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The 4 month sleep regression is the first of a few that are likely to invade your baby’s life over the coming year. Baby will likely experience another regression around 9 months and again around 18 months. However, the 4 month sleep regression is in a category all its own.
What is so special about the 4 month sleep regression?
Mental and physical milestones
This is because the 4 month sleep regression is totally unique for two reasons. First, it’s really a progression, not a regression. During this time, you’ve likely noticed your little one is working on some new skills, like rolling over. There is probably a lot you aren’t seeing as well that are big mental milestones. All of this is really awesome because it means your little one is developing and growing. It’s really something to celebrate!
A new way to sleep…cycle
Another important milestone that baby is reaching around 4 months of age is that she is entering a new kind of sleep. She will no longer be experiencing only two sleep cycles as she has done since birth. From around 4 months old, and for the rest of her life, her sleep will consist of 4 stages of sleep just like yours does.
These four stages mean that baby is rather suddenly spending a lot more time in light REM sleep, as opposed to spending much of her sleep in deep REM sleep. You can easily tell newborns experience a lot of great deep REM sleep by the fact that they can sleep in almost any place at almost any time.
For now, those days are gone. Now, baby will be waking up at the end of each sleep cycle. And when she does, she will wake enough to look around and see if anything has changed, see if she can get some attention and maybe even request a feeding. Cheeky little thing, right?
When does the 4 month sleep regression start?
Calling this a 4 month sleep regression is basically choosing the median age at which it typically starts. It really can start sometime within baby’s 3rd month. Or it could even begin as late as sometime within baby’s 5th month. So, calling it a 4 month sleep regression is telling us that it typically starts around 4 months. But, it could hit a little sooner or later.
When does the 4 month sleep regression end?
The good news is that this sleep regression will likely last around 2-3 weeks. In the big scheme of things, this isn’t all that long. I know it can feel like an eternity when you are in the middle of it and sleep deprived, though. Take heart, mama. It is a little blip on the map of your baby’s development and it means that great things are happening both mentally and physically.
Signs of the 4 month sleep regression
Due to the fact that your baby may not experience the 4 month sleep regression exactly when they turn 4 months, it’s helpful to keep in mind what some typical signs of the regression look like.
Make sure baby isn’t sick or teething
First, it is worth noting that you will want to make sure that baby isn’t sick or teething. She may exhibit many of the same signs at first, so it’s an easy mistake to make. However, it is very much worth investigating because you want to help baby get well or get comfort from teething if that is the case.
6 signs it’s a sleep regression
- sudden night wakings when baby was previously sleeping through the night
- multiple night wakings that are more numerous than usual
- less napping
- harder time going down for naps
- changes in appetite
12 tips to get through the 4 month sleep regression + my experience
If you are reading this in preparation, you may likely be able to minimize the effects the regression has on your baby’s sleep using these tips. If you are here because you are trying to figure out what in the world is going on with your fourth month old’s sleep right now, you’ve got some golden tips ahead of you!
My experience with 4 babies
In my personal experience, I did not notice a huge disturbance in my babies sleep with this regression. They were already on great sleep schedules within the first couple months and sleeping through the night well. They were also very used to getting back to sleep unassisted because I made this a priority from their earliest days.
You can learn more about how I did this in my ebook, Every Mom’s Guide To Nap time. Check it out and get started by clicking here!
Whether you are reading in preparation for having a 4 month old or here because you are desperately seeking a solution to your 4 month old’s sleep problems, you can use these 11 tips to strategically prepare OR deal with the 4 month sleep regression.
This really can make a difference! If you are mentally, emotionally and physically prepared for your baby to go through the 4 month sleep regression, you will fare better than most.
Leading up to and during this time, make sure to be extra gentle with yourself, prepare your spouse or partner for the slightly rocky nights ahead and find some ways to prepare ahead of time. This might look like having your favorite coffee in heavy supply and knowing it’s waiting for you will make your nights a little easier. Or get some freezer meals made so that you have one less thing to deal with when you are exhausted.
In whatever way makes sense to you, accept that the 4 month sleep regression may hit your home and try to get ahead of it in some helpful ways.
Another great way to get ready for or deal with the 4 month sleep regression is to ensure baby’s sleep environment is up to snuff. This means:
- have a constantly cool room so baby doesn’t overheat.
- make sure the room is SUPER dark with blackout curtains and use natural daylight to wake baby in the morning.
- do your best to keep baby’s room as quiet as possible except for the use of a sound machine
Making sure these elements are present in baby’s room really will make a significant difference. It is during this sleep milestone that baby’s circadian rhythm that helps her become aware of day and night is developed fully. It makes sense to use this to your advantage because it is what baby’s body and mind are naturally doing.
