4-Month Sleep Regression: Your Survival Guide Is Here
Just as you’re emerging from the newborn haze and your baby is sleeping for longer stretches during the night, it hits — the 4-month sleep regression.
Suddenly, it feels like you’ve taken 10 steps back: Your baby is taking short naps, screaming through bedtime, waking multiple times per night, and rising at the crack of dawn. We feel you, mama.
If you suspect your little one is going through this phase, it might feel overwhelming. But the good news is that you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself. Below, you’ll find out why this is happening, how long it will last, and, most importantly, how to cope.
Let’s get started.
What Is The 4-Month Sleep Regression?
First, rest assured that the sudden changes in your baby’s sleep habits are developmentally normal. Although it’s known as the 4-month sleep regression, these changes typically occur anywhere between 3 to 5 months of age.
The fact is there’s a heck of a lot going on in your baby’s brain that’s keeping her awake during the day and night. The biggest is that your baby is starting to sleep less like a baby and more like an adult.
Before, she’d fall asleep and almost immediately enter a deep stage of sleep. That’s why you were able to bring your sleeping newborn into a noisy restaurant or transfer her from your arms to her bassinet without her stirring.
Now, it takes your baby more time before reaching those deeper stages of sleep, so it’s more difficult to get her to fall asleep and stay asleep. She’s also developing more mature sleep cycles.
This means that every hour or two she briefly wakes before (hopefully) returning to sleep.
The problem is, if your baby is used to being held, fed, or rocked to sleep up to this point, she’s going to expect you to do those same things to help her return to sleep when she wakes throughout the night.
In addition to your baby’s maturing sleep cycles, months 3 to 5 often bring about other changes that can interfere with sleep, such as:
- Learning to roll over
- Increased awareness of her surroundings
- Trying to crawl
- Developmental leap: recognizing patterns
“Sleep regressions are most commonly linked to developmental progressions. It’s around 4 months that your baby starts recognizing patterns. This means that the steps that lead up to sleep are what your baby comes to expect to know it’s time to sleep. If those steps include rocking, nursing, or patting to sleep, that is what your baby will seek out more and more. That’s why 4 months is a great time to establish a healthy sleep routine that ends with baby ‘sleepy but awake’ so they get the space to practice falling asleep on their own.” (Mandy Treeby, Chief Pediatric Sleep Consultant and co-founder of the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers)
Is This All Normal?
These regressions are very normal — though, as you may know, it can be difficult for mom and dad!
However, because no two babies are alike, it will not always present itself in the same way (and sometimes not even at the same time) from one child to the next. The 4-month sleep regression can occur a few weeks before or after the four-month milestone.
While one person's baby may wake up during naptime, another may be difficult to put to sleep at night — and, for a select few, the baby may refuse to sleep at all!
Signs To Look Out For
Sleep regressions can feel like they happen overnight because, most of the time, they do! For example, your baby is snoozing normally one day. Then, all of a sudden, they aren't.
A night or two of unusual wake-ups is unlikely to be considered a regression. After all, everyone has a bad night's sleep every now and then, and babies are no exception.
However, here are some indicators that you are dealing with the 4-month regression:
- Your baby is waking up more frequently than usual, especially if there doesn't appear to be an obvious cause, such as travel or illness.
- You notice your baby working on a new skill, such as rolling over, during the day.
- Your baby has become noticeably more interested in their surroundings. Maybe they are more easily distracted while eating, or they have a more challenging time falling asleep in places other than their crib.
Can You Prevent The 4-Month Sleep Regression?
There is no way to avoid the 4-month sleep regression because it’s caused by changes in your baby's sleep cycle and development. All these changes are unavoidable.
You can, however, prepare for it by working ahead of time to break sleep associations and remaining consistent in your sleep training approach.
Up until this point, you have likely either put your baby to sleep with a pacifier, rocked them, breastfed them, or used some other technique to help them fall asleep.
These sleep associations can be very sneaky because, while they may have helped your baby get to the initial nodding off stage, their absence when your little one wakes up might mean they won't be able to fall back asleep without some outside assistance.
When this happens every half hour, you may find yourself in a nightmare situation.
Make a point of breaking these sleep associations before the 4-month mark to make the sleep regression easier on you and your little one. This will improve your baby's sleep habits.
Instead of using a sleep aid or forming a sleep association, concentrate on developing a soothing bedtime routine and sticking to a schedule (more on this later). This can help prepare for the inevitable sleep regression.
