The term, sleep regression, is often used to define periods of time when a baby’s sleep becomes chaotic. The 4 month sleep regression is often the most common one mentioned. I’ve also heard of 8-10 month sleep regressions and even an 18 month sleep regression.

Hear From a Sleep Doctor 

Sleep researchers say, however, that sleep regressions do not exist- at least not in the way they are often described. Jodi Mindell, Ph.D. a Professor of Psychology and Director of Graduate Psychology at Saint Joseph’s University and the Associate Director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia states, “Sleep regressions are a total myth”. “I have a very, very large databases of sleep studies. I’ve looked at every month of sleep in the first two years and there’s not a single month where you see, all of the sudden, a peak in sleep problems. It is consistent across time. It’s just different babies at different times.”

The 4 Month Sleep Regression Explained

What Mindell and other researchers suggests is that these “regressions” have nothing at all to do with sleep. Instead, they are associated with normal forms of infant development. As babies approach any new developmental phase, their perception of the world changes. A phase of stranger anxiety or learning new skills, such as crawling or walking, can cause a disruption in the baby’s normal sleep patterns.

Because babies process information during their sleep – circulation to the brain almost doubles during REM sleep and it’s perfectly normal for them to wake more often as they are approaching new milestones. Some babies may suddenly become more wakeful at night or a baby may suddenly become more fussy. It’s important to note that this is all considered very normal. Every baby is different, and all will go through changes in their sleep patterns for the first few years of life.

At 4 months of age, for example, babies are becoming much more aware of the world. We hear them begin to babble, explore things with their mouth, recognizing familiar people and become anxious around strangers. Many babies are also starting to roll over during this stage of development. A baby who suddenly rolls over will most likely unintentionally wake themselves up. This is confusing and upsetting because they really want to SLEEP. It’s no wonder they start to cry. Babies are busy learning new milestones, and all of this adds up to very busy little brains that find it difficult to switch off. So what you thought was the 4 months sleep regression, is actually your baby processing new skills causing more chances of waking between REM.

Manage Changing Sleep Patterns

As was just explained, all babies will go through some changes in their sleep patterns. How parents react and respond to these sudden disruptions in sleep will affect how long it will last. It’s important that parents and caregivers understand the factors that contribute to the sleep disturbances. To get back on track quickly, it’s important to maintain healthy sleep habits during this time. Rocking or feeding your baby back to sleep will simply create a new sleep crutch.

Getting Back on Track with Healthy Sleep

At Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny, we generally advise parents not to create negative sleep associations, such as falling asleep in a parent’s arms. Babies who are accustomed to being held, rocked, or fed to sleep will continue to need these sleep associations to successfully go to sleep. However, as their sleep patterns change with age and growth, your baby then needs those negative sleep habits and your intervention throughout the whole night when waking. It’s no wonder parents feel as if things have regressed.

Sleep Coaching and Getting Back on Track

In general, most babies are back on track within a week as long as sleep crutches aren’t being used. This may be a good time for professional sleep coaching services. There is, however, nothing special that needs to get done for these “sleep regressions” besides getting back on track.

Successfully getting past a sleep disturbance generally comes down to a successfully sleep coached baby. Babies can begin sleep coaching at 4 months of age with the okay from their pediatrician. Learn the steps of our Controlled & Compassionate Sleep Coaching Method in our online class for parents and caregivers, Sleep Coaching 101: Healthy & Safe Sleep Habits. Our method reaches success in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of crying; it only takes 4-14 days based on your child’s temperament.

Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny also offers Sleep Coaching services with seasoned professionals. Reach out to us today for support!

About The Author

Carole K. Arsenault is the founder and CEO of Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny. She has years of experience working with newborns as a lactation consultant, sleep coach, and of course an RN specializing in Obstetrics and Maternal Health. In addition, she is the award winning author of Newborn 101. She has three grown children and loves to share mindfulness tips to friends and parents.