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4-Month Sleep Regression | What? Why? and Expert Advice
It’s 4:00 a.m. You are awake for the third time tonight. You are now certain that your baby is going through what you’ve read about and have been dreading—the 4-month sleep regression. For the past week, your once-sleepy baby has been wide awake at bedtime, up several times during the night, and taking shorter naps during the day. You are exhausted. Don’t despair, there is some good news: it is common and temporary! However, knowing this doesn’t make waking up several times during the night easier. So, let’s look at the 4-month sleep regression, signs, expert tips, and practical suggestions that could give you back those precious dreamland moments you deserve and probably desperately need at this stage.
What is the 4-month sleep regression?
The 4-month sleep regression is a sleep phase most babies go through, characterized by less sleep and more night wakings. It typically begins around 4 months of age and lasts 2 to 6 weeks. Not all babies go through a sleep recession at this particular age, however. Hazumi et al. (2021) state that 47% to 81% of 4-month-olds sleep throughout the night without waking up. Babies go through sleep disturbances throughout their development, and regressions probably occur for all babies at some stage. One mom in this article thread mentions that her children didn’t go through a 4-month sleep regression and shares an inspiring quote: “Adjust, don’t obsess.” Another mom in the thread mentions that sleep regression is normal and natural.
Why does it happen?
Some experts believe that the 4-month sleep regression is caused by your baby’s increasing brain activity and development. As your baby’s brain matures, they become more aware of their surroundings—new and different sounds, visuals, and textures—and consequently are less able to self-soothe and fall back asleep. They are also learning to flip over, and they might feel nighttime is the perfect practice time to master this newly acquired skill.
Other experts believe that the 4-month sleep regression is caused by your baby’s increasing need for calories. Around 4 months old, babies typically start to sleep for longer stretches at night and take shorter naps during the day. This increase in night sleep and decrease in daytime sleep can lead to hunger and a need for more calories, resulting in more night wakings.
Whatever the reason for your baby waking up during the night, it is important to ensure they are not sick by checking their temperature, how much they are eating, and the state of their general mood if they wake up.
Signs of the 4-month sleep regression:
The 4-month sleep regression is characterized by less sleep and more night wakings. Your baby may also:
- Wake up more frequently some nights than others. It might help to keep a “sleep journal” where you record when your baby wakes up to see if these occurrences are increasing or staying the same throughout this possible sleep regression.
- Have trouble falling asleep at bedtime. We will discuss the importance of a bedtime routine, but if you keep a sleep journal, you can always indicate when your baby is falling asleep in there too.
- Wake up earlier in the morning. Babies frequently wake up early but look for signs that are out of the ordinary for your baby’s sleep routine. Is your baby suddenly waking up an hour or two earlier than usual? This is also something you can note in your sleep journal.
- Take shorter naps during the day. Although this is a goal to work toward, with a sleep recession we see babies decreasing their nap times and also frequently waking up in the middle of the night. It is common for babies to sleep less during the day and night during changes in their sleep schedule, but during the 4-month (and other) sleep regressions, it will be more of a sudden change.
- Seem cranky or fussy. Look for sudden changes in mood or characteristics—for example, they used to play peekaboo games and now might be crying if they are not expecting what is coming next. They might look exhausted or sleepy and cry more frequently.
Expert tips for surviving this regression:
If your baby is going through the 4-month sleep regression, there are a few things you can do to help them (and you) get through it:
Stick to a bedtime routine
A bedtime routine can help signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep. This is probably the most critical advice for any parent of a child of any age. Children flourish with routines, and if we keep bedtime consistent from night to night, have a set routine, and are adamant about sticking to it, we are ensuring healthy habits for our babies and the entire family. Remember to check the bedtimes by age charts. Click here to read about a chart explaining to parents when to put their babies to sleep compared to waking up times that made the rounds on social media due to the many differing opinions about how much sleep is required (and what we are managing as parents).
