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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Merino

Surviving the dreaded 4 month sleep regression

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

Sleep regressions will happen often throughout your child’s first two years of life, with one that causes a positive, permanent developmental change in your baby’s brain being the 4 month sleep regression! You can learn all about the different sleep regressions and a general guide to them here on our whole blog about sleep regression.

For the purpose of this blog post we are going to focus on the 4 month sleep regression. It is one that most parents fear, as everyone chats about how their babies' sleep went off the rails. But fear not, luckily with regressions they don’t last forever (although it may feel like it will when you are going through it), and there are tips to help you deal with the regression and achieve sleep again.

The best way to survive the 4 month sleep regression is understanding what it is and how to deal with it. In this blog we will talk about:

  • What is the 4 month sleep regression?

  • What are the signs of the 4 month sleep regression?

  • How long does the sleep regression last?

  • How do you deal with the 4 month sleep regression?

What is the 4 month sleep regression?

A sleep regression is normally characterized when your child goes through a period where they are sleeping well and then suddenly starts to wake frequently at night, are difficult to settle for bedtime or naps, and are taking short cat naps.

The 4 month sleep regression is actually not a "regression" at all. It’s a progression in your baby’s brain development. It is a sign that your baby’s sleep cycle is maturing and will now be on a brand new sleep cycle for the rest of their life. Exciting, right? Before this regression, your baby was cycling through active (REM sleep) and quiet (non-REM) sleep at ease. The amount of time your baby spent in active and quiet sleep was pretty well 50/50, so your baby was able to drift between cycles automatically. By 3 months of age, the amount of time your baby spends in REM sleep decreases and by 6 months of age it decreases to 30% (instead of 50% when they were a newborn). By the time your baby becomes a toddler, their sleep cycles lengthen to 90 minutes - the same as adults.

Their daytime sleep cycle changes at this time as well, where babies will start to wake at 45 minutes following one complete sleep cycle. At nighttime, the sleep cycles also shorten to be about 2 hours long. This is why you may have a baby waking every two hours all night long when they used to give you a blissful stretch of 4-5 hours.

These changes may lead to your baby catnapping more, which leads to over tiredness and battles at bedtime. This is the stage where some moms start to feed their babies to sleep every time they wake up (Hello! I am that mom with my first son), leading to a creation of a sleep association. This change in their neurological development is where you can start to guide your baby into learning the crucial skill of self soothing (self-settling), which can really benefit your baby to stretch out those short naps and be able to sleep peacefully throughout the night, waking to feed for nutrition versus using it as a crutch to get back to sleep.

Side note - if you want to feed your baby to sleep and that’s working for you…you do you, mama! I just know a lot of mamas want to break that association, and help their babies self-settle without intervention. It’s also important to note that self-setting simply just means your baby wakes up, and goes back to sleep on their own with minimal crying. It does not mean to let your baby cry themselves to sleep. You can definitely still intervene and help them get to a calm state! Do whatever works best for your family, but just know at this 4 month stage your baby will need help to go back to sleep at some capacity. It can also be achieved with introducing child controlled sleep associations, lots of consistency and practice.

What are the signs of the 4 month sleep regression?

The biggest sign you will see is that their sleep habits will drastically change. They have gone from sleeping well and cycling through sleep cycles with no issues, to struggling with settling for naps and bedtime. Other signs may include:

  • Increase in night wakings

  • More fussy and unsettled during the day and night hours

  • Nap refusal or short cat naps

  • Overtired

How long does the sleep regression last?

This is the million dollar question, and you may be disappointed to know that there isn’t a hard and fast timeline in regards to when the 4 month sleep regression will end. Due to the fact that the 4 month sleep regression is a permanent change in how your baby sleeps, you won’t see the 4 month sleep regression leave until your baby has learnt to self-soothe (self-settle). Remember, this simply means your baby falls asleep without your help. It is something that is achievable with some patience, consistency, and a whole lot of practice! You need to check out your baby’s sleep environment and external factors and make sure it is optimal for sleep. These include wake times, nap and bedtime routine, and predictable schedules.

