Solving typical sleep problems at 1-6 months, part 2

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

In this 1-6 months section: avoid sleep retrogression for your baby due to the 4 months sleep dip and growth spurts. And help her sleep more at night than during the day.

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The 4 months sleep dip

3 month old playing

Straight to the solutions

Growth spurts are common sleep disturbers. A very typical one is the “4 months sleep dip”.

And it's babies who have slept well - even through the night - in their first months who seem most spectacularly affected.

If around 4 months old your baby starts waking up frequently again - after having made longer stretches before and having reduced night feeds a bit - you are very probably facing the “4 months sleep dip”.

It is related to a spectacular growth spurt involving changes in different areas: digestive system, motor skills, understanding and processing, sleep patterns, …

So much is going on for baby and she has to deal with that, both physically and mentally. These big developmental steps also mean a step-up with regards to food. She'll simply need to feed more for a while, topping up.

Looking at it from that side, it's actually a surprise that she can get any decent sleep at all ... Luckily there's a couple of helpful things you can do to minimize the effect of the sleep dip.

What to do

Balancing food well and sticking to the right sleep habits are what will get you through the 4 months sleep dip.

  • Feed on demand when possible. If your baby seems receptive to it, gently increase her total food intake. But be very careful, to avoid over-feeding.

    Also, it is not a good idea to stuff before bed. Starting the night with an overfull stomach is not healthy, leads to restless sleep and will have an inverse effect.

    Side note: How to balance and increase food intake safely is one of the dedicated techniques described in the 3-step sleeping through program No-Tears Sleeping Through the Night as well as within the action plan of Overcome Frequent Waking.
  • Good sleep habits are critical right now. Sadly, when a sudden sleep retrogression pops up, many parents start doubting the good routines and schedules they so carefully set up. Or don't believe they are important anymore ...

    But on the contrary, your baby needs that steady base and regularity more than ever now. It is what will get her, and you, through the dip fastest, and return to sleeping well most quickly.

    Keep offering a regular, recognizable daily schedule, be consistent with when and how you put her down for naps and nights, stick to a really good bedtime ritual, keep the bedroom tidy and well-aired, ... and in general reduce the amount of changes right now.

Sleeping more during the day than at night

Straight to the solutions

If your baby's body has not adapted to a typical day/night rhythm yet, she may not sleep more at night than during the day. Day and night sleep may be roughly the same. Or your baby may have a reversed day/night rhythm and seem to sleep all day and be awake all night.

It typically takes about 12 weeks for a good day/night rhythm to set. When it does, nights are quieter and more restful than days, which is great for all. Having this clear difference between day and night is also very important for building long-term sleep skills.

Your baby may grasp the idea much earlier of course, some 2-3 week olds are much quieter at night and livelier during daytime. That's of course wonderful and something to cherish. Still keep up the good habits as I discuss right below, it will only reinforce the good and avoid retrogression later on.

What to do

Use the simple yet very effective Light and Activity Cues technique to help your baby learn the difference between day and night.

  • When the day starts, make your house light and alive. Make sure there is a lot of light, curtains and blinds are open. There is music, you speak normally, no hushed voices, there is playing, laughing, dancing, activities going on, you go out, …

    You interrupt this a little for nap times of course, but still there is not the same dark and quietness as at night.
  • Then when the night starts, the house goes dim and quiet. Switch to softer voices, have dimmer light, less activity is going on, no more playing except for example reading a story quietly, …

These cues are very powerful and help your baby physically adapt to our daily rhythm.