Just when I thought I was figuring out the whole sleep thing with our baby, everything seemed to change at about 4 months of age. It had me confused and frustrated – and wondering about the sleep regression at 4 months old.
The 4-month-old sleep regression happens when a baby’s brain naturally develops into a more adult-like sleep pattern. It may also be caused (or worsened) by concurrent developmental milestones, like increased awareness of the environment and mobility.
Keep reading for 25 things to know and do about the 4-month sleep regression – preferably before it happens!
What Is the 4 Month Sleep Regression?
The 4-month-old sleep regression is when your baby’s brain has finished the fourth trimester – and it’s settling into a more adult-like sleep pattern. It’s when your baby goes from whatever sleeping pattern they used to have – to now waking every 1 to 2 hours every night.
To many sleep experts, this is the only “real” sleep regression, because it’s the only one with a specific, measurable, and biological reason. So let’s talk about that biological reason – and why the 4-month-old sleep regression happens.
Why 4-Month-Old Sleep Regression Happens
Somewhere between three and five months of age (usually at four months), the “fourth trimester” ends – and your baby’s sleep patterns ease into a more adult-like pattern.
Now, a newborn sleep pattern is haphazard. It’s all over the place. Naps are any time the baby wants one – and there’s only a semblance of a full night’s sleep for some babies.
On the other hand, a more “adult-like” sleep pattern consists of sleep stages and sleep cycles.
- Sleep cycles typically last anywhere from 60-120 minutes and are followed by a brief period of wakefulness. Usually, adults have anywhere from 5 to 8 sleep cycles per night, depending on how long you sleep and how long the cycle is.
- Sleep stages include light sleep, deep sleep, and REM. Officially, there are four stages, with one of the four stages being “awake.”
Now, as adults, we’ve gotten so used to falling back asleep that we barely notice the periods of wakefulness between sleep cycles. Or, if you’re an avid dreamer (like I am), then maybe you remember a few of them – but these mini wake-ups aren’t usually a problem.
These periods of wakefulness were important to our ancestors – so they could get some sleep – and then wake up to make sure they weren’t about to be eaten. That way, they could go back to sleep.
So at about four months old, your baby is settling into this evolutionary-determined pattern – and is going to be waking up every hour or two at night to make sure they’re okay (so they can go back to sleep).
However, here are a couple of the main reasons why (and when) these nighttime wakings become an issue.
- The baby is also becoming more aware of the environment. They’re realizing that daytime is fun – and they’d rather play than eat. So, the baby may reason, why not just eat at night when they wake up naturally?
- Your baby naturally wakes up every 1-2 hours at the end of a sleep cycle and something is new or different enough (like they had been in your arms but now they’re in a crib – and that’s freaked them out enough that now they’re REALLY awake) that they need help calming down and going back to sleep.
Maybe your baby gets stuck in the paradoxical nighttime feeding pattern because they’re a distracted eater. Perhaps they’re adjusting to the new sleeping arrangements. Or maybe it’s a combination of all of the above.
It’s far too easy to see these every 1-2 hour wakings as a cry for more food. After all, maybe the baby is having another growth spurt, right? Between the increased offer in food at night, having too much fun during the day to eat, and the baby needing to be comforted to fall back asleep, there’s now a huge sleep deficit and problem forming for everyone.
Whatever the case, natural sleep cycles and baby’s reactions to normal human development have created the perfect storm known as the 4-month-old sleep regression.
Preventing Sleep Regressions at 4 Months
There’s nothing you can do to prevent the natural, developmental changes to your baby’s brain that will cause them to settle into a more adult-like sleep pattern. That’s normal human development.
However, just because your baby will begin to naturally wake every 1 to 2 hours doesn’t mean that you have to accept an inevitable sleep regression at four months of age.
There are things you can do to prevent the sleep regression from becoming horrible, even if you can’t totally prevent it.
After extensive research and surviving this sleep regression four times, I’ve found 3 things you can do to prevent the worst of things – or to at least lessen the total impact of this sleep regression.
- Practice good sleep habits and hygiene. Try to settle into a sustainable pattern and schedule as soon as your baby is born.
- Be aware of sleep associations – and how they can affect sleep. Specifically, know that negative sleep associations can trigger or worsen sleep regressions.
- Know that this sleep regression will happen – and be prepared to ask for help in any fashion you’re comfortable with.
Need more info on sleep associations? Click here to read my comprehensive article about how sleep associations and sleep regressions are related.
Do All Babies Go through the 4 Month Sleep Regression?
