Babies around 3-4 months old can start having difficulty sleeping, even if they were good sleepers before.
Around 3 to 4 months old, your baby’s sleep patterns will change and your baby will need to go through sleep cycles. This means that your baby will probably wake up a lot at night and only sleep for short periods during the day. Sleep regressions can be exhausting, but there are ways you can help your baby sleep better. What is The 4 Month Sleep Regression?
Your baby is probably waking up a lot in the middle of the night and/or taking short naps during the 4-month sleep regression. This regression is also known as the “3-month sleep regression” or the “5-month sleep regression”, since it starts any time after 12 weeks and usually before 20 weeks old. This is a common occurrence in your baby’s life.
What are the Signs?
The 4-month sleep regression signs usually include one or more of the following:
- Waking a lot at night (even when they used to sleep in long stretches) – waking every 1-2 hours at night is common.
- Taking short naps of 20-30 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes.
- Can’t be put down awake (or even asleep sometimes!) Baby wants to sleep only in your arms or a carrier/sling.
- Irritability and Fussiness (though that can be simply due to sleep deprivation!)
- Needing to be put back to sleep the same way each time (e.g. rocking or feeding back to sleep).
Is This Sleep Regression Normal? Is it That Bad?
When considered in this manner, it becomes apparent that the 4-month regression (or 3 months or 5 months) is a very typical, and very healthy, milestone in development, akin to learning to walk and talk. If your baby is presently experiencing the 4-month sleep regression, it means their growth and development are proceeding as normal.
I feel for you if your baby is in the midst of the 4-month regression or 5-month sleep regression. The reason for this is that, as many of you are aware, your baby’s new sleep patterns as an infant cause them to wake up more often at night and take shorter naps.
Every time your baby moves from deep sleep to light sleep, they have a good chance of waking up – and if they do wake up, they will probably need your help to go back to sleep. The reason sleep disruptions occur is because babies don’t know how to get into their next sleep cycle.
The 4-month sleep regression is when some babies start to wake up every 1-2 hours at night. It can be a disruptive time for both babies and caretakers.
Why Does the 4-Month Sleep Regression Happen?
At around 4 months, babies progress from the newborn phases of sleep into more adult-like sleep stages.
Let me explain how this causes trouble. Sleep cycles last 60 to 120 minutes and are made up of different sleep stages. After each sleep cycle, your baby’s body will come to the light stage of sleep and may slightly awaken. Baby will monitor his surroundings to ensure that everything is safe and unchanged.
Some babies wake up often and struggle to go back to sleep. Babies usually fall asleep in their parents’ arms, at the breast, or being rocked. Imagine that your baby falls asleep in mom’s arms and is then put down in the bassinet. Baby will wake up and see how everything is going after an hour or two. The baby said “Hey, this isn’t right!” My surroundings are different. I was in Mom’s arms when I fell asleep. Where am I now? In this cool, flat bassinet! Waaaaaa! Mama, come get me.” (If you were in her position, you would be upset too. Imagine falling asleep in your bed and waking up a few hours later in a different bed. It would be confusing and scary.) Our bodies are programmed to expect our surroundings to be the same when we wake up.
Some parents may choose to let their babies cry themselves to sleep, while others may choose to go to their baby and soothe them. However, usually when we feed them, they fall back to sleep. Now, they have entered a new stage of sleep cycles, so they will wake up again one to two hours later. We convince ourselves that they must be going through a growth spurt. We offer another feeding. Then 1-2 hours later… awake again! After a few nights of being woken up frequently, their little bodies become accustomed to it. The 4-month sleep regression can be the beginning of a new stage of sleepless nights for caretakers.
The world is suddenly more interesting (and distracting)
During months 3 and 4, our babies also expand their awareness to include the big world around them. They notice all sorts of exciting things happening around them that they didn’t notice before because it was just background noise. There are many things more interesting than eating. This means that as our babies grow and become more interested in their surroundings, they naturally eat less at each feeding.
Even though baby was given extra feedings last night, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t eat today. Right?
So, guess what happens tonight? He wakes up every 1-2 hours because of new sleep cycles, but he’s really hungry because he didn’t eat much during the day. This creates a cycle of night feedings due to poor daytime feedings. If you have trouble getting most of your calories in during the day, this is called “reverse cycling.”