You may also want to read: Hatch Baby Rest: The ULTIMATE Sound Machine
Use a bedtime routine
All of your children, no matter their age, will benefit dramatically from a bedtime routine. In fact, you can start a bedtime routine with your baby as soon as you bring her home.
Starting so early is really beneficial so that as baby’s circadian rhythm gets locked in, they use the bedtime routine as a signal that it’s time to sleep for a longer stretch of time.
There are several other benefits to using a bedtime routine that include meeting your child’s 4 most basic needs, using it as a time of connection with your child and more! Make sure to check out the full article by clicking the link provided below. In the article you’ll be able to snag a free printable bedtime routine as well as see examples for routines from birth through adolescents.
Keep baby’s tummy full
It is not uncommon for a mother not to realize the exact beginning of the 4 month sleep regression but be trying to deal with the night wakings. And what do most moms believe their baby needs when they wake up crying in the night? A feeding.
So, you keep offering baby feedings throughout the night because it seems to be all that gets her back to sleep. Baby is now getting the majority of her calories during these night feedings and not getting as much during the day. This is a vicious cycle that keeps baby waking up for feedings and actually needing them because they are no longer eating well during the day.
To combat this, you must realize that the 4 month sleep regression is upon you and get baby to consume the bulk of her calories during the day. Then you can also try to offer an extra long feed before bed as well as a dream feed as late as possible, sometime between 10-11pm.
The goal is to get baby back to her regular feeding schedule as much as possible PLUS offer some extra calories towards bedtime. This is because baby will be less likely to get hungry during the night and add that to her list of complaints while she wakes, but also because baby is likely going through a growth spurt at this time and will need the extra calories.
Lay baby down drowsy but awake in her bed
This may seem counterintuitive to ask baby to do this right now if you have not previously been practicing this. However, it is at precisely this time that baby must learn the skill of going to sleep AND returning to sleep unassisted.
As mentioned above, during the 4 month sleep regression, baby is actually progressing in the area of sleep. Baby is moving into the sleep cycle they will be in for the rest of their life. Due to this, they will wake very briefly every 30-50 minutes during the day and every 90-120 minutes t night. This is a really new experience for baby and takes some getting used to.
Unless you want to be there every time baby wakes to assure your child she can return to sleep with feeding, rocking and cuddling into her adulthood, this is just something that has to happen! Of course I am exaggerating because your child will eventually grow out of this on her own, but it literally could be years until she does.
So, if she hasn’t already, you should absolutely take this opportunity to help your child learn to be put down drowsy but awake in her bed. This will prove to make her sleep so much more stable.
Also, note that I mentioned she is to be put down drowsy but awake in her bed. This is because if she falls asleep in your arms and then wakes up in her bed after her first sleep cycle, she may get startled. Imagine falling asleep on the couch and waking up in your bed. Trying to figure out what the heck happened will cause you to wake much more fully than just rolling over in bed, where you know you feel asleep initially. Basically, it’s less startling for baby and helps their transition to their next sleep cycle go much more smoothly.
Don’t rush to baby during night wakings
As you are teaching baby to be able to be laid in bed drowsy but awake, you are giving her her first important sleep skill. The second skill you need to help baby with is to be able to return to sleep on her own when she wakes in the night.
As you have read, baby will now be waking throughout the night between her sleep cycles just like we do. And as you are likely aware, we rarely remember waking throughout the night. This will become the norm for baby as well.
But consider this: what if your spouse or some other person quickly came to you as soon as they heard you gently shift or make any noise when you barely rouse between your sleep cycles? What if they rushed over and picked you up? Then they began changing your clothing and feeding you. This would most definitely cause you to wake up fully rather than just roll over and fall back to sleep, remembering nothing of it the next morning.
This is the same for baby in many ways. So, instead of rushing to baby as soon as you hear something, give her a minute or two to work it out. This is a skill she must learn so she might need a little practice.
If you do need to go to baby because she isn’t able to get through this waking on her own, be quick and quiet. Do not turn on any lights, be as quiet as possible and only do as much as needed to quickly calm baby. The less you can do for baby during this time, the quicker she will learn how to transition between sleep cycles herself and not need your assistance.
Adopt or stick to a sleep schedule with an early bedtime
Mama, this is probably one of the biggest take aways I hope you gain from this article. A schedule is so drastically important to your baby’s wellbeing and happiness. And while it can seem cumbersome and frankly, annoying, to plan everything around your little love who needs so much sleep, it is well worth it. After all, we plan out their feedings and give so much attention to what we put in their bodies. Their sleep is as big a part of their overall health as their food is! So, it deserves to be a top priority.
You can make it a priority by being intentional with it and sticking to a sleep schedule that is appropriate for baby’s age. At four months, baby needs approximately 15-16 hours of sleep, which is a lot! To get all that sleep in, you must make a plan and be consistent with it.