How Long Will It Last?
Unfortunately, this isn't the only sleep regression you'll have to endure. There will be additional ones around six, eight, eighteen months, and two years.
Before you start panicking, the good news is that sleep regressions usually only last between two to four weeks. So, while it might be challenging right now, just hang in there! This will soon pass.
While in the waiting period, here are a few effective strategies to help you and your baby cope.
9 Survival Tips For Sleep Regression
While all of the sleep woes you’re experiencing are completely normal, there are several steps you can take to help your baby (and yourself) catch some much-needed Z’s.
The 4-month sleep regression isn’t just something to endure — it’s an opportunity to establish healthy sleep habits that will benefit your entire family for a long time to come. Here’s what you can do:
1) Put Your Baby To Bed Drowsy But Awake
Start putting your baby down for naps and at night when she’s drowsy (or fully awake). Give her a few minutes to work on falling asleep independently so that she has the chance to develop self-soothing skills.
These may include sucking her hand or fingers, rubbing her head back and forth on the mattress, rubbing her little feet together, and more.
These will become the tools she’ll use when she wakes during a nap or at night to return to sleep instead of needing you to rock, feed, shush, or bounce her back to dreamland. The better your baby is able to link sleep cycles, the more sleep you’ll both get.
2) Leverage Age-Appropriate Sleep Windows
Sleep windows are the times during the day and in the evening when your baby will be able to fall asleep more easily for naps and bedtime. At 4 months old, most babies should be on a three-nap-a-day sleep schedule.
The chart below shows the optimal times for starting those naps and bedtime:
|Nap 1||8:30-9:00 a.m.||11:00 a.m.||End Nap 1 at 11:00 am to protect Nap 2|
|Nap 2||11:30 a.m-1:00 p.m||N/A*||The goal is to put your baby down as close to 1:00 pm as possible, but adjust the start of Nap 2 based on the quality of Nap 1.|
|Nap 3||2:30-4:00 p.m.||4:30 p.m.||End daytime sleep by 4:30 pm to protect bedtime.|
|Bedtime||5:30-7:30 p.m.||N/A||If naps are short, bedtime should be around 5:30 p.m. If your baby wakes from a third nap at 4:30 p.m., then bedtime can be between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.|
*You do not need to cap Nap 2. If Nap 2 is lengthy, skip Nap 3 and adjust bedtime as needed. Nap 3 is always discretionary and simply designed to bridge the gap between day and night.
3) Make Bedtime Earlier
When babies are awake for too long, they enter into an overtired state. A chemical reaction occurs in which their bodies convert the sleep hormone melatonin into the stress hormone cortisol, which makes it much more difficult for them to fall asleep.
The number one reason for bedtime struggles, waking up multiple times per night, and early rising is a bedtime that’s too late. Your baby’s optimal bedtime depends on the quality of her daytime sleep.
If her naps were less than 60 minutes or she skipped the third nap, then lean on an earlier bedtime. If her first two naps were an hour or longer and she took a third nap, then putting her down between 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. is appropriate.
4) Ramp Up Tummy Time During The Day
Babies often practice new skills in the safety and comfort of their crib. That’s not so cute, though, when your baby is attempting to roll over in her crib at 2 a.m. instead of sleeping.
Increase her tummy time sessions during the day to help her master this skill so it won’t take such a toll on sleep. Aim for three tummy time sessions per day lasting 10 to 15 minutes each.
Get down on her level and encourage her rolling by gently shaking a toy just over her shoulder. This will help her build those core, tummy, and neck muscles needed to roll independently. Remember that once she’s able to roll, it’s no longer safe to swaddle for sleep.
5) Find A Sleep Training Method That Works For You
We don’t sleep train babies prior to 4 months from their estimated due date, but if your baby is 4 months or older, then our sleep training methods can work for you.
Sleep training doesn’t have to mean crying it out. Download one of our ebooks or schedule a free 15-minute sleep consultation to get started.
6) Try Swaddling
If your little one is experiencing the sleep regression a little early (i.e., three months old), you can continue swaddling your baby if this calms them.
Note: Once your baby starts to roll over, it's no longer safe to swaddle them for bedtime. This is because they may roll over onto their stomach during the night and struggle to roll back to a safer position when they are in a swaddle.
