What Is The 4 Month Sleep Regression?
So your baby has hit 4 months old and something in ther sleep has changed. It might have been a very small and subtle change; or it might have been something big and out of the blue.
Suddenly they are extremely fussy or crying inconsolably at bedtime; struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep; baby wakes several times per night; naps have become short and difficult; and quite simply, you haven’t a clue why or how this has happened.
But the sleepless nights and sleep deprivation has suddenly become very real again.
Well, this will likely be the 4 month sleep regression.
Before we tell you you how you can try to manage the 4 month sleep regression as best you can, let us tell you first what a baby sleep regression is.
WHAT IS THE 4 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION?
The 4 month sleep regression is when a baby, who is around the 4 month mark, starts to see their sleep regress whether that be through a sudden night waking or multiple night wakings.
There are a number of factors that lead to this inevitable 4 month sleep regression:
- They start to sleep in cycles, something they will do into adulthood and beyond.
- Their social awareness is developing.
- They may be having a growth spurt.
- They may start rolling at this time too.
There is A LOT of change going on, but the biggest driver is the baby starting to sleep in cycles.
Whilst you can be told as a parent that it’s actually a great development for your baby, it won’t feel like that when it happens.
We’ve been through it as a family three times and it’s not fun, though each baby will respond differently to the 4 month sleep regression.
What are the 4 Month SLEEP REGRESSION Signs?
The 4 month sleep regression signs are very dependent on the baby as not all babies will show the same signs, but the below are typical symptoms of the 4 month sleep regression:
- Sudden difficult to fall asleep at night and in the day
- They wake more frequently in the night and an overall reduction in sleep amount over a 24 hour period
- udden or increased resistance to daytime naps and/or short naps
- Baby’s sleep schedule has changed and nap times are all over the place
- Irritable mood; unable to be put down on their back
So if your baby is around this age and you are seeing one or more of these signs, and often out of nowhere, it’s probably the 4 month sleep regression.
HOW LONG DOES The 4 Month SLEEP REGRESSION LAST?
Being able to answer how long does the 4 month sleep regression last is difficult as it’s very individual to the baby.
In theory, the 4 month sleep regression can last anything from two to six weeks, but our experience shows that it’s more typical to last around one to two weeks.
This is where it can often become difficult for some parents to differentiate between their child’s sleep patterns being related to the 4 month sleep regression, baby sleep habits generally, or teething starting.
If you feel that your 4 month sleep regression has lasted longer than a few weeks, you may need some help to change it and our Online Sleep Plans can resolve you child’s sleep patterns in just a few nights with the 5 month course specifically being designed to fix sleep issues that arise from the 4 month sleep regression.
Our TOP TIPS TO SURVIVE THE 4 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION
Below, we have listed our top strategies to follow for the 4 month sleep regression:
Comfort, comfort, comfort
Please don’t not comfort your baby when a sleep regression happens. They are going through a significant change and need your support to help with them with this. However, it’s about striking the right balance between comforting them to the point they need your full support to fall asleep, and allowing baby fall asleep independently in their own sleep space.
A fuss and a whinge from a baby is fine
You may choose not to respond to your baby initially when they do some whingeing or fussing during the night. Giving them some space can be really be powerful for allowing them to fall back asleep independently.
Be mindful of how you help support them falling asleep
If your baby wasn’t hungry during the day, would you feed them? It’s the same at night but babies will often take it as a comfort when they are upset which can then lead to their reliance on it whenever they wake the next night, and the night after that…
Try to keep them in their cot
If you are happy co-sleeping, ignore this point. However, if you don’t want to be co-sleeping in the future, I would advise you not to bring your baby into your bed at night during a regression. Whilst some babies don’t want to co-sleep, other babies don’t need a second invitation and can start waking each night for that invite!
Consistency is key
Maintain consistency as much as possible with everything around your baby’s routine, especially their bedtime routine. It’s the same with their sleep environment; for example, if you use white or pink noise, continue using it during a sleep regression.
Pay close attention to your baby’s sleep cues
Closely monitor your baby’s sleepy cues and wake windows Falling asleep is much easier for a baby who is tired, but not overtired so try to put in their cot for sleep when they are ready rather than sticking to a fixed routine…
Try to maintain good sleep habits
This can be difficult as it’s a tough period. However, if we could give you one bit of advice, it’s to try and not introduce sleep patterns that are not sustainable or that you don’t want longer-term, though do balance this off with providing your child with the support they need during this difficult time. Also, be kind to yourself.
