Q. My daughter turned 4 months old last week and her sleeps seems to have fallen apart. She was sleeping for a stretch of 8-10 hours at night and now she is suddenly waking every 2 hours. My friends have told me she is going through the 4-month sleep regression. How do I get my good sleeper back?
What you are experiencing is a change that all babies go through around 4 months of age. While many refer to it as the “4 month sleep regression”, it is actually a sign that your daughter is growing and maturing and making an exciting leap forward. A sleep regression is defined as a cognitive, physical and/or emotional development that disrupts a child’s normal sleep pattern. A child younger than 4 months actually has not developed any sleep patterns – so it is not possible for a regression to have taken place! Up until now your daughter’s daily needs have been random: she has slept when she wanted to sleep and eaten when she wanted to eat. Now suddenly her body is developing biological rhythms that tell her when she should be sleeping.
We all have internal clocks called circadian rhythms that are genetically controlled. These biological clocks have evolved from daytime (light) and nighttime (dark) cues. These biological rhythms make us feel drowsy at certain times and sleeping in sync with them will produce the most restorative and best quality sleep possible. As we age these times shift. Up until this point, your daughter’s brain was too immature to sync with this internal clock. For this reason, her body had an easy time sleeping anywhere and at anytime. Now that her brain has started to mature, she is in need of a schedule that works with this rhythm – including a bedtime that fits in and allows her to sleep before she is overtired.
For a child her age, I recommend getting her on a schedule where her first nap is starting between 8-9am, her second nap is starting between 11:30-12:30pm and her third nap starts about 90 minutes after she wakes up from nap two. As her naps are just starting to develop, you will need to watch her for her sleepy cues and then get her down within these windows. Remember, at 4 months old her circadian rhythms are just starting to develop. They will continue to evolve over the next few weeks; therefore you will see some inconsistency with her napping. Some days will be great and others will be all over the place. You will need to be consistent with your approach and put her down for her naps in these biologically age appropriate windows – while not allowing her to become overtired. Having her on a schedule where she is sleeping during her biological sleep waves will allow her to achieve her best quality sleep, however she will still need to learn some self soothing skills. If you have not started already, this is a good time to allow her to learn to put herself to sleep.
Bedtime should roll right into this schedule and be about 90 minutes after she wakes up from her third nap. So if she napped from 3-4:30pm, bedtime would be at 6pm. It is a common misconception that putting your child to bed this early will cause them to wake early. This is not true. An early bedtime that occurs before a baby can become overtired, actually allows them to sleep longer and later into the morning. It is very common for babies her age to start sleeping 12-13 hours a night at this point if they go to bed early enough.
I understand that this change can be frustrating as it has caused her sleep to seemingly take a step back, but I can assure you that this is a necessary step to getting her on a consistent schedule and allowing her to learn to be a great independent sleeper.
Amy Lage is a Family Sleep Institute certified Child Sleep Consultant. She is co-owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
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