The dreaded 4-month sleep regression is the time when your baby’s sleep patterns shift and they wake up often during the night and refuse to go back to sleep. And if your baby is awake, so are you. As a new parent, these lapses in sleep can be very taxing.
Although wearisome, sleep regressions are temporary and completely normal. They often coincide with developmental milestones, like a growth spurt or brain development. Your baby’s brain is constantly evolving as it adapts to its new environment and begins to learn new skills. At this time, your baby might be hard at work mastering how to roll over or sit up. This time of learning can be a bit stressful and frustrating for your new baby, and their sleep patterns might reflect that.
The first sleep regression occurs when your baby is about 4 months old, and others might occur in the future. Since it’s the first, the 4-month sleep regression is often the hardest for parents. Sleep regressions typically last anywhere from two to four weeks. Sleep regressions are common but not every baby will have a sleep regression at this time.
What Are the Signs?
If your baby was previously sleeping well throughout the night and then all of a sudden, they are not, it might be a sleep regression. The main sign is a sudden worsening in sleep patterns around 4 months of age. Other signs of a sleep regression include:
- multiple night wakings
- less napping
- changes in appetite
The good news is that your baby is growing and learning new things. They are now becoming more engaged with the environment around them.
Managing the 4-Month Sleep Regression
Remember that sleep regressions are temporary. Try to keep it in perspective and recognize that your baby is frustrated with their fast growing body and mind. Your baby is now more engaged and aware of their surroundings, including you. The baby can sense your presence and know whether or not you’re around. Take it as an opportunity to teach your baby healthy sleep habits.
First things first, make sure your baby isn’t sick. An illness can disrupt their sleep. See your doctor if your baby has a high fever or is much fussier than normal.
Give Your Baby Time to Practice During the Day
Your baby is working hard to master its newfound skills and might try to practice at night, keeping them up. Make sure to give your child uninterrupted time during the day to practice rolling over or sitting up.
Fully Feed Your Baby During the Day
At this age, they are incredibly curious about the world around them and might shift their attention away from a feeding before they are full. Make sure to feed your baby in an environment where there are no distractions. Full feedings during the day and just before bed can help prevent your baby from getting hungry in the middle of the night.
Once your baby has begun sleeping through the night, if they do begin to cry in the night, resist feeding them. If your baby is always fed to make them stop crying at night, they may come to expect this response every time they wake up.
Keep the Room Dark
When you put baby down for a nap, keep the room as dark as possible to encourage better sleep. If your baby wakes up too soon, the darkness will help encourage them to fall back asleep.
Likewise, in the morning when it’s time to get up, make sure the room is full of natural sunlight. Light helps signal the brain about the sleep-wake cycle.
Establish a Routine
At this age, babies need roughly 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night and a couple naps during the day. Now is the time to start regulating your baby’s sleep patterns and naps. Put them down in the crib for naps and at night while they are awake but drowsy. Your baby needs to learn to fall asleep on their own.
If you haven’t done so already, establish a bedtime routine and stick to it. This can include a bath, changing clothes, reading a bedtime story, or singing a lullaby. You can do whatever you’d like, as long as you are consistent with the approach. Also, it’s okay to wake your baby in the morning if they are sleeping longer than usual, as long as it’s at the same time each day.
Adjust Your Own Routine
Adjust your own daily routine to fit in with your baby’s nap and sleep schedule. Meal times and play times should also happen on a consistent schedule. Factor in your baby’s schedule when you plan your day.
Make It Quick
If you hear your baby wake up at night, wait a few minutes before you get up to see them. If they continue to cry, it’s time to respond.
However, these nighttime awakenings for changing and feedings should be as quick and quiet as possible. Don't talk, play, or turn on the lights. Don’t turn on your mobile device or computer either, as the light from the device might stimulate your baby. You need to encourage the idea that nighttime is for sleeping.
Tips to manage 4-month sleep regression
While sleep regression at 4 months is normal and healthy, it still can be challenging for baby and parent. After all, everything you knew about your baby's sleeping patterns has been thrown out the window. But there are ways you can manage the changes.
Here are some tips:
- Stick with the program. Your child is going through a lot of changes that may feel uncomfortable. In the short term, continue using your same soothing practices as your little one adjusts. This could mean nursing to sleep or rocking them to slumber. While you'll have to wean them off of these sleep patterns later on, they will bring comfort to your baby right now. Some other soothing technique are the “5 Ss”, which include swaddling, side or stomach positioning, shushing, swinging, and sucking. These are great for babies under 4 months, but some of these techniques will be very helpful even now!
- Go with the flow. Your baby may catch their Zzz's anywhere during the day: the swing, the car, the stroller, or bassinet. But what helps them today may not work tomorrow, so be prepared to try different things to soothe your newborn.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Your baby will love a nice, relaxing bedtime routine. Read their favorite book, sing them a lullaby, give them a soothing bath, and then lay them down in bed. You can create a shorter version of this routine for naptime.
- Pay attention to sleep cues and act quickly. Yawning, rubbing their eyes, fussing, and disinterest … these are all classic signs of a sleepy baby. Respond to these signs quickly by getting them to a quiet environment to nap or sleep in, otherwise you'll have an overtired baby who will be too hard to put to sleep. And that means you won't sleep easy.
- Introduce "drowsy but awake." Help your baby soothe him or herself to sleep. Sit by their side and offer reassurance, both physical and verbal, as they close their eyes and drift off to dreamland. But if your coaching is not helping, and they're crying for more than 15 minutes, pick them up and hold them or rock them to sleep. It's OK if your baby isn’t ready to learn how to put themself to sleep yet, as it takes time.
- Offer extra love and affection. Lots of hugs, cuddles, and kisses will comfort your baby and make them feel loved. It will also mean a lot to them as they grow and develop.
- Keep an eye out for growing pains. Your baby may also be going through a growth spurt at this time, so watch out for signs like rolling over, learning to sit up, and sprouting a couple of inches. They'll need more sleep than ever as they grow.
- Turn to family and friends. As much as your baby needs sleep, you do, too. Don't be afraid to turn to your loved ones to watch and play with your little one while you take an hour (or two or three!) to sleep.
A sleep regression won’t last forever. You can do the best you can, but it still might not make your baby sleep through the night. Try to get as much sleep as possible during this time and be as consistent as possible with your baby.
It’ll all pay off in the end. Of course, seek advice from a doctor if you have any concerns.