Bedtime stories, meditation, sleep music, and much more
If you are looking for an ideal bedtime routine, why not try the #1 kid sleep and mindfulness app in 60+ countries? Moshi can assist you, your baby, and your entire family in getting the rest you need. If it’s soothing bedtime stories for kids you are looking for, have a listen here. Want to meditate as a family? Click here. If you want your baby to drift into dreamland with calming sleep music, click here.
Feeding and pacifiers
This is a controversial suggestion as we don’t want to reinforce our baby’s behavior of waking up throughout the night. Experts believe that you should wait and not attend to your baby immediately if they start to cry or fuss during the night, although opinions differ as to how long to wait. If their crying doesn’t stop by itself, you can offer a feeding. The trick here (after waiting at least a few minutes to ensure it is indeed a cry that needs attending) is to keep the lights dimmed and not make sounds or play with your baby. Dragging the feeding out or providing prolonged care and attention might motivate your baby to repeat this routine of waking you up throughout the night. And that, as we all know, is how unhealthy habits could start.
Put your baby down drowsy but awake
Practice putting your baby down when they’re clearly sleepy, but still awake. If you notice your baby is showing signs of being tired, like rubbing their eyes, becoming a little fussy, and yawning, get them into their bed in a quiet and dark room and start the bedtime routine. This will help them learn to fall asleep on their own.
The 4-month sleep regression is temporary. It will eventually end, and your baby will sleep through the night again. There may be more sleep regressions, but they will also pass. According to this article, it is common for babies to go through a sleep regression at 2-month intervals between the ages of 4 and 12 months. According to Bruni et al. (2014), sleep patterns show stability from the age of 6 months if appropriate prevention efforts are instilled during the 3- to 6-month period.
Hold on to the temporary nature of these regressions, which will become a faint memory when your baby grows into a teenager who seems only to want to sleep!
Here are some takeaways for parents with babies undergoing the 4-month sleep regression:
Bedtimes by age
Make sure you’re following the recommended bedtimes for your baby’s age. For example, babies under 4 months should sleep 14 to 15 hours daily, including naps. Although one single bedtime-by-age chart could not possibly be adhered to by all families, it can indicate the number of sleeping hours we should aim for.
Bedtime stories for kids
Reading bedtime stories is a great way to bond with your baby and help them wind down for the night. It also provides a time for your baby and you to be present, mindful, and appreciative of the smaller moments.
If you’re looking for bedtime stories specifically designed for kids, Moshi could be your saving grace. Moshi offers a wide selection of bedtime stories that are perfect for little ones. I recommend Moshi for all parents but have found it works exceptionally well for parents going through transitions with their children. Whether this is a sleep regression, a move to a new house, or going to kindergarten for the first time, having a constant as part of the bedtime routine is always a good idea.
Routines and consistency
Once you have created a routine that works for your family, remind yourself about the importance of the consistency of sticking with it. We all know the benefits of sticking with those routines until they become healthy habits.
It is also important to give yourself a break during these sleep regressions. Ask for help if it has a negative effect on your or your partner’s mental well-being. Hazumi et al. (2021) discuss the importance of parents taking care of these regressions so it doesn’t affect their child’s physical or mental well-being. Take care of yourself first so that you can take care of another, your precious baby. Dr. Seuss once said, “Sleep is like the unicorn—it is rumored to exist, but I doubt I will see any.” Find your unicorn and help Dr. Seuss out!
Bruni, O., Baumgartner, E., Sette, S., Ancona, M., Caso, G., Di Cosimo, M. E., Mannini, A., Ometto, M., Pasquini, A., Ulliana, A., & Ferri, R. (2014). Longitudinal study of sleep behavior in normal infants during the first year of life. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 10, 1119–1127.
Hazumi, M., Nakajima, S., & Adachi, Y. (2021). Is 4-month-old infants’ night waking affected by mothers’ responses to them? A cross-sectional survey in Japan. Nursing Open, 8(2), 882–889.