Not every child will have a noticeable sleep regression at 4 months old. Some babies will have such a mild transition into the more adult-like sleep patterns that you wouldn’t even know it happened. Other babies will have a terrible transition, though, and will have massive sleep disruption that impacts the whole family.
While babies of parents who practice good sleep habits from the start are more likely to have a milder transition, it’s not a guarantee of skipping this sleep regression. Some babies, even with the solid foundation in place, will react poorly to this developmental change.
How Long Does the 4-Month Sleep Regression Last?
Like other sleep regressions, the 4-month sleep regression typically lasts anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks.
Sleep regressions don’t look the same for every baby. For some, it only takes a few days (up to a week) to adjust to their new sleep cycle and other developments. For others, this can take several weeks or even a couple of months.
When the 4 Month Sleep Regression Ends
Because the sleep regression at four months old is a developmental change, this sleep regression causes a permanent change to the status quo. As such, there won’t be any return to how things were before. Instead, you’ll be trying to find and settle into a new normal.
Of course, this is for the best. Before 4 months of age, a baby’s sleep schedule is all over the place. They catnap, sleep any time (and most of the time!), and they’re up eating at all hours of the night and day.
Now, they’re settling into a more reliable pattern. So it’s a good change – and one that will be far more sustainable for exhausted parents.
But knowing that the four-month sleep regression is a normal part of our development is important because that way we aren’t stuck trying to get back to the all-over-the-place sleep schedule. Now, we can start focusing on a maintainable daily routine.
So officially, the 4-month sleep regression doesn’t end – it causes a permanent change.
However, it kinda sorta ends when you realize that this change isn’t the end of the world – it’s a part of the normal development of your baby. Because then you can focus on using good sleep hygiene and habits to settle into a much better daily routine.
Knowing that doesn’t make this particularly difficult time any less awful, though. It’s still going to be rough as you get through it. But it is possible to get through it!
Managing Sleep Regressions at 4 Months Old
The best way to manage this sleep regression at four months of age is by first knowing that it isn’t a temporary change, but rather a part of the normal human development. The next best way to manage it is by using and establishing healthy sleep habits and sleep hygiene as soon as possible.
You can establish healthy sleep habits and sleep hygiene by using behavioral sleep training. Officially, sleep training isn’t recommended until closer to 6 months or older. However, if you start learning how to implement it and practice it, you may be able to slide right into a normal routine – without ever having to officially sleep train.
To kick start your research, be sure to read more my complete guide to behavioral sleep training.
Third, focus on making daytime as fun, interacting, and exhausting as you can. That way, your baby will be ready to sleep during naptime and at night.
Finally, be sure to monitor your baby for any signs of illness, teething, or other changes that have you worried. Sickness or new changes can impact sleep regression and make it longer. They aren’t the typical causes of sleep regression at this age, so if they are an issue they will need to be addressed.
Please remember that if you’re ever worried about an illness, it’s okay to call your doctor’s office for advice and/or make an appointment.
Signs and Symptoms of the 4-Month Sleep Regression
For most people, the biggest (and most obvious) sign of the 4-month-old sleep regression is that their baby will suddenly be waking up a lot more during the night. Even so, here are the most common signs and symptoms of sleep regression at four months old:
- Increased crankiness and/or crying during the day
- More periods of quiet watchfulness (and potentially decreased playing) than usual
- Frequent nighttime wakings
- Fewer and less restful naps – with increased difficulty going to sleep at nap time
- Changes in appetite
- Inconsolable crying
- Night terrors
- Restless sleeping (during naps or at nighttime)
- Increased desire to be held during all times of the day (including while sleeping or napping)
- Falling asleep more easily when picked up or in motion (like in a car seat on a drive)
- Increased frequency of sleep cues
- Dozing off after fighting a nap
What To Do about Sleep Regression at 4 Months
In order to survive any sleep regression, you need to have a plan. Here’s our basic survival plan for sleep regressions:
|Snuggles||Spend extra time during the day cuddling||Our kids were always exhausted during the day, so we spent extra time cuddling and reading together.|
|Outside Time||Get outside and wear everyone out!||Our kids did much better going to bed and taking naps when exhausted. We took trips to the zoo and parks to wear everyone out.|
|Nap Time||Do what works.||If naps suddenly require a car ride, plan a morning park trip with friends with a drive afterward. Or meet friends at a park that’s further away than normal. This is why we went to the zoo so often!|
