Some say the fourth month sleep regression is a myth. But I beg to differ. I’m a mom, and I was a doubter until I found myself knee-deep in it with no warning. My daughter went from sleeping 7 hours stretches at night to waking every 2 to 3 hours at around 4 months. The least I can say is that it was brutal and very real.
This article is my attempt to help new moms be prepared for the four month sleep regression by knowing what to expect in terms of babies’ sleep and how to deal with the regression. I will also be sharing 13 tips that helped me (and my husband) survive the four-month sleep regression with our sanity intact.
The Four-Month Sleep Regression: What Science Says
After doing some digging into the scientific literature around the four-month sleep regression, I was surprised to find that the term “four month sleep regression” is not really used anywhere!
But most importantly, I found out that neurologists are only at the beginning of the scientific journey to understand how the brain works during the first two years of life.
There is scientific evidence though for a permanent change in a baby’s sleeping patterns, or more exactly in how their brains work during sleep that happens around the four-month mark (along with other developmental milestones).
Babies go from spending equal amounts of time in REM and NREM sleep stages during the first few months of life to experiencing the same sleep stages that adults experience. These adult sleep stages are NREM1, NREM2, NREM3, and REM. This transition from two to four stages of sleep is really what we label as the four month sleep regression.
Some sleep specialists call these periods “progressions” rather than regressions because they really mean that your baby is going through big developmental changes.
The fact that your baby’s sleep cycles are changing to evolve into mature sleep cycles means that they will begin to go through stages of deep and light sleep so it’s only natural that they will be waking up more often as they are adjusting to this change in their sleep structure.
But this transition does not necessarily happen at four months old. In fact, it can happen anywhere during the first six months or happen gradually. So rather than dreading it, think of it as a natural and exciting progression in your baby’s development!
When Does the Four Month Sleep Regression Happen?
Babies are growing so fast that their needs are really changing constantly, and there are definite developmental changes that happen around four months. But, just because it is called the “four month sleep regression” doesn’t mean it will happen at exactly four months for every baby.
For my daughter, it started at around 17 weeks and lasted a couple of weeks. But I have heard from other moms that their babies went through the regression as early as 12 weeks or as late as 24 weeks. And I know some parents who never experienced the four-month sleep regression.
What I learned from listening to many moms’ experiences is that every baby is different and that there is no set path of development, only guidelines to help us expect when certain things are likely to happen.
So the timeline will depend completely on your baby and the question of when (or whether) your baby will struggle to adjust to the changes happening is up to a million other factors, one big factor being probably just luck!
13 Tips for Surviving the Four-Month Sleep Regression
With the four-month sleep regression, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that this phase won’t last forever. The bad news is that it can be really tough to get through, especially if you’re not prepared for it.
When I talk to new moms, I always try to let them know about these sleep struggles AKA the sleep regressions, so they can be mentally prepared for it before it actually hits and they’re too exhausted and frustrated to deal with it properly.
The most important piece of information in my opinion is that what’s happening during the four-month sleep regression is normal and positive for your baby as they are taking these big developmental leaps.
If your baby is not yet affected by the sleep regression, now might be a good time to discuss sleep plans like establishing a bedtime routine if you haven’t already, and considering whether sleep training is something you want to do, etc.
So, without further ado, here are my 11 tips for surviving the four-month sleep regression:
Tip #1: Keep Your Baby Active During the Day
This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually important to keep your baby active during the day and expose him to lots of sunlight whenever possible. If they sleep too much during the day, they’ll be more likely to wake up at night. Aim for three naps totaling no more than four hours of daytime sleep.
On the other hand, try not to let your baby get overtired during the day. Overtired babies have a harder time falling and staying asleep.
Tip #2: Avoid Stimulation Before Bedtime
This goes hand in hand with keeping your baby awake during the day. You want to avoid any stimulation in the couple hours preceding bedtime, such as screen time, loud noises, or bright lights. This will help your baby wind down and prepare for sleep.
