Whether you’re a new parent or have already navigated the waters of parenthood, you might find yourself puzzled by your 4-week-old baby’s sleep patterns. Perhaps your baby is waking up frequently at night, seems to confuse day and night, or their bedtime appears to be later than you might expect. You might be wondering: Is this a sleep regression?
According to current pediatric research and understanding, there’s no evidence to support the existence of a 4-week sleep regression. At this age, your baby is still adjusting to life outside the womb, and their sleep patterns are naturally erratic and unpredictable. This includes a common phenomenon known as day/night confusion and a tendency for newborns to have later bedtimes. This is not a regression, but rather a normal part of newborn development.
When we talk about sleep regressions, or more accurately, developmental progressions that can disrupt sleep, the first significant one typically occurs around 4 months of age. This is often referred to as the ‘4-month sleep regression’ and is attributed to the maturation of the circadian rhythm. This developmental milestone causes newborn sleep to shift from the random sleep-wake cycles of infant sleep to more adult-like patterns, with more sleep occurring at night and less during the day.
In this blog, we’ll explore the reasons why your 4-week-old might be waking up frequently at night and provide strategies to help both you and your baby navigate this phase.
At around 4 weeks of age, it’s completely normal for your baby to wake up frequently in the middle of the night. Here are some developmental factors that contribute to this:
Waking Up To The World: Your baby’s senses are developing rapidly, and they are starting to notice their surroundings more and more. This increased alertness can disrupt their previously established sleep patterns.
Growth and Feeding Needs: Many babies undergo a growth spurt around the 4-week mark, which can disrupt their sleep as they may wake up more often for feeds to support their rapid growth. Additionally, newborns have small stomachs and fast metabolisms, which means they need to eat frequently, day and night. When your baby wakes up, it’s often because they’re hungry.
Digestive System Development: A baby’s digestive system is still maturing at around 4 weeks, and they might experience discomfort due to conditions like colic or reflux. This discomfort can cause frequent night wakings and disruptions in their sleep.
At around one month of age, newborns typically sleep for about 15 to 16 hours per day. However, this sleep is not continuous; it’s broken into several short naps and chunks of sleep, reflecting the immature sleep cycles of a newborn. Most of their sleep time is spent in REM sleep, which is light sleep. This is why newborns often seem like they’re stirring, twitching, sucking, or smiling in their sleep.
Many parents find that their one-month-old baby still does not have a defined day or night schedule, sleeping and waking at any time throughout a 24-hour period. This is because their circadian rhythm hasn’t yet fully matured, and it is not uncommon for babies this age not to have fallen into a clear night-day pattern, with a lot of unpredictability around naptimes, night sleep, and awake time.
On average, a one-month-old baby may sleep for 2-4 hours at a stretch, both during the day and at night. Because their small stomachs can’t hold enough breast milk or formula to keep them satiated for long, they wake frequently for feeds.
At this age, your baby’s bedtime might be later, often between 9 PM and midnight. This is a common occurrence as their circadian rhythms are still developing. However, as your baby grows and their sleep patterns mature, you can expect their bedtime to gradually shift earlier, often between 6 PM and 8 PM by the time they reach 3 – 4 months of age.
To help your baby sort out their day/night confusion, keep it bright and noisy during the day and dark and quiet at night. This will also help your baby slowly begin to learn that night-time is for sleep.
While a one-month-old’s sleep pattern may seem erratic, there are ways to gently guide them toward a more predictable sleep routine:
Understanding that each baby is unique and will have their own sleep patterns is crucial. While one baby might start sleeping longer stretches at night, another might still wake up frequently. The most important thing is to pay attention to your baby’s sleepy cues and needs.
There are several tools and techniques that can help soothe your baby and promote better sleep. Here are a few that we often suggest for newborns:
White Noise: White noise machines can help mimic the constant sounds your baby heard in the womb, providing a familiar and soothing environment that can promote better sleep. Shushing noises can also be effective for little ones this age.
Swaddling: Swaddling can provide a sense of security and comfort for some babies, potentially promoting longer sleep periods. However, it’s not a necessity and some babies might sleep better without it. If you choose to swaddle, ensure it’s done safely and be prepared to transition away from it as soon as your baby shows signs of starting to roll, which can happen as early as 2 months. As with all sleep tools, it’s about finding what works best for your individual baby.
Pacifiers: Pacifiers can provide a source of comfort for your baby. By around 4 weeks, many babies have established a good latch and breastfeeding routine, making it a safer time to introduce a pacifier if desired. However, every baby is different, and if there are any difficulties with breastfeeding, it’s advisable to consult with a lactation consultant or healthcare provider. Remember, while pacifiers can be a useful tool for some, they aren’t necessary for all babies and should be used judiciously to avoid creating a strong sleep association that might be difficult to break later on.
In addition to the tools mentioned above, creating an environment conducive to sleep can significantly impact your baby’s sleep quality and duration. Here are some factors to consider:
Darkness: A dark environment can help signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep. Darkness triggers the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Consider using blackout curtains or shades in your baby’s room, especially during naps and bedtime.
Temperature: Babies, especially newborns, have difficulty regulating their body temperature. The temperature of your baby’s room can affect their sleep. A room that’s too hot or too cold can disrupt sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a room temperature between 68–72°F (20–22.2°C) for optimal baby sleep.
Noise Level: Newborns are used to the constant white noise they heard in the womb, so they can often sleep through a fair amount of noise. However, sudden or loud noises can startle them and wake them up. A white noise machine can provide a consistent, soothing background noise that can help mask other sounds and promote better sleep.
The concept of sleep training often becomes a topic of discussion around the 4-month mark. However, at Batelle, we recommend focusing on establishing good sleep habits and routines until your baby has reached 6 months old, rather than starting formal sleep training before then. This is because around the 6-month mark, many babies have achieved significant developmental milestones, such as developing gross motor skills that assist with self-soothing, like repositioning themselves during sleep, and are able to sleep for longer stretches.
While some pediatricians might suggest sleep training as early as 4 months, we believe in giving your baby a little more time to develop and adjust. Our Batelle Babies program is designed to guide parents in creating a comforting, predictable sleep environment and responding to their baby’s needs during this crucial stage.
Remember, the sleep patterns you’re seeing now won’t last forever. As your baby grows and matures, you’ll notice a permanent change in their sleep patterns, with longer stretches of sleep and more predictable naps.
Navigating the sleep schedule of a 4-week-old can be challenging. The erratic naps, frequent night awakenings, and late bedtimes can leave you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. But remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and there are strategies to help you cope during this phase.
Remember, this phase is temporary. Before you know it, your baby will start sleeping for longer stretches, and their sleep schedule and naps will become more predictable. Until then, take care of yourself, ask for help when you need it, and know that you’re doing a great job.
The Batelle Sleep Program is a great option to help you achieve better sleep for your whole family. We’ve helped over 5,000 families get the sleep they need, and we’d love to help you too!