One foolproof way to help baby get all this sleep is by having an early bedtime. Putting baby to bed for the night early is important because at 4-5 months old, baby will start to ‘sleep through the night.’ This is an interesting statement because the definition of sleeping through the night at this age is actually 5-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. And this usually happens before midnight. So, for that to have a chance to happen, your baby needs to be in bed between 6pm and 7pm.
I understand this can be challenging. I’m also not saying there isn’t any other way that you could find. Now that you know these facts about the sleep needs of your baby at this age, you can figure out the best way to meet the needs of your baby within the framework of your particular family.
Don’t let baby get overtired
Another important factor to keep in mind during the 4 month sleep regression is that it all becomes so much more difficult to deal with if you end up with an overtired baby on your hands.
For this reason, you will find yourself in a fragile balancing act. You want to help baby fall asleep on her own, but you don’t want her to spend so much time trying to do it that she becomes overtired.
You also don’t want her to miss needed daytime naps but you don’t want to revert back to holding her for naps.
I’m not going to try to pull a fast one on you and give you all sorts of disconnected advice. So, I will say this: you have to read all these tips and make the action plan that works best for your baby, for you and for your particular family. You are the only one who can factor all of those elements in and make the best plan.
With that said, trying to keep baby from getting overtired will make your life a lot easier right now. And her’s. So, call on the old techniques you used to use before she could sleep more independently. But use them as sparingly as possible.
Provide extra comfort and offer extra sleep
Baby doesn’t understand this milestone she is going through at all. Her not being able to nap or sleep well at night is frustrating her as much as it is you. So, she could really use some extra comfort.
As mentioned, you can use some of the techniques you have relied on in the past to help comfort baby. You can also try the 5 S’s: swaddling, side or stomach hold, shushing, sucking and swinging.
In addition to extra comfort, try sneaking in some extra zzz’s for baby. This could mean getting baby down for a nap 30 minutes early because despite what the clock says, you just saw some tired signals from your little babe. Follow baby’s cues and, without getting too far off schedule, get her some extra rest when she needs it.
You can let baby sleep a little longer in a nap if she had a rough night. Or you could also let her sleep a little longer in the morning if she finally fell into a deep sleep after a fitful night. This may not always work within the schedule if you are getting other kids to school or have to be to work. However, whenever you can squeeze some extra sleep in for a baby who is going through a regression, make sure to do it!
Be careful with adopting bad habits and associations
As I have mentioned, you may need to hold baby a little longer, offer a pacifier or let her doze off in a swing (if baby is in a swing, she should be attended to and never left for long). And maybe these are sleep associations you have already broken and are scared to go back to you. You probably put a lot of work into breaking these associations, so I understand!
However, there may be some that you need to use if baby is really struggling. Use your own judgment as you know your baby best. And the encouraging thing is that you have already broken them once. You and baby will be able to do it again if you need, too!
Again, I cannot pretend that telling you to lay baby down drowsy but awake AND use helpful associations to provide extra comfort don’t, in some way, conflict. The reality is, you have to piece together a plan that works. So, you may be willing to let baby take her morning nap in her swing because she needs it to start the morning well after a rough night. Or you may have wanted to stop the pacifier but decide to do that after the regression passes. Only you know what will work best for you and baby. So have confidence in making a plan and then make the tweaks you need to make it work for you.
You may also want to read: 6 Sleep Mistakes Parents Make
Practice new skills a lot during the day
The 4 month sleep regression is a combination of progressions, as mentioned at the beginning of the article. This includes baby learning new skills, like rolling over or pulling herself up in her crib. All of this can interfere with her sleep. And why in the world she waits to practice in bed is beyond me. But it is common!
So, a way to try to help baby through the regression is by giving her as much practice as possible during her waking hours to practice her new skills. Make a point to put her on the floor and help her practice these new things. When you do that, she’ll hopefully be able to let her mind and body rest when it’s time to sleep.
Learn more about baby sleep
One more time, I want to mention I have a brand new nap eBook, called Every Mom’s Guide To Nap Time-The Ultimate Handbook For Getting GREAT Naps Everyday. This nap book is totally unique because not only will it teach you everything you need to know about how to put healthy daytime naps in place (even if naps are totally off the rail right now), I will also teach you how I successfully used my daytime schedule to get my babies to sleep through the night. It’s true! And I would love to teach you how I did it!
Well, mama, there you have it! Your ultimate guide to surviving the 4 month sleep regression! Hope this helps your baby’s sleep improve rather dramatically. And I hope it gives you a lot of encouragement that great things are happening in your baby’s body and mind.
Please feel free to get in touch with me or reply on this post if you have any questions! Or, is there a trick you have used with a baby who is going through the 4 month sleep regression that isn’t listed here? I’d love to hear it!