Tip #3: Stick to a Bedtime Routine
A bedtime routine is important at any age, but it can be especially helpful when your baby is going through a sleep regression. Having a set sequence of activities that you do every night before bed will signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down and sleep. These activities may include bathtime, changing into pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a story, cuddling, etc. The most important thing is to do the same sequence of activities every night in order to create positive sleep associations.
Tip #4: Keep a Sleep Log
I know it sounds tedious, but trust me, it will be worth it. Keeping track of when your baby sleeps, eats, and cries will help you identify patterns and figure out what might be causing the sleep regression. This information will also come in handy when you talk to your pediatrician or a sleep consultant. You can either take notes on a dedicated notebook or use an app on your phone to track your baby’s sleep patterns. Just do a quick search on the play store or the app store and you’ll find several free and paying apps to choose from.
Tip #5: Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule, Even on Weekends
I know it’s tempting to let your baby sleep in on the weekends, but resist the urge. The more consistent you can keep your baby’s sleep schedule, the easier it will be for them (and you) to get through the sleep regression. Putting your baby to bed at around the same time every single day is key to establishing good sleeping habits and increasing your baby’s quality of sleep.
Tip #6: Move the Last Feeding at Least 30 Minutes Before Bedtime
If you’re still breastfeeding, the idea is to get your baby to fall asleep without the breast. it may sound insane (I know) but eventually, at the end of your bedtime routine, your baby will be very drowsy and ideally will be ready for sleep when you put them in their crib. It does take lots of repetition (and maybe some bedtime tweaking) to get there, but it works!
Tip #7: Put Your Baby to Bed Drowsy but Awake
This is an important tip for any stage of infancy, but it’s especially crucial during a sleep regression. You want your baby to be sleepy but not so sleepy that they can’t put themselves to sleep. Putting them down drowsy but awake will help them learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own.
Tip #8: Use a White Noise Machine
If you’re having trouble getting your baby to sleep, using a white noise machine might help. White noise can help soothe your baby and block out any external stimuli that might be keeping them awake.
Tip #9: Create a Sleep Conducive Environment for Your Baby
Create an environment that is conducive to sleep – keep it dark and cool, avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, and so on. Creating a sleep-friendly environment will help your baby fall asleep more easily and stay asleep for longer stretches.
Tip #10: Watch for Teething Signs
Sometimes, teething can be easily mistaken for a sleep regression. Keep an eye out for signs of teething, such as chewing on fingers and toys, drooling, and irritability. If you think your baby might be teething, try giving them a frozen washcloth to chew on or give infant Tylenol for pain relief.
Tip #11: Get Help From Your Partner
This is not a time to go it alone. You’re going to need all the help you can get, so enlist your partner’s support. Have them take over a night feed or two so you can catch up on some much-needed sleep. You might also want to consider trading off nights so one of you can get a good night’s rest while the other takes the watch.
Tip #12: Seek Professional Help if You’re Struggling
If you’re really struggling to get your baby to sleep, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. There are many qualified sleep consultants and pediatricians who can help you get to the bottom of your baby’s sleep issues and come up with a plan to get them back on track.
Tip #13: This Too Shall Pass
Try not to stress too much. I know it’s easier said than done, but try to remember that this is just a phase and it will eventually end. In the meantime, do what you can to get some rest and take advantage of any help that’s offered, and give yourself permission to do whatever it is that you need to maintain your sanity. You’ve got this!
Lastly, one particular book that really helped us through this phase was Precious little sleep. It had tons of empowering information about baby sleep and gave helpful plans for how to transition from feeding to sleep and how to transition away from rocking to sleep and so on.
If your baby is experiencing the four-month sleep regression, keep these tips in mind to help you survive it. Creating a bedtime routine, consistent sleep schedule, and conducive sleep environment will go a long way in helping your baby (and you!) get through this tough phase. If you’re really struggling, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Remember, this too shall pass! Hopefully, you’re on the backside of the regression.
What tips do you have for surviving the four-month sleep regression? Share them in the comments below!