Expert tips for a better baby sleep routine
Sam Saunders aka The Baby Guru explains how to settle your little one into a more organised sleep pattern by about four months, and shares the best ways to deal with setbacks when you’re setting a new baby bedtime routine
As ‘The Baby Guru’ I have worked as a nursery nurse and within the NHS for many years on the midwives’ team. Throughout my time helping hundreds of parents across the world, I have often been asked, ‘Is there really a four-month sleep regression?’ There most certainly is. Here are a few basic facts to start with…
How much sleep does my baby need at four months?
After getting into the swing of newborn sleep, at this age babies need a total of around 12 to 16 hours’ sleep out of 24. Ten to 12 of these hours will typically be at night, with one to two feeds. During the day they will need naps totalling three to four hours with four to six feeds in between.
About sleep regression and why it happens
Before now your little one may have been sleeping for long stretches – even up to six to eight hours at night without a feed. Then all of a sudden, they cannot settle to sleep easily and may start to wake from daytime naps after 30 to 45 minutes, clearly still tired. They may wake in the night repeatedly, even every hour, not always hungry but needing help to settle back to sleep. They are still tired but frustrated that they’re awake. This can normally be put down to the four-month sleep regression, which is actually a development leap for little ones. The reasons this happens are:
- Sleep cycles are maturing to become more adult-like.
- Babies are becoming more aware of their surroundings.
- Their daytime routine may need adjusting, with longer
gaps between naps.
About sleep cycles
REM (or rapid eye movement) sleep is the stage in which we dream and when the brain is cleaned and restores itself. During this stage babies
twitch, wriggle around and breathe irregularly.
Non-REM sleep is deep sleep, when the body repairs itself, tissue grows, and hormones are released for growth and repair. Babies now breathe steadily and deeply and lay very still.
There are also two other stages of sleep which babies from four months start to experience, shown in the diagram below.
Image: Baby’s Night Sleep Cycle by Sam Saunders
Babies spend a lot of time in deep sleep. At birth it accounts for half of their sleep time, but this starts to decrease at four months old. At this point they start to experience the other stages of sleep, and they are therefore woken more easily from naps and in the night.
How can you make the difference to your baby's sleep pattern?
You cannot prevent this stage in their sleep development, but you can help both them, and you, progress through this stage more easily, without creating bad sleep associations.
Babies who have learnt to self-settle before the age of four months tend to pass by this sleep regression easier than those that need rocking, feeding or a dummy to go to sleep.
Now is the time to slowly reduce sleep associations, rather than create more. Start to put your baby down drowsy but awake so that they learn to nod off independently. This will mean when they come into their light sleep stages they can drift back off to sleep without help.
Consider some sleep coaching to help your baby self-settle.
You could also consider adapting your little one’s routine to meet their sleep needs. Bringing bedtime forward
will help them compensate for shorter naps in the day and longer wakeful periods. Overtired babies will struggle
to settle to sleep and wake frequently in the night. There
is truth in the saying ‘sleep breeds sleep’.
As they become more aware of their surroundings, daylight can affect naps; using a blackout blind can really help.
White noise is also great from this age, for both day and night. During the day it can mask
that ring at the door from the Amazon delivery driver (all that midnight ordering you did half-awake during a feed!), or a siren outside when you have just got them to sleep. During the night, while they are still in your room it can help everyone to sleep. As much as they disturb us with all their little noises, we disturb our babies too and at this time when they are having increased lighter sleep, they can wake due to nearby sounds rather than hunger.
I think being aware of why this is happening can help.
It’s often the hardest of the three sleep regressions they
will have because it’s the first you’re experiencing. It can last anything from two to six weeks, so stay patient and calm and try to catch up on those missing hours of sleep with naps when your baby naps. Good luck!
The Baby Guru has developed an easy to use, interactive sleep coaching app that gives two methods of sleep training for babies from four months plus. Available on both Apple and Android for £1.99. Find out more at thebabyguru.co.uk. You can also contact The Baby Guru – [email protected]
Don’t miss the Gurgle guide to toddler sleep routines too!