4 Month Sleep Regression: 8 Tips to Survive
Baby has hit the 4 month mark…congrats! Your baby is past the newborn “4th trimester” and is moving into a whole new stage of development. This is an exciting time! Baby is awake more and has a more defined nap schedule. They are learning and practicing all kinds of new things- from trying to roll over to grabbing toys to really taking in language and faces.
During this time, babies are also developing a more adult sleep pattern. They will spend more time in a lighter non-REM sleep, which means they will wake more frequently and easily as they go through their new sleep cycle.
As baby starts to transition to their more mature sleep pattern, we enter the infamous “4 Month Sleep Regression”. This period tends to last anywhere from a few days up to six weeks. It’s marked by baby waking up more frequently and refusing to go back to sleep, where previously, they were sleeping well for naps and night time. There will be a handful of these “sleep regressions” over time, but the 4 month sleep regression seems to be the most difficult one for most parents.
As adults, we are used to cycling through the 4 stages of sleep. We sometimes have our moments of briefly opening our eyes between sleep cycles at night and generally fall right back to sleep. We might shift positions during this time, but we all do it whether we remember or not. It is normal sleep behavior. However, this part of the sleep cycle is new for the baby and they are awakened easily. They are not used to it and will look for a way to get back to sleep. If they are used to being fed or rocked at sleep times, they will look for that to help get them back into their sleep cycle. Some babies awaken and since they are already in a big developmental stage, may start working on those new motor skills at 2 AM and find it hard to get back to sleep.
The good news is that baby is right on target when they hit the 4 month sleep regression. The bad news is this can be a difficult time for baby as well as parents. Like all phases, this too will pass. Here are eight tips to help you with the transition and hopefully get things back on track sooner rather than later.
You hear this frequently. Routines in general are important for infants and children. Let’s face it, as adults we do like our routines too. It’s comforting to have some predictability in a life that can have many unpredictable events!
If you haven’t started a bedtime routine, now is the time to begin. Whatever you decide you want to incorporate, it would be best to keep it under an hour. Many parents do a bath, bottle/breastfeed, a book and/or maybe a song or two. Whatever you choose to do, just keep it quiet and relaxing to start signaling to baby that it’s time to settle for sleep.
Consistent Sleep Space:
Another thing to keep in mind is where you put baby to sleep for naps or night time sleep. Where you decide they will nap or sleep for the night, is where you should put them down initially. Since their sleep cycle is shifting, you will find they do not sleep as deeply for as long as the newborn phase. Transitioning baby from one place to another will not go as smoothly and you may find they wake up more easily. The last thing you want to do is wake up baby before they get a good sleep.
As baby works on new skills and is sleeping less during the day as in previous months, you will find that bedtime needs to happen earlier than previous months as well. Less day time sleep + more developmental growth = a need for more sleep at night. If baby goes to sleep later than they need, they become over stimulated. Over stimulated babies have a difficult time falling and staying asleep. The 4th month is the time to start implementing an earlier bedtime if one hasn’t already been implemented. Generally, bed time will be closer to 6:30-7:30p at this age. At 4 months, babies need an average of 15 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.
In an effort to bump down a bedtime it is recommended to move it down in 15 minutes increments over a period of a few days, until you reach a point where it works best for baby.
As baby’s sleep cycles change and the circadian rhythm becomes stronger, baby will become more and more sensitive to light as adults do. Having blackout shades in baby’s room for naps and night time will be very helpful to signal to their body that it is sleep time. Since bedtime becomes earlier, the black out shades making the room very dark will help tremendously with bedtime- especially in the summer months when the sun isn’t setting until much later.
Baby will also have lighter sleep that will be disturbed by noises that previously didn’t seem to bother them. Having a white noise machine can help drown out outside noises by providing a constant background sound which can promote sleep. Use during naps and night sleep will allow baby to have an environment that promotes sound sleep while allowing you and your family to carry on with your activities.
As previously discussed, the fourth month is a big month for baby. Not only are their sleep cycles maturing but they are also working on developmental milestones. They will be trying to roll over. Reaching for, and playing more with toys, focusing more on language, and staying awake more through out the day. New skills and more awake time will produce a hungrier baby. If baby would like to eat more frequently and more during the day, it is encouraged to feed them more. If you don’t feed baby enough during the day, you will find that baby will wake up more frequently at night to get those extra calories.
A good rule of thumb is baby (4- 6 months of age) gets 2.0 oz* for every pound they weigh in a 24 hour period. So a 15 lb baby x 2.0 = 30 ounces on average. (Average means that baby could take a more or less.) Making sure baby gets the bulk of those calories during the day will help alleviate the need to eat larger/more frequently at night. A hungry baby who is awake more frequently combined with the four month sleep regression is a recipe for disaster!
Break Habits/Sleep Crutches:
If you have been rocking/feeding baby to sleep or using pacifiers, this is the time to break those habits (if you desire). Sleep associations/crutches are things we do or provide for baby to get them to sleep. Around four months, these start to become habits as babies begin to have strong associations. If your goal was to get baby to sleep without sleep associations/crutch now is the time to stop.
Going Down Drowsy But Awake:
You’ve probably heard it said from day one…”put baby down drowsy, but awake”. This truly is the time to work on this. As sleep cycles are changing and development leaps are happening, baby is becoming more able to self regulate and soothe. Around this four month sleep regression is the time when many start sleep training/coaching. This does not mean that you must put baby down and let them cry until they sleep. This is the time that you can put baby down drowsy, but awake and see if they can get to sleep. They may fuss and that’s normal. You may find that they fuss, but are able to calm and fall asleep. This is the time that is recommended to try.
There are many schools of thought on helping baby fall asleep from continuing to rock/feed to sleep to allowing them to cry till they do. Each parent must decide what method works best for them based on their philosophy and goal.
Most babies will have a 4 month sleep regression. While this is a hard time for everyone, it does fade. We hope that these eight tips will help you navigate through the regression and find everyone sleeping better at the end. Should you find yourself in need of more sleep advice or sleep training services, our certified pediatric sleep consultant at Nurtured Foundation is available to help!
*32oz per day is the maximum recommendation. Introduction to solids and other factors will effect that number. Please consult your provider or a registered dietitian for more information.