Getting Ahead of the Four Month Sleep Regression

By Carolynne J. Harvey, Founder of Dream Baby Sleep

Seeing your newborn grow is exciting for parents – their first smile, the first time they roll over, or that first baby giggle.  But there’s one milestone many new parents dread: the four-month sleep regression.

The name is a bit misleading: this evolution in your baby’s sleep is actually a progression, not a regression. They’re outgrowing the phase where they can easily sleep anywhere and everywhere, and becoming more aware of the world around them, meaning sleep can be harder to come by. They’re also learning more control of their bodies, and may start waking themselves more often as they attempt to move around in their crib. This is developmental progress! It’s not just normal, it’s good. These changes are signs your baby is growing and thriving! Still, no one likes to have their sleep interrupted— including babies. As the founder of Dream Baby SleepⓇ and a baby sleep expert, I know from experience that while the four-month “regression” is no fun, it doesn’t have to throw you totally off track. If you plan for it, you can get ahead of the regression and minimize the impact it has on everyone’s sleep.

What causes the four-month sleep regression?

Rolling over

Changes in baby’s development are responsible for changes in their sleep. One of the biggest milestones at this age is when babies begin to roll over. This can increase wakings in two ways:

  1. Babies want to practice their new skill! They may wake and try to roll in the crib, which can cause frustration or long wakings.
  2. Once they begin to roll, it is no longer safe to have them swaddled. Taking them out of the swaddle may also increase wakings, because they can startle themselves awake and don’t have the comfort of the swaddle to keep their arms in. This is all normal!

Reverse cycling

If you suddenly start seeing a lot of night wakings, you may find yourself caught in a sneaky cause of the four-month regression: reverse cycling. If your baby is awake, and you assume it is because they are hungry (especially if before night wakings were limited to feeds), you may feed her again because you know this works to help her go back to sleep. But if your baby is waking more than they used to, and you are feeding more than you used to, they may start eating less during the day because they aren’t hungry. This leads to reverse cycling: eating more calories at night and fewer calories during the day because feeds are used in response to the night wakings. 

Melatonin

Lastly, babies are developing melatonin, aka the sleep hormone, during this time. Melatonin helps send a signal to the brain to sleep at night, and be awake during the day! Babies are not born able to produce melatonin, and so as their bodies learn to make the hormone on their own, there may be cases where babies have their days and nights “mixed up” and sleep more or sleep more easily during the day than at night. 

Getting ahead of four-month sleep regression

The best defense against the regression is to plan for it. From their first days to 12 weeks, you can get ahead of the regression with these proactive tips:

Avoid Day-Night Confusion

Make sure baby gets plenty of natural light when he or she is awake, and cap naps at two hours so they don’t sleep too much during the day. You can actually start this from birth! Try and take baby outside while they’re awake at least once a day if you’re able to. 

Lots of Tummy Time

You can start this early, also! For each week old, add a minute of tummy time.

One month: 4 minutes 4 times a day
Two months: 8 minutes 4 times a day
Three months: 12 minutes 4 times a day

By the time they’re approaching the 4-month old mark, aim for 15 minutes