When you’ve finally figured out your child’s sleep patterns and they’re starting to sleep for longer periods of time throughout the night, out of the blue it happens. Suddenly the child starts waking up after a 45-minute nap, it has become difficult to put the child to sleep and it is starting to wake up more often during the night, even every 2 hours. Your child is very likely going through a 4-month “sleep regression”, which really is not a regression at all, but an improvement and a sign of great development.
Children’s sleep is not a straight path, as they age and develop, they go through different periods that can affect their sleep and cause these regressions. These periods have been linked to 4, 8, 12, 18 and 24 months of age, although this regression doesn’t necessarily have to happen exactly at this age and the range is quite wide. These periods are usually associated with a lot of growth taking place, physical or intellectual.
What separates sleep regression at 4 months from other regressions is that the change that occurs in the child’s sleep pattern is permanent, this is a sign of great development and really an improvement, because the child is taking a big step towards a sleep that resembles our adult sleep. When this development has taken place, the child goes through several stages of sleep while sleeping, and each stage of sleep has a specific purpose, e.g. regarding cell growth, memory transfer, energy restoration and supporting mental and physical development.
How long will this regression last?
As previously mentioned, this is a permanent change in the child’s sleep pattern. Children who can fall asleep without much help from parents or caregivers often don’t show much change in their sleep, but those who do need a lot of help to fall asleep, start to need this same help to fall back asleep when they wake up after each sleep cycle, day or night. Those children may need help practicing falling asleep and falling back asleep without assistance.
Although this is a permanent change, it doesn’t mean that your child can’t learn to sleep well.
What can I do?
Your child needs to adjust to these changes, and you can help by paying attention to its sleep environment, wake windows, a good routine during the day and helping it learn to fall asleep and fall asleep again between sleep cycles without your assistance.
- The sleeping environment: darkness, a suitable temperature, and a quiet environment that your child associates with sleep.
- Suitable waking-windows: that the child is neither too little nor too tired when it is put to sleep.
- Predictable routine during the day: if the child takes naps at the same time every day, it helps the child to fall asleep easily and sleep well.
- Help your child learn to fall asleep: if your child can fall asleep without help, you can start teaching it to fall back asleep on its own after each sleep cycle linking sleep cycles, resulting in longer naps and longer sleep at night.
It is perfectly normal for children’s sleep to change and for problems related to sleep to arise at this age. It may take time for some children to adjust to these changes and gain the ability to fall asleep and go back to sleep without the help of parents or caregivers. Take time to practice these skills.