Just when you thought you had the bedtime routine down, your baby is fussy and wakeful again.
Not to worry; after helping hundreds of new parents navigate the dreaded 4-month sleep regression, friend of Nested Bean and Certified Sleep Consultant Rachel Turner has 10 tips you need to get things back on track.
Meet our expert
Certified Sleep Sense™ Consultant, Owner, Hello Sleep
In This Article
What is the 4-month sleep regression?
A 4 month sleep regression is a period of time when your baby suddenly wakes frequently during the night and fights/refuses to sleep when previously they had been sleeping well in good sleep patterns.
How long does the 4-month-old sleep regression last?
The 4-month sleep regression usually lasts anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. It takes time for your baby to adjust to this new sleep cycle, which is what’s causing them to wake up more frequently.
If a sleep regression has lasted for longer than 6 weeks, or if your baby is also not gaining weight, growing, wanting to eat, or urinating and/or defecating an unusual amount, you should contact your pediatrician.
Usually, this transition is coupled with additional milestones. Around the same age, your baby might be in the beginning stages of learning to roll over. They’re also absorbing more language, recognizing faces, and just becoming more active and alert in general.
Be Consistent- Have the same routine for bedtime and naps, regardless if mom or dad is putting the child to bed. The routine should be the same every night to remain consistent. - Rachel Turner
While exciting, these milestones can get distracting come bedtime. Make sure you’re engaging baby during the day and giving them time to develop any new skills, so they’ll be less likely to try practicing in their crib at night.
It's important to remember when your baby is going through a sleep regression that it won't last forever, and doesn't mean that your sleep routines have been completely forgotten.
What’s happening at 4 month sleep regression?
At 4 months, even good sleepers suddenly experience a 2-3 week sleep regression, when they won’t fall asleep and wake frequently at night, and sleep through the night seems a long way off.
The good news is that it’s not actually a regression at all—it’s more like a progression: a sign your baby’s sleep cycle is maturing. She’ll be on this new cycle for the rest of her life and into toddler sleep.
At 4-months, your baby is learning to roll over, they are absorbing language, recognizing faces, becoming more active—all amazing milestones that can (unfortunately) contribute to the 4 month sleep regression. Helping your baby sleep well again with healthy sleep habits can be a challenge.
Is it normal?
Very normal—although it can be trying for mom and dad as you might already know! However, because not all babies are alike, it won't always manifest in the same way, or even at the same time for each one(the '4 month' sleep regression can actually happen a few weeks before or after the 4 month milestone).
While one person's baby might be waking up during naptime, another might be tricky to put to sleep at night - and for an unfortunate few, baby might not want to sleep at all!
What causes it?
As a newborn, your baby only experienced two sleep cycles a night. But at 4 months old, they begin cycling through 4 stages of sleep patterns just like adults.
Suddenly, she’ll spend more time in a lighter, non-REM sleep stage, causing more frequent wake-ups. While trying for mom and dad, the 4-month sleep regression is very normal.
Help your little one adjust with sensible sleep training to improve sleep patterns - segue into “what to do: how parents can help.”
What to Do: How parents can help
1. Slowly break sleep associations
Learning to sleep independently can be hard for babies—and a negative sleep association can make sleep regression even more challenging. Many newborns have sleep problems caused by a sleep association, but with sensible sleep training, independent sleep can be achieved.
How to do it
Cut back gradually. If your baby is still used to being nursed to sleep, try moving the last feed of the night back by a few minutes each night. Get more tips on sleep associations from an expert.
2. Use lightly weighted sleepwear
During the 4-month sleep regression, a little extra comfort can go a long way to help sleep problems. A lightly weighted swaddle (if baby isn’t rolling over yet) or sleeping bag will help keep her calm and cozy while falling asleep.
How to do it
Start with some extra cuddles as part of your bedtime routine, then dress baby in gently weighted Zen Sleepwear™ to help them self-soothe through the night.
3. Feed as much as needed
The 4 month sleep regression often coincides with a growth spurt that will make the baby extra hungry. When feeding your baby it is not uncommon for babies to experience an increase in appetite during the time.
How to do it
Don’t be afraid to give them what they ask for. When you feed your baby an extra-long feed or a dream feed before you head to bed might help your baby sleep a little longer.
4. Black out the nursery
Newborns aren’t afraid of the dark, but they do respond to light; it tells their brains that it’s time for activity. So at bedtime, the darker the better—especially during a sleep regression.
How to do it:
Keep the nursery dark by putting black-out curtains on any windows letting natural light in and avoid turning on the lights for any middle of the night feeds or diaper changes - this will reinforce healthy sleep habits and help baby get back to sleep.
It's sometimes hard for parents to get their baby to fall asleep. Getting baby in the crib before they’re totally asleep helps teach them how to fall asleep independently—it’s also going to help you break those sleep associations.
5. Put baby down drowsy, but awake
How to do it
Once you get baby calm and they appear drowsy and ready for baby sleep, put them in the crib or bassinet right then instead of waiting until they are fully asleep. This can also help with sleep training.