A 4 Month Sleep Schedule
What does a 4 month sleep schedule look like?
Without wanting it to sound cliche, it really depends on the individual child. At this age, some babies can be doing 3-4 long naps – which means their wake windows are a little longer – or they can be cat-napping and doing 5, 6 or 7 naps per day. When cat-napping, a baby’s wake window is generally shorter so more naps are required.
We would recommend that most babies in this age range need around 15-16 hours of sleep over a 24 hour period with that ideally being around 11 or 12 hours at night, and the rest during the day.
WHAT IF THE REGRESSION CONTINUES LONGER THAN A FEW WEEKS?
If the 4 month sleep regression feels like it’s becoming more the 5 month or 6 month sleep regression, there is a very good chance that the regression has passed but your baby has got used to the extra comfort you provided and is now reliant on it for helping them fall asleep.
If this is the case, you may require some sleep training to resolve this.
WHAT IS A SLEEP REGRESSION?
A sleep regression is when baby sleep goes backwards. For example, they stop settling to sleep so easily; they have more wake ups in the night; naps becomes shorter and more challenging.
A sleep regression is usually driven by a baby reaching a cognitive or physical developmental milestone.
This can be challenging for parents as it’s lovely seeing some of those developmental milestones being hit, but it can also impact the whole family’s sleep as a result.
Some of the big changes which lead to a sleep regression are:
- Growth Spurts
- Physical development such as rolling, standing, cruising, walking
- Cognitive development in a baby’s brain
- Language developing, even in babies who aren’t closet to speaking
- Separation anxiety
- Independence development, especially for toddlers
WHAT ARE THE OTHER REASONS THAT CAUSE A SLEEP REGRESSION?
Whilst a sleep regression usually arises due to a child hitting a developmental milestone as outlined above, there are other factors which can lead to sleep regressing, including, but not limited to:
There is nothing you can do stop sleep regressions happening as most of it is a normal – and good! – part of your baby or toddler’s development.
All, you can do is have the information and knowledge to manage it as best you can until it passes.
WHAT IS A bABY’S SLEEP CYCLE?
The Sleep Cycle is what humans do – once the 4 month sleep regression has ended! – do during sleep, day or night.
Understanding how sleep works in children can help us to work out suitable methods for establishing healthy sleep habits. Light sleep and deep sleep alternate in approximately 45 minute sleep cycles for young children (approximately 90 minutes in adults) which is shown in the diagram below.
*You will notice that babies are only in deep sleep for about 10 minutes of a sleep cycle, with the remaining time being spent in light sleep.
In between sleep cycles, all humans ‘wake’, albeit briefly so most people don’t remember them at all.
These ‘wakes’ during the night are completely normal, but it’s the inability to get into a new sleep cycle after these wakes which can cause sleep problems.
If a baby has been using an external sleep association to help them get into their first sleep cycle, or back to sleep from a wake during the night, they will continue to seek that external comfort again and again (even if it’s not for all sleep cycles each night).
Teaching our babies how to self-settle and not require one or more sleep associations to enable to them to fall asleep, is a really key part of independent sleep.
One of the most challenging things about the 4 month sleep regression is that it often coincides with a baby learning to roll.
Not only are parents having to cope with significant reduction in sleep in the household, they are now having to watch their baby roll onto their front and the natural safety concerns that come with it.
Trust us, even after 2 kids, our 3rd baby learning to roll wasn’t any less scary. But it does get easier, we promise.
What types of sleep associations are there?
There are multiple types of sleep associations from a baby needing their hand held to sleep, being rocked to sleep, being sung to sleep, but the most common one is the need for them to be feed – bottle or breast – to sleep. And then back to sleep whenever they wake in the night.
IS THE 4 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION GRADUAL?
If only! It’s very rare for a baby to give their parents a bit of notice that the 4 month sleep regression is brewing.
It usually happens one bedtime or nap all of a sudden, so there isn’t unfortunately much you can do as a parent to prepare for the change you will see in your baby’s sleep pattern.
HOW WILL I KNOW IF IT’S THE 4 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION OR TEETHING?
Teething often starts to impacting babies around the 4 month mark (as if their sleep physiology changing wasn’t enough!).
But how do you know if it’s the 4 month sleep regression or teething that is impacting your baby’s sleep?