|Rest Time||If naps don’t take, implement rest time.||My kids fought naps hard. So if one didn’t take, we’d watch a show and cuddle in a recliner. Often but not always, this triggered a short nap for both of us. And that’s okay!|
|During the Day||Do what you need to. Maintain adequate feedings for baby.||For us, dinner prep took a back seat to survival. Often this meant takeout or pulling a freezer meal out at the last minute. Do what you can to minimize stress for everyone.|
|Bedtime||Move bedtime up in 15-minute increments as needed.||As we got better at identifying sleep regressions, we could tell right off how much earlier to move bedtimes. But as you’re first starting out, move it up by 15 minutes and see how it goes.|
|During the Night||Do what you need to in order to maximize rest and sleep.||Survival mode at night is totally allowed! After all, you need enough sleep to function. So do what you need to and make that happen. You can focus on recovery and sleep training later.|
|Be Prepared with Knowledge||Read and prepare – and then let your knowledge calm your anxieties.||Knowing that this 4-month-old sleep regression is part of normal development made it lots easier for me to deal with – and helped me stress less. And that helped all of us settle into a better routine faster.|
|Practice Sleep Training||Start developing positive sleep habits now – so you can skip official sleep training later.||Setting a solid foundation by practicing behavioral sleep training made actual sleep training later so much easier for us.|
One final tip: some babies at this age are still being swaddled. If rolling over isn’t happening yet, please don’t unswaddle them for nighttime sleeping yet. If they are rolling over consistently, though, please unswaddle – swaddling a rolling baby is dangerous.
If you’d like to see which swaddlers and bedroom gear I’ve used and currently recommend, be sure to check them out right here.
Keep Using the 5 S’s
For a 4-month-old baby, the 5 S’s will still be something that works – and helps sleep happen. So keep using them!
Here are those 5 S’s again – so you don’t have to go digging in your favorite sleep book.
- Side or stomach position while calming baby (not for sleeping)
- Sucking (like on a pacifier)
Four months old is still so little that using the 5 S’s probably won’t develop any negative sleep associations. Even so, keep in mind that they can develop.
Break Negative Sleep Associations
Okay, so the odds of having many negative sleep associations at 4 months old are pretty low, mostly because it’s hard to develop a habit by this age. Even so, it’s possible. So if your baby does have any negative sleep associations, use behavior-based sleep training practice to break them.
Or, in the far-more-likely scenario of your baby not yet having developed any negative sleep associations, use behavior-based sleep training practice to avoid creating any.
To read specifics about how sleep associations and sleep training are related, read this article.
Create a Sleep Positive Environment for Your 4-Month-Old
Part of practicing good sleep hygiene and having positive sleep habits is creating a positive sleep environment for your baby. This will become a huge benefit to your child as they get older, so go ahead and set the stage for success now!
First, make sure that the baby’s sleep environment is a safe one. That will mean different things if you’re cosleeping than if the baby has their own room. So, make sure it’s safe.
Then, create a cool, dark, boring, quiet, and comfortable environment that encourages sleep.
We keep toys, books, and daytime activities outside of bedrooms. In our experience, having a separate place to sleep encourages our kids to get better sleep.
You may also want to install blackout curtains and use a white noise machine to create an ideal sleep environment. Want to see the bedroom gear I use and recommend in an ideal sleep environment? Click here to see exactly what we use.
Your Routine is Your Lifeline
Trying to survive the sleep deprivation will drive you crazy. Your routine will be what helps you stay sane.
So keep doing those things that help you survive – keep taking the naps with your cute baby if you can. If you can’t, make sure you’re taking some time for yourself to read a book, exercise, and renew yourself.
Be patient. Be persistent. And know that your routine will suffer a few bumps – but that it’s still your lifeline and things will settle into a better normal soon.
Here is What Time a 4 Month Should Go to Bed (and how much sleep they need)
After extensive research and experimentation with our children, here’s what we’ve found as far as how much sleep a four-month-old baby needs.
Now, this table is going to include the data from ages just before and after 4 months old, too. This is to give you an idea of what’s happening to your baby’s sleep – see how it’s consolidating and grouping together? The naps should be getting better – and so should the nighttime sleep quality. This is because of normal sleep development.
|Age||Number of Naps||Average Length of Naps||Wake Time Between Naps||Bedtime||Nighttime Sleep Requirements||Sleep Required Each 24 Hours|
|Birth to 6 Weeks||4-8||15 minutes to 4 hours||45 minutes to an hour||Between 9-11 PM||8-14 hours||14-18 hours|
|6 Weeks to 3 Months||3-4||30 minutes to 2 hours||1 to 2 hours||Between 8-11 PM||8-13 hours||11-15 hours|
|3-6 Months||3||1-2 hours||about 2 hours||8-10 PM||9-12 hours||12-16 hours|
Please remember that these are averages based on research – so there is a bit of a range. And if your baby doesn’t fit exactly within these parameters, that’s okay. These are guidelines, not rules.