6. Keep it quiet
Any extra noise is going to distract baby from sleep and achieving baby sleep, especially now that they’re spending more time in light sleep stages.
How to do it
Get a white noise machine for the nursery to block out any potential disturbances and read up on your baby's sleep cycle.
7. Stick to your routine
The 4-month sleep regression might make it difficult to stay on your normal schedule but skimping on your routine will make it that much harder to get to it once the regression is over. The goal is to get baby to fall asleep and achieve sleeping through the night.
How to do it
Consistency is key for healthy sleep habits and battling a sleep regression. The timing may change, but keep your sleep routine activities the same. Don’t have a routine yet? Now’s a great time to start one.
8. Adjust baby’s bedtime
To compensate for shorter naps during the day, try moving bedtime ahead. Not getting enough will make your baby overtired, only adding to the fussiness of the 4 month sleep regression.
How to do it:
Depending on their daytime sleep schedule, move bedtime up by an hour or more so they can get some extra Zzz’s. This might require dropping their last nap of the day.
9. Give them time to practice
The 4 month sleep regression usually coincides with babies learning to roll over. Your baby is trying to master this new skill and might think bedtime means practice time instead of baby sleep time.
How to do it
Incorporate plenty of tummy time into playtimes during the day so your baby won’t be distracted when you’re trying to get them to fall asleep or go back to sleep.
10. Don’t do it alone
The 4 month sleep regression, while only temporary, can be utterly exhausting. Be sure to take care of yourself: your own overtiredness can actually rub off on your baby.
How to do it:
If your partner, family, or friends want to help, let them. Switch off with a partner on night shifts or have a friend over during the day to squeeze in a nap for yourself.
3 things to know about sleep regression[Infographic]
4-month sleep regression Survival Guide
Get through the sleep regression with this pre-sleep checklist, helpful mom hacks, and a wakeup-tracker.
New mom sleep hacks
“I wish I would have found and tried the Zen Sack sooner! I decided to try it after dealing with sleep regression for the last few weeks. The first night I put this on my 4 month old son was an immediate improvement. He started sleeping through the night again! It's safe to say I love this product."
- Amazon Customer, 11/18/2016
Sleep needs for 4 month olds
At 4 months old, your baby will need around 14-16 hours of sleep per day. This could be split across 3 naps that are 3 hours long each and one longer nighttime sleep of 6 hours, for example.
But what matters here is the total, not necessarily when your baby has their sleep. Not all babies want to sleep at the same time, and working parents might struggle to put their baby down for a nap for the same amount of time as an online guide written for a totally different family. All that matters is that your baby - and yourself - are getting the amount of sleep they need to be happy and healthy.
Sleep regression survival tips
Here are a few quick tips for surviving this tricky period of sleepless nights:
- Have tummy time and playtime with baby during the day to keep them stimulated and prevent any pent up energy from being carried over to nighttime or naptime sleep
- Talk to other parents who have been through this period for advice and for a shoulder to lean (or nap!) on
- Try our Zen Sack, which is gently weighted to mimic your touch and to help your little one fall asleep again, even during the 4 month sleep regression
Takeaway: surviving the 4 month sleep regression
We know how tough a sleep regression can be at any age, and because the 4 month sleep regression is many parents' first experience with sleep regressions, it can feel even more overwhelming. If you follow the tips listed above and make sure to take care of yourself too, you'll find that this period becomes much more manageable and that your baby will be sleeping soundly again in no time.
Common questions from tired parents
Can I prevent the 4-month sleep regression?Because the 4-month sleep regression is due to inevitable changes in your baby’s sleep cycle and development, there’s really no way to avoid it altogether. However, you can prepare for it by working on breaking sleep associations ahead of time.
I find that the other major contributor to this 4-month fiasco is that up until this point parents have either been putting their baby to sleep with a pacifier, by rocking them, by breastfeeding them to sleep or some similar technique where the baby is helped along on the road to falling asleep. These sleep associations can be very sneaky indeed because although they may be helpful in getting your little one to that initial nodding off stage, the lack of them when baby wakes up means that she’s not able to get back to sleep again without some outside help. When this starts happening every half an hour, parents can find themselves in a nightmare.
To make the sleep regression easier on you and your baby, make a point of breaking these sleep associations before the 4-month mark, you will improve the baby sleep habits. Instead of using a sleep aid or creating a sleep association, focus on creating a soothing bedtime routine and getting into a schedule to prepare you for the inevitable sleep regression.
Does every baby go through the 4-month sleep regression?While the 4-month sleep regression is most common, not all babies experience it. You may luck out and have no trouble at the 4-month age mark. However, sleep regressions also commonly occur at 8 months, 10 months, 12 months, and 18 months. Your baby might experience all sleep regressions or none of them!
What causes the 4-month sleep regression?