These changes can also make it difficult for your baby to sleep at night.
What Week Does the 4 Month Sleep Regression Start?
The 4-month sleep regression can start as early as 13-15 weeks for babies.
How Long Does the 4-Month Sleep Regression Last?
Usually it only takes a couple of weeks to adjust to a new sleep cycle But…here is some good news and bad news.
The not-so-great news is that the repercussions of this change can last a while if you don’t have a plan to get things back on track. If you are feeding your baby every hour or two throughout the night, it is unlikely that they will start taking in most of their calories during the day. Falling asleep at bedtime and being able to go back to sleep during the night are skills that are not natural, but have to be learned.
The good news is that the effects of the 4-month sleep regression won’t last for long! You can start developing a good sleep schedule as soon as your baby is 5 months old. Ideally, children should sleep for around 10-12 hours at night, with regular naps during the day. This will help them to have more energy and focus during the day, and sleep better at night.
Can I Prevent the 4-Month Sleep Regression?
There is no way to stop the changes that typically occur during the four-month sleep regression. There are things you can do to help your baby transition more easily.
If your baby is able to fall asleep on their own in their crib or bassinet, the 4-month sleep regression doesn’t have to be so daunting. It’s as if he’s saying to himself, “I know where I am, and I know how to get back to sleep.”
This regression is easy for some babies because they have been practicing the skills required. Other babies have a harder time with this transition. There is nothing wrong with you if you are struggling. Even the best sleepers can struggle during this time. Any practice you’ve done with these skills before and during the regression will make using these skills in the future easier.
Can You Do Cry-It-Out During the 4-Month Sleep Regression?
It is not ideal to attempt any kind of sleep training for your baby until they are 5 months old.
There are so many changes taking place with your child’s sleep during the 4-month sleep regression, including their awareness of the world, sleep cycles, and physical growth. If you try to sleep train a baby before they are five months old, you will probably have to deal with a lot more crying, more resistance, and it will take longer to see any results.
Your baby’s sleep cycle and the melatonin hormone required for successful sleep begins to regulate once your baby has reached 5 months old. This makes sleep training much more effective. When and if you’re ready to start sleep training, you don’t have to do it alone or just let your baby cry it out. There are many sleep strategies available to make the transition easier.
How To Manage It Right Now
The 4-month sleep regression is something that will not go away. The 12 month sleep regression is unique in that it is not like the other sleep regressions that happen at 8, 9, or 10 months, or the toddler sleep regressions that happen at 18 months and 2 years old. After a few weeks, your child’s sleep will go back to normal. Not so with this one. The 4-month sleep regression is when permanent changes happen.
But don’t let that thoroughly depress you! There are ways to help your baby through the 4-month sleep regression and teach them how to sleep better.
Our advice is that you do the best you can to cope. If you are just starting to experience regression, you are probably extremely tired and feeling very frustrated. This is normal. Spend the next few days/weeks coming up with a sleep training plan.
Tips to Survive The 4 Month Sleep Regression
There are a few things you can do to encourage your baby to sleep more during the 4-month sleep regression. Once you’re ready, you can move past it for good. See below for 10 more tips:
Continue helping your baby fall asleep in the way he has been falling asleep up until now.
If you are currently nursing or rocking your baby to sleep, you should continue to do so for now. Same with co-sleeping or holding to sleep. These habits will prevent your baby from sleeping and you will need to stop them eventually. You shouldn’t worry about that at the moment, do whatever you need to do to help your baby go to sleep.
Swaddle and/or offer a pacifier
If the swaddling or pacifier are working, don’t change anything. If your baby is fussy, try using these techniques to soothe them and promote more sleep. These techniques should only be temporary until you can work on a more permanent solution. If you are experiencing the 3-month sleep regression, you will more likely than not need to keep swaddling for a few more weeks.
If your baby is waking up at night and breaking out of their swaddle (or rolling over at any part of the day or night), it is time to try a different type of swaddle that doesn’t restrict the movement of arms and legs. Start using a sleep sack. Sleepwear may not completely solve your sleep problems, but it could help improve your sleep enough that you have time to develop a plan to address the issue.