Adjust Baby’s Bedtime and Wake Up Time as Needed
Look, knowing the above bedtime and total sleep requirements aren’t to give you a set or rigid schedule. Instead, they’re guidelines to help you find what works for your family.
So take those guidelines – and adjust bedtime (and wake-up times) as needed to fit your family and your circumstances.
We found that naps were still very unreliable for our 4-month-old kids – so we moved bedtimes slightly earlier than the above recommended time.
Even so, the earlier bedtime and routine still took time for our babies to settle into.
As far as wake-up time? Most babies wake up somewhere between 6-7 AM each day. I’ve talked to hundreds and thousands of parents, and this seems to be a pretty reliable wake-up time. Sure, there are some babies who wake up later. But for every baby who wakes up after 8 or 9 am, there’s another baby who’s up and at ’em at 5 am.
Getting kids to wake up closer to 7 (instead of 5 or 6) is possible – but it does take practice and time. It also requires a dark room – because morning light is a natural indicator to our brains that it’s time to wake up.
Even so, take the guidelines above and use them to help you guide your family to a schedule that’s both sustainable and doable for your family.
Be Patient and Let Baby Practice Daytime Skills – During the Day
At 4 months old, your baby won’t have as many skills as they will in another year, but they still like to grasp toys, look at people, and they may be rolling or sitting with assistance.
So give them time to practice these skills during the day. Give them LOTS of practice time! This is for two reasons.
- First, it will wear them out so they’re ready to sleep at night.
- Second, it will help them get the hang of these new skills – so that doing them at night doesn’t wake them up or trigger another sleep regression.
Be Patient at Night – and Let Baby Practice Sleeping
We all make noises while sleeping – even if we don’t realize it. Your baby is no different. They’re making noises while sleeping – and not every noise is a call for food.
So be patient with yourself as you learn to differentiate the noises – and give your baby a few extra moments or minutes to self-settle after different noises. After all, they may have just cried out in their sleep – and it was part of their dream.
If your 4-month-old baby is hungry or has a dirty diaper, they’ll let you know (hint: they’ll cry more). So be patient. Let your baby practice sleeping and give them a moment or two before rushing in to feed or change them.
Consider Using Sleep or Dream Feeds
Sleep or dream feeds may help you extend your baby’s sleep time. Here’s a basic rundown of how you sleep feed a baby.
- First, know what time at night your baby usually nurses or takes a bottle.
- Go in a few minutes before they usually wake up to eat – and feed them.
- This way, they should stay asleep for eating – and keep sleeping until their next meal.
- You can use dream feeds for one or several nighttime feeds.
Dream feeds had mixed results for us. Sometimes they worked great – and other times they were spectacular failures. Even so, they are worth trying because sometimes they really do help your baby ease into a better, longer sleep schedule at night.
Your 4-Month-Old is Hungry – Feed Them!
At four months of age, my babies were always hungry. And not just at night – they wanted more milk during the day, too!
Now, at this age, most babies aren’t quite ready for solids just yet. The official recommendation for starting solid foods is six months, although there are a few exceptions as prescribed by a pediatrician.
Even so, if your baby is hungry, feed them! There’s an awful lot of growing at this age. Things will calm down. Go ahead and feed your hungry, growing babies.
If your baby is a distracted daytime eater, there may be some reverse cycling for a while. This means that they eat more at night than during the day. It will take time and effort to get things back to focused daytime eating, but it is possible.
In the meantime, keep feeding the baby.
If they’re back to cluster feeding, go ahead and ramp up for that. You may want to consider supplementing with formula, even if your baby is normally breastfed. For more information on managing sleep regressions with cluster feeding, read my article on it here.
But please feed the hungry baby.
Tag Out (Ask for Help) When Needed
Asking friends and family for help is a normal and expected thing when you’re having a difficult time. Guess what? Being sleep deprived due to the 4-month sleep regression counts as a difficult time.
So go ahead and ask trusted family and friends for help. Then, let them help however they’re willing and able to do so.