To fully understand what’s happening to your baby during the 4-month regression, you must first learn a little about sleep in general. There are more stages to sleep than simply “awake” and “asleep.” These different stages make up your sleep cycle, which we go through several times a night.
Stages of Sleep
The initial stage we're all familiar with where you can feel yourself drifting off, but don't really feel like you've fallen asleep...like when your husband is falling asleep on the couch and you nudge him and he says, "I'M NOT SLEEPING!"
Considered the first "true sleep" stage. This is where people tend to realize, once woken up, that they actually were sleeping.
The deep and regenerative stage. Also known as "slow wave" sleep, this is where the body starts repairing and rejuvenating the immune system, muscle tissues, energy stores, and sparks growth and development.
REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is where the brain starts to kick in and consolidates information and memories from the day before. It's also the stage where we do most of our dreaming.
Adults cycle through the four stages and either wake-up or come close to waking up. Think about how you’ll barely wake in the middle of the night and shift positions or open your eyes for a split second before falling right back to sleep. Newborns, however, only experience two of the four stages of sleep: stage 3 and stage 4 (or REM) and spend about half of their time asleep in each stage.
As a newborn, you were most likely able to rock or nurse your baby to sleep and put her down without her waking. This is because she jumps right into that deep sleep stage. Around 4 months old, your baby will start cycling through all 4 stages of sleep, instead of just two.
When this change takes place, our little one moves from 50% REM sleep to 25% in order to make room for those first two stages. Although REM sleep is light, it's deeper than these 2 new stages that they're getting used to. With more time spent in lighter sleep, there's more of a chance that baby's going to wake up. This adjustment period is the primary cause of the 4-month sleep regression.
Other developmental milestones, like learning to roll over, can also contribute to the 4-month sleep regression.
If you'd like to learn more about sleep cycles, check out our article Your Baby's Sleep Cycle.
Can the 4-month sleep regression happen before or after 4 months old?The 4-month sleep regression could begin as early as 3-months-old or as late as 5-months-old. It’s more about when your baby’s sleep cycle starts changing—for most, it’s right around the 4-month mark, but it could be a little earlier or a little later. Every baby is different!
How much should a 4-month-old sleep?
At 4-months-old, your baby needs about 12 to 15 hours of sleep for every 24-hour period.
Typically, 4 to 6-month-old babies will get 6-8 hours of their sleep during the night, with 1 to 2 awakenings in between to feed. From 4 to 6 months old, your baby will start staying awake longer in between sleeps and you’ll notice more distinct sleeping patterns emerge. A sleep schedule might start to take shape. Now you’ll be able to get them on a more consistent nap schedule and can start to expect a bit more sleep at night.
Does swaddling help with the 4-month-old sleep regression?
Yes, swaddling can help babies calm and sleep better during the 4-month sleep regression. However, some babies might also be learning to roll over around the same time, which makes swaddling unsafe. Before trying to swaddle to combat the 4-month sleep regression, check for the 6 signs it might be time to stop swaddling.
If your baby is in the clear, consider using the Zen One™ swaddle. It’s gently weighted on the chest and sides to provide extra soothing comfort, plus the breathable mesh sleeves are removable. So once baby does start showing signs of rolling over, they can still wear the Zen One with their arms free.
If your baby is in the clear, consider using the Zen One™ swaddle. It’s gently weighted on the chest and sides to provide extra soothing comfort, plus the breathable mesh sleeves are removable. So once baby does start showing signs of rolling over, they can still wear the Zen One with their arms free. If swaddling is no longer safe, the Zen Sack™ can give similar comfort during the sleep regression thanks to the gently weighted Cuddle Pad™ on the chest
How is the 4-month sleep regression different than other sleep regressions?The sleep regression is the most common of all the sleep regressions and is most directly linked to a permanent change in your baby’s sleep cycle. Although a regression is defined as 'reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level,' this one’s actually a ‘progression.’. Once you're through the 4-month sleep regression, your baby will have officially moved into the sleep cycle that they'll essentially follow for the rest of their life!
Can Zen Sleepwear™ help with the 4-month sleep regression?
Gently weighted Zen Sleepwear can offer extra comfort during an extra fussy time, like the 4-month sleep regression. Many parents have said that using Zen Sleepwear helped their baby get through the 4-month sleep regression more easily. Parents who introduce Zen Sleepwear during a sleep regression also see improvements in sleep.
If your baby is used to and likes to be swaddled, the Zen Swaddle® or Zen One™ are great options, especially if baby is still experiencing Moro reflex. For babies who have already started learning how to roll over, the Zen Sack™ still offers the comforting gentle pressure but gives baby a little more freedom.
What else should I expect at the 4-month mark?
The 4-month-old mark officially ends the newborn stage – bittersweet, right? Your baby is growing, becoming more curious, and settling into routines. For the first 3 months of your baby’s life, they spent more time asleep than awake, but now you’re noticing she’s staying awake a bit longer between naps, learning to grasp and maybe even in the beginning stages of learning to roll over. Learn more about baby sleep from 4 to 6 months.
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