Nope, 4 month leap forward!
At least once a week I receive an email from a panic stricken parent of a 4 month old stating something similar to this:
“My son turned 4 months old last week and his sleeps seems to have fallen apart. He was sleeping for a stretch of 8-10 hours at night and now he is suddenly waking every 2 hours. My friends have told me he is going through the 4-month sleep regression. How do I get my good sleeper back?”
What these parents 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 their child 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 the baby’s daily needs have been random: he has slept when he wanted to sleep and eaten when he wanted to eat. Now suddenly his body is developing biological rhythms that tell him when he 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, the baby’s brain was too immature to sync with this internal clock. For this reason, his body had an easy time sleeping anywhere and at anytime. Now that his brain has started to mature, he is in need of a schedule that works with this rhythm – including a bedtime that fits in and allows him to sleep before he is overtired.
So what’s the correct schedule for a 4 month old? I recommend a schedule where the first nap is starting between 8-9am, the second nap is starting between 11:30-12:30pm and the third nap starts about 90 minutes after he wakes up from nap two. As naps are just starting to develop, you will need to watch your baby for his sleepy cues and then get him down within these windows. Remember, at 4 months old the baby’s circadian rhythms are just starting to develop. They will continue to evolve over the next few weeks; therefore you will see some inconsistency with 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 your baby down for his naps in these biologically age appropriate windows – while not allowing him to become overtired. Having him on a schedule where he is sleeping during his biological sleep waves will allow him to achieve his best quality sleep, however he will still need to learn some self soothing skills. If you have not started already, this is a good time to allow him to learn to put himself to sleep.
Bedtime should roll right into this schedule and be about 90 minutes after your baby wakes up from his third nap. So if he napped from 3-4pm, bedtime would be at 5:30pm. 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 this 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 your baby’s sleep to seemingly take a step back, but I can assure you that this is a necessary step to getting him on a consistent schedule and allowing him to learn to be a great independent sleeper.
This article originally appeared in Brewster Macaroni Kid. Click here to view article.
Amy Lage is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. She is founder 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 to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook and Twitter too for more great sleep tips!