There are a few things to think about when trying to understand whether it’s the regression or teething:
- Even with teething, a baby doesn’t always wake up every 40-45mins which can happen during the 4 month sleep regression
- A baby that is teething will often be putting their fist in their mouth when they wake
- Teething will be obvious during the day too with rosy cheeks, more drooling and a change in poos
CAN 4 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION ONLY AFFECT NAPS?
How the 4 month sleep regression impact babies completely varies.
However, it doesn’t usually just impact naps.
Because of the complete change in a baby’s sleep physiology, it’s going to impact any time your baby is due to sleep.
DOES 4 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION ALWAYS HAPPEN?
In short, the changes at the 4 month mark always happen.
However, not all babies suffer from a big impact during this period and some babies fall asleep like they did before the regression.
We’ve been through it three times now and the below is the impact we had for our children:
Very unsettled during the night, though not every night.
Daytime sleep was not too impacted thankfully
He had been sleeping through from 11 weeks and during the 4 month sleep regression, only woke once for a bottle during the night for one week.
Very little impact.
Also slept through the night from 11 weeks but was hugely unsettled during the night for around 14 days.
Some of this was due to the fact he had also learned to roll.
Daytime and bedtime settling was much more challenging during the regression.
IS 4 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION BASED ON DUE DATE?
For babies who were born prematurely, the 4 month sleep regression can actually be a good way of determining your child’s age of sleep development and when they may hit other milestones.
Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily expect a baby who was born 2 months early to be hitting the 4 month sleep regression at 4 months since birth (2 months corrected), I have definitely seen situations where preemie babies hit the regression a little earlier than their corrected age.
CAN 4 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION HAPPEN EARLY?
The 4 month sleep regression can definitely happen earlier, even for babies born full-term.
I would say that it’s unlikely for the regression to be happening at 12 or 14 weeks, but from 15-16 weeks on it wouldn’t be impossible.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER SLEEP REGRESSION AGES?
The other main regression ages are at 8 months and 18 months, though any big developmental milestone can lead to a small regression for you baby. You can find out more about sleep regression ages here.
8 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION
The next big one is the 8 month sleep regression.
Whilst the main drivers of this regression is different to the regression at 4 months, it’s still related to your baby’s developmental milestones and you will likely face issues with your baby falling asleep.
The milestones linked to this regression include:
- Separation anxiety is developing further.
- Your baby is likely learning to crawl, stand or even cruise around the house.
- There will be new bouts of teething.
- Baby’s wake window is lengthening and is likely dropping from 3 naps to 2 naps.
18 MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION
Also known as the toddler sleep regression, the 18 month regression happens around 18 or 19 months.
This is all about a baby transitioning into the world of toddlerhood, and more independency.
This can lead to bedtime and nap time battles, and many children drop their nap around this time because of those battles, even though they are nowhere near ready to do without daytime sleep.
Our middle child was very impacted around this age due to separation anxiety as he had a deep desire to show his independence. Additionally, whilst he could understand so much of what we said, he struggled to verbalise responses which made him more frustrated.
This regression can also coincide with a parent’s decision to move their infant to a “big boy” or “big girl” bed, often to do with those bedtime battles we referred to.
Parents often see those bedtime battles as their child telling them they want to be out of a cot and in a bed like adults.
Unfortunately, this can be a little too much independence for what their little bodies and minds can handle at this stage.
Therefore, my advice here is quite simple: don’t move them from a cot to a toddler bed unless a) you want to and/or b) they are climbing out of their cot and there’s a safety issue.
We have kept our children in their cots as long as possible every time and we feel that has made the transition to the toddler bed much, much easier for them and for us.
Another factor which may input into this sleep regression is potty training. 18 months is an age many parents start thinking about transitioning their little one from nappies to pants.
As you can imagine, with such a significant life change, there can be an impact to toddler sleep patterns.
Finally, just like with the dropping of a nap at 8 months, some toddlers don’t drop to one nap until 18 months. Our second child actually only moved to one nap consistently at 19 months, with 2-3 months of straddling between 2-nap days and 1-nap days.
During any nap transition, you will likely see some impact to sleep with overtiredness usually the key factor.
We are a husband and wife business, and are leading sleep consultants based in the UK. If you are having issues with your little one’s sleep, have a look at our sleep plans which range from an online plan to one-to-one coaching. If it feels like you’ve tried everything, then come and try the one thing you haven’t which we know works – that’s our proven sleep method Comforting Through Change™.
We also train people to become sleep consultants. So if you fancy a career change, one where you can be at home ALL the time, contact us via our Academy. We would love to hear from you.