Google the phrase “sleep regression.” C’mon, I dare you. What do you see? A lot of articles with words like dreaded, survive, beat in the titles. Like anything, something simple can quickly become alarming when put into a negative context — much like sleep regression in babies. The reality is that the four-month sleep regression isn’t a regression at all. How about that?
The word itself is alarming as it typically denotes taking a step back or as the dictionary says, “a return to a former or less developed state.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s take a look.
What sleep regression isn’t
There’s a tendency to label any rough nights (or days) a baby has as a sleep regression, which just isn’t the case. The reality is that babies undergo a tremendous amount of physical, mental and emotional growth and development in their first year of life, which often affects sleep and understandably so. Teething is often the culprit, as are growth spurts and other developmental milestones. It’s happening because your baby is developing and moving forward not backward.
To better understand what is going on with your 4-month old, it helps to have an understanding of sleep, in general. Sleep is comprised of four stages which, when combined, make up the human sleep cycle and is repeated throughout our slumber.
This is the stage when you’re just drifting off, maybe you’re losing your place in your book or your eyes are closing to the sound of the television — stage one is a snoozing stage.
This is the stage that is considered entering into an actual sleep state. If you wake from this second stage, you definitely realize that you’d been sleeping just moments before.
If sleep was a competitive sport, stage three would be just beneath the level of greatness — you want to reach this place, it’s great for your body, but you still have more work to do.
Nirvana. In stage four of the sleep cycle, you hit REM sleep and your brain begins to recoup from the day — this is the state of dreams.
Newborn sleep stages
Your newborn only cycles through two sleep stages for the first few months of their life — stage three and stage four or REM sleep, the two deepest cycles. New parents should take in this time as it’s when their baby will be sleeping the soundest with no outside help.
What happens around month 4
Around month three or four — as your baby is developing — your baby begins to expand their sleep cycles into the four stages. When this happens, your baby transitions from spending half of their sleep time in REM to only a quarter. And with more time spent in lighter sleep stages, there’s more opportunity for your baby to wake.
Where problems arise is when parents see this as a regression in sleep — the reality is that this is the time that your baby is developing and learning how to transition throughout the stages of sleep they’ll be cycling for the remainder of their lives and it’s a big change! There will be a disruption of sorts in the sleep cycle as your baby learns how to smoothly transition between sleep stages. As adults, we typically slide through the sleep stages effortlessly, without even remembering waking between — your baby hasn’t developed that skill yet, which is why they’re waking more at this time.
Remove the props
Up until this time, you may have been swaddling your baby for sleep or using a pacifier to calm them at bedtimes and nap-times. Now that they’re spending more time in a lighter sleep, they’re going to notice that the pacifier has dropped from their mouth when they cycle between stages, or they’ll notice that their little body isn’t wrapped snuggly and their startle reflex may wake them. This is the time when you want to remove sleep props so that your little one doesn’t begin to form sleep associations (that can easily become sleep disruptors).
Create the perfect environment
This is the time you want to perfect your baby’s sleep environment, if you haven’t already. Make sure that the room is cool and dark without any distractions — you want to create a space that allows your baby to focus on transitioning through sleep stages and resting, not becoming alert and wanting to play.
If you reframe how you view what is commonly known as the four-month sleep regression and instead view it as yet another opportunity for your baby to grow, you’ll be in great shape to get through this phase. And if you feel you need support, don’t hesitate to contact me! I offer a free 15-minute evaluation so I can get to know the specifics about your little one’s situation, so book a call now and we can move forward as soon as you’re ready to get your little one sleeping through the night!