To help navigate the 4 month sleep regression, you want to pull the tips and tricks you have learnt from your Newborn Sleep Plan and continue to implement them. The skill of self-settling isn’t one that just develops in one day, it is a process and takes time just like learning how to roll, crawl, or walk. It takes consistency and coaching to give them the chance to learn to do it on their own. That’s why it’s so important to take a pause, instead of going into them as soon as you hear their first grunt or movement. You are giving them the confidence and chance to work on this crucial skill.

What can you do to help the 4 month sleep regression not last as long?

  • Encourage healthy sleep habits (check out my free guide on 5 Tips To Help your Baby Sleep Through the Night)

  • Hello wake times! *psst grab my free Master Sleep Chart that gives all the sleep averages by age* Babies who are under or overtired struggle learning to self-settle.

  • Be aware of sleep associations. If a baby has learnt to be rocked, fed, or patted to sleep every time they have woken, then you may find yourself doing this every time they wake, aka every 35-45 minutes during the day and every 2 hours over night.

“Sleep associations” are cues that your baby has used to help learn to go to sleep. At the 4 month sleep regression mark, your baby is way more aware of sleep. This is how sleep associations sometimes become problematic, as they become something your baby needs to be able to achieve sleep and stay asleep. None of them are “bad”, nor have you created a “bad habit” or are a “bad mother” for feeding your baby to sleep. I hear it all the time on Discovery Calls. Some sleep associations can be replaced with a different sleep association to help take you, the parent, out of the equation and put your child in control of their sleep. Parent related sleep associations can include rocking, patting, feeding, shushing, bouncing, replacing the pacifier when it falls out. Child related sleep associations include, a lovey (at 12 months of age), a sleep sack, white noise machine (50dB), thumb/finger sucking.

These are great to use to simply cue that sleep is coming, and they are easily accessible for your baby to assist themselves to fall asleep. If they use these, they are able to move through sleep cycles on their own without you needing to intervene every 30-45 minutes… this will then lead to everyone getting more sleep during the night, and a happy well rested baby (and caregivers)!

How do you deal with the 4 month sleep regression?

  • Recognize what is causing the frequent wakings. Is there a sleep association that is needed for them to fall back to sleep? Are you able to replace that sleep association with a child controlled association to help them transition and self-soothe?

  • Take a pause before intervening. Give your baby the chance to fall back to sleep after they have woken up from a sleep cycle. Some babies may cry out or make noise when they are sleeping, and by intervening right when you hear the first peep you may actually wake them completely up from their slumber.

  • Check the environment. Remember you want your baby’s room “Cave-like”. Cool, dark and quiet. Keep then temperature around 19-21 degrees Celsius, black out those blinds making sure there is no light whatsoever leaking into the room from around the curtains, or from monitors or white noise machines. Check the level of your white noise machine, is it at 50dB, continuous and boring?

  • Stick to your routine! I know you have worked hard creating a soothing routine for your baby, so continue to implement it. The more consistent you are, the better it will be to navigate this regression (or any of the regressions). You’ve got this!

  • Implement healthy sleep habits before the regression hits. If you have a baby 0-12 weeks check out my Newborn Sleep Plan and Newborn Sleep Class that will give you the tools and confidence to start establishing healthy sleep habits from the beginning.

In close

At around 4 months of age (for some as early as 3 months, or as late as the 5th month), your baby may face the dreaded “4 month sleep regression”.

Although sleep is seemingly in a “regression”, the brain changes that happen at 4 months are actually permanent changes. At this point in their development, babies develop more defined sleep stages and cycles, thus sleeping more like an adult than a newborn - which means frequent night waking and short naps.

For the first time, they’ve suddenly had to put themselves to sleep during nap and bedtime, and then again when they wake up during the night. It’s not until this age that a baby is just “learning to sleep”. This can result in a sudden and obvious regression of sleep. Since prior to this a baby was likely able to sleep just about anywhere at anytime in the newborn stage.

Of course, this results in a lot of over tiredness and fussiness (and not just for baby!) Following a schedule and implementing healthy sleep habits early on will definitely help you navigate this regression. Know that this development phase is normal and not something you can avoid. It’s a good thing happening to your baby and it will get better!

That’s it! You’ve got this!

Sleep is coming!

If you want support and to take the guesswork out of when your baby actually needs to sleep, message me and we can create a personalized plan for your family. You can schedule a 15 minute free Discovery Call to find out more about how I can help your family nurture healthy sleep don’t hesitate to reach out:

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