary focus
- note: never sleep train a sick baby or child
- Discomfort - the most common things I see are:
- itchy tags,
- being too hot or cold/ or
- uncontrolled eczema
- Disruptions in routines:
- like starting daycare
- a new sibling arriving
- Changes to room environment:
- moving to own room or
- shifting from a cot to a big bed etc.
- Teething pain:
- on a happy note this one will be short lived
- Separation anxiety:
- this often starts around the 10-12 month mark
- Nightmare and night terrors:
- As your baby progresses into the toddler years these may play a role, my Toddler Sleep Programs cover how to manage these
- Day sleep requirements change:
- our babies and toddler sleep patterns and requirements change regularly and their day sleep needs to adjust
- so many families I see are often getting far too much sleep (usually in the morning or an afternoon sleep too close to bedtime) which is throwing everything else out
- My Baby Sleep Programs includes age appropriate routines for all age groups
When you understand the changes happening at any age – you get a clearer idea of how to manage things correctly and overcome them.
Sleep regressions aren’t something you need to suffer through - we need to look what is driving the unsettled behaviour and work towards alleviating it.
Tooshies: Why does everyone talk about sleep regressions at 4 months?
The 4 month mark or there abouts (note: it will be different for every baby) will signify some major developmental changes for babies.
- Sleep cycles will change
- becoming more adult-like,
- with less time in deep, REM-sleep and more time in light sleep
- which can make linking their next sleep cycle problematic
- They’ll have a really big growth spurt:
- both physically and cognitively
- Babies will often learn to roll during this period
- which will mean more activity and that you will no longer be able to swaddle them for sleeps,
- their comfy little cocoon will go – a huge change to their sleep environment!
- Around this time babies become will also become far more alert to their surroundings
- Some babies might get bored with feeding after 10 minutes
- they might start to dislike being placed backwards in a car-seat or stroller,
- they may even start to talk to themselves or play with their hands when they were previously sleeping soundly.
Most parents start to despair as they approach the 4 month mark - but I advise you NOT to be disheartened by these changes – they represent brilliant developmental progression!
The exact opposite of regression; these changes should be celebrated.
Tooshies: If my baby is approaching the 4 month mark, what should I do to prepare?
To do all the things above your baby is going to require a lot more energy and the only way to get more energy is by consuming more calories.
The amount of energy a baby can get from milk every feed is limited by the size of their stomach, meaning the only way to give them more energy through milk is to add another feed, and the only time available to do this is overnight - until your baby is getting adequate calories during the day you may find you need to re-introduce night feeds for a period - being empowered that this could happen and knowing what you need to do can solve it is often all parents need to feel confident about this period.
My key tips as you approach the 4 month mark are:
- Introduce solids: if your baby seems hungry and is showing signs of readiness, remember there’s no strict timeline for this, your baby will tell you when they are ready
- Tummy time: it will help them roll front to back if they get stuck on their tummy in their cot plus they’ll need good neck control to start solids
- Understand what is driving the unsettled behaviour and never dismiss it as a “LEAP” or something that can’t be resolved
- Room environment: you’ll find all this tips for this in my baby sleep program
- Age appropriate day sleep & a consistent bedtime routine – you’ll also find these in the Dr Golly sleep programs
- There is always something driving the unsettled behaviour.
- What has traditionally been described as a regression is actually a progression.
- As your baby grows and develops, it’s up to us as parents to observe them and better understand what they need from us.
Happy progressions everyone!
Dr. Daniel Golshevsky AKA Dr Golly is a Melbourne-based paediatrician Red Nose National Ambassador and father of three who has specialised in helping unsettled babies and poor sleep for over a decade. He has developed an online Sleep and Settling Program which has quickly become the essential guide for thousands of families across the globe. Use code TOOSHIES20 to receive $20 off any of his signature sleep and settling programs, expires 31/12/23.