In this case, you can stop swaddling and transition them to a sleep sack instead. While sleepwear isn't a "cure" for this period, it may improve your baby’s sleep enough to give you time to plan your next steps.
7) Be Consistent With Your Bedtime Routine
Pre-bedtime and pre-nap routines are great ways to teach your baby what to expect during sleep times. A calm, predictable routine can also help your baby relax and prepare for sleep.
Breast- or formula feeding followed by a bath, changing into a dry diaper and pajamas, and reading a story before bedtime could be part of an effective routine.
It's important to note that each family will have a different routine that works for them. So, don't be afraid to be flexible and mix and match elements that work for you and your little one.
This is an essential tip because when we repeat the same set of activities in the same order, our children can predict what will happen next, which increases their sense of security. In addition, a routine can make it much easier for them to fall asleep.
8) Darken The Room
One of our favorite inventions is blackout curtains! Because light exposure helps our internal clocks determine when to wake up, a completely dark bedroom can result in longer naps and later wakeups, especially when it's light outside.
In the early morning hours during the 4-month sleep regression, sleep tends to be very light, and children may wake easily. If a baby sees the sunlight during this time, their body may be signaled to begin waking up early every morning.
Darken the room to keep sunlight from turning your little angel into a rooster. A dark room can also help your child sleep longer in general. This is because babies tend to wake up after one sleep cycle once their sleep has matured.
If the room is too bright, they may become distracted by their surroundings and fully awaken. A dark room may help them regulate and lengthen their sleep cycles and fall back asleep.
9) Keep Your Baby Well-Fed
Full feedings right before bedtime and during the day can help keep your baby from becoming hungry in the middle of the night.
However, little ones are extremely curious about the world around them at this age and may shift their attention away from feeding before they are full. Eliminate distractions by feeding your baby in a place that is less exciting or stimulating.
In addition, once your baby starts sleeping through the night, try not to feed them if they wake up crying. If your baby is constantly fed to stop crying at night, they may come to expect this response every time they wake up.
Bonus Tip: Download The Smart Sleep Coach App
This innovative new app will provide a customized sleep plan to guide you step-by-step through the 4-month sleep regression, adjusting your baby’s sleep habits and gettig sleep on track in as little as seven days.
When To Call The Doctor
A string of rocky nights isn't usually cause for concern. Ask any parent, and they'll tell you that this is all part of the job.
However, you should consult a pediatrician about night wakings if:
- Your baby is eating less than usual during the day
- Your child does not appear to be gaining weight
- Your baby has four or fewer wet diapers and three bowel movements per day
While the 4-month sleep regression isn't fun, remember that it's a normal part of development. The key is to help your baby stick to their regular sleeping habits the best you can. And, if it's possible, sneak in a nap for yourself as well.
Don’t Forget About Yourself
During this challenging time, try to set realistic expectations for your little one and keep in mind that it takes time for babies to develop consistent sleep patterns.
Even at 12 months old, many babies do not sleep through the night. Avoid blaming yourself if your infant wakes up during the night.
Self-care also entails considering ways to help you get the sleep you need to feel more rested, regardless of your baby's sleep schedule.
This might mean taking naps when your little one does or asking for help from loved ones. Whatever makes sense for you and your situation, don't forget to take care of yourself, too!
You Can Do This!
As difficult as the 4-month sleep regression is, your baby is making major leaps during this time. At the end of this month, they’re going to seem less like a newborn and more like a baby.
They’re going to be more interactive and engaging. They’ll be full of giggles, coos, and other adorable noises, and they may be starting to roll or crawl. They’re going to explore toys and objects with greater curiosity and interest, and they’re going to fill your world with so much fun.
The sleep struggles during this time are real, but taking the steps above will help you both get more rest and make this exciting stage that much more enjoyable.
Do you have questions about your baby or toddler and want to learn more tips to improve sleep? Sign up for your free 15-minute sleep consultation with a certified infant and toddler sleep consultant by visiting dreambabysleep.com/scheduler.
By Carolynne J. Harvey – Sleep Expert, Author of “Dream Baby Nights©” & Founder of Dream Baby Sleep®
About Dream Baby Sleep
Dream Baby Sleep® is a loving group of certified experts who are successfully teaching families how to create and maintain healthy sleep. Our diverse education and team dynamic empower us to customize a plan catered to your family’s personal needs.
By studying the temperament of your baby, parenting style, and family dynamic, we’re able to draw from all sleep training methods available to create success for your family.