Perhaps friends or family will be able to help cuddle the baby for an hour so you can nap. Or maybe they’ll bring over a meal so you can focus on feeding the baby. Be willing to accept help – it makes life so much easier.
Be willing to set up some sort of a tag-out or help schedule with your partner (or spouse). This can be especially helpful if all you have is each other.
For our first baby, my husband and I changed our schedules to manage this sleep regression: I went to bed by 8 PM and slept until midnight while he cared for our son. At midnight, he went to bed and I took over as soon as our baby cried for me. This way, we were both able to get enough sleep to function and survive the regression.
It’s okay to ask for help. It’s also okay to get creative in how you solve the problem. But you don’t have to do it alone.
Go to Bed Early (and take care of yourself!)
Going to bed early isn’t just part of that old adage. It’s also not just something that’s good for babies. Getting a good night’s sleep is good for us as parents, too. And it’s great for anyone who’s exhausted.
So considering how much sleep deprivation you’ve had from this latest 4-month-old sleep regression, consider going to bed early – if only for a few nights. It will have a huge and positive impact on your ability to adult and parent – and to deal with things, including this sleep regression.
Watch Your 4 Month Old for Sleep Cues
Sleep cues for a four-month-old may be so subtle that the early cues get missed entirely – meaning that it’s the too-tired and late cues that we see. But by then, our baby is overtired – and that exhaustion will make it harder for them to sleep.
So practice watching your child for their sleep cues. Here are some of the common sleep cues look like:
- Increased cuddliness
- Rubbing eyes
- Staring off into space (disinterest)
- Increased irritability and decreased patience
- Crying, wailing, and screaming
The exact order (of early to late) sleep cues will vary from child to child. So you’ll need to watch your baby and see which cues are the early ones – so that you can initiate a nap or bedtime before the late cues. That way, your baby will get enough sleep.
As a baby, my kids’ first sleep cue was increased cuddliness with a mild, decreased interest in what was going on around them. So once my baby got cuddly, it was time for a nap – and to get away from all of the stimulation that would keep them awake.
Practice Sleep Training
Officially, your 4-month-old might be enough to sleep train, although it will work better closer to 6 months. However, you can use the skills available in the behavioral sleep training methods to practice good sleep habits now.
Using these skills will give you the confidence and ability to better manage and survive this sleep regression – while setting the stage for a successful sleep training experience later.
Just remember that letting your baby cry for too long at this age will be counterproductive. So go ahead and comfort them as needed.
Take 5 Minutes to Calm Down
Dealing with constant crying and a sleep-deprived baby (due to the sleep regression) is mentally and emotionally exhausting. So if and when you need to, go ahead and take five minutes to calm yourself down.
Taking a few minutes to center yourself will give you the stamina and ability to keep going – even when things are crazy.
My favorite ways to take five are by doing some deep breathing or guided imagery, eating a taco (which also helps with being hungry), or reading a chapter from a book. Click here to read my favorite 5-minute relaxation techniques over on my personal website, KimberlyCStarr.com.
Do what you need to in order to stay calm. It helps so much.
Be Flexible During this Transition
Remember how this 4-month-old sleep regression is a normal part of development? It is, therefore, a part of a normal transitionary phase of development. Things are changing – and it’s totally normal.
So go with the flow. Let your baby nap when and where they can. Things will keep changing for a while – until they settle down for a while. Let things (and your baby’s schedule) transition into their new normal routine.
This may mean letting your baby sleep in the swing, the car, the stroller, or while in your baby carrier. That’s okay. What works today may not work tomorrow. That’s also okay.
Do what you need to. Be flexible. Things will get better here soon.
For us, I found that if I planned on having my baby take their first morning nap in the baby carrier, the middle nap went better – and in a crib. The third nap was always up in the air, though!
Get Outside and Use that Sunlight
Sunlight is amazing for us humans. It’s necessary for our growth, our development, and our natural sleep cycle. So go ahead and get outside with your baby.
Being outside in the sun will help encourage adequate exercise, play, and improve everyone’s sleep quality – by regulating their sleep-wake cycle.
Just be sure to dress appropriately for the weather.
Our pediatrician is fond of telling my kids, “Get outside and play every day. There’s no such thing as ‘bad weather’ – just inappropriate clothing. So when your mom says to go play outside, pick the right clothes and go play!”
So strap your baby in your favorite baby carrier (or if you need one, click here to see the one I love and recommend) and go for a walk together. It’ll help both of you sleep better tonight.
The 4-month-old sleep regression isn’t fun – but you can survive it and manage it with these tips.
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