At (or around) 4 months, your child may suddenly experience a change in their sleep habits. As a newborn, you’re accustomed to them waking up often throughout the night. Then, they get older and their circadian rhythm develops and you may start getting longer stretches of sleep at night.
Until their sleep cycles change and mature at 4 months and it may feel like you have a newborn again (or worse)!
As newborns, they have 2 sleep cycles (light/deep or active/quiet). When their sleep cycles mature, they have 5 sleep cycles, like adults. Which means there are more opportunities for waking up!
It takes them longer to reach a deep sleep once this happens, which is why assisting to sleep and laying them down can become a frustrating bedtime act.
In this blog, we will cover:
- Signs of the 4 month sleep regression
- Regression and naps
- Is it teething or the regression?
- Does it start early?
- 4 month sleep regression and sleep training
- Tips to survive the regression
Signs of the 4 Month Sleep Regression
While later regressions imply that sleep will return to the way it was previously, this regression is a little different. It’s more of a “progression” since it’s a permanent change to how they sleep!
You may find that your child has trouble being laid down while drowsy or asleep, that they are waking more frequently at night, resisting sleep, staying awake for long periods at night after feedings, resist soothing, and resist naps or take short naps.
Your child may also transition to less naps, begin rolling, teething, absorb language, and recognize faces. That all will impact sleep!
Regression and Naps
Long naps are the holy grail of motherhood! Short naps can be very frustrating if it’s the only time of day that you get a break, whether it’s to clean up, meal prep, use the restroom in silence, or mindlessly watch a Friends re-run for a break.
Around 3-4 months, some babies experience the “45 minute nap intruder” and this is where they begin taking 30-45 minute naps (the equivalent of a sleep cycle). This can happen for a few reasons:
- Changing/maturing sleep cycles
- Not a dark enough sleep environment
- Not enough awake time (or too much)
- Not having an established nap routine
- Hunger (if you’re feeding to sleep, you can rule that out!)
- Pacifiers (fragment sleep when they fall out)
- Other sleep props (not being able to fall asleep independently so unable to connect sleep cycles)
Short naps are normal and okay! We just want to make sure that the total sleep they’re getting in 24 hours is enough for them. So make sure you utilize an early bedtime!
Is it teething or the regression?
It can be very easy to blame poor sleep on teething, however that isn’t usually the case. Most babies do discover their hands in that 3rd month and they explore things first with their mouth. So putting their hands in their mouth isn’t necessarily a sign that they’re teething!
Another thing that may make you think they’re teething is an increase in drool, however their salivary glands also develop around the time they find their hands so again, this isn’t necessarily a sign either!
Does the 4 month sleep regression start early?
Unfortunately, the 4 month sleep regression can happen any time between 3-6 months! It may hit you early, late, or somewhere in the middle.
Remember that a lot of development happens in those first 6 months so sleep can often feel erratic, regardless of their changing sleep patterns!
4 Month Sleep Regression and Sleep Training
Learning to sleep independently can be very helpful for managing the extra night wakings and short naps that accompany this changing sleep pattern for your baby!
From this study, “..infants who were consistently put into the crib awake were more likely to be self-soothers than infants who were consistently put into the crib asleep. Infants who required parental assistance to fall asleep at the beginning of each night were more likely to require parental assistance upon awakening in the middle of the night.”
5 Tips to Surviving the 4 Month Sleep Regression
- Slowly work to break sleep associations that may be causing your little one to wake up frequently throughout the night. Yes, night feedings are still appropriate at this age, but if you’re waking every 45 minutes to 2 hours at night, you can likely increase those stretches of sleep with sleep training. Putting them down awake at bedtime can be very helpful!
- Introduce positive sleep associations like white noise and a Kyte BABY sleep bag.
- Establish/maintain your bedtime and naptime routines to signal sleep is coming for your little one.
- Utilize an early bedtime, especially if they have short naps! Their circadian rhythm is well established now and they can manage the early bedtimes when needed to break an overtired cycle.
- Make sure they get plenty of floor time during their awake periods-- babies will often practice developmental skills (like rolling) at night and we want the novelty of mastering this new skill to wear off by practicing often during the day! This blog goes into more details about developmental milestones and why they interrupt sleep.
Make sure you’re not handling this alone! Involve a partner, family member, friend, or postpartum doula in helping you rest as well. Taking shifts for the night, going to bed early when you can, and napping on the weekends can help you stay rested too. This is a season, though it’s hard, it can be solved and you’ll be on the other side in no time!
Ashley Olson is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, owner of Heaven Sent Sleep, and passionate about helping new parents, experienced parents, desperate and sleep-deprived parents form healthy sleep habits for their children.
She has over 3 years of experience in working with families and has completed over 150 hours of coursework plus continuing education related to infant and toddler sleep. The focus of her work is on fostering a routine that grows your bond with your child while improving their sleep habits. She specializes in custom sleep plans and one on one support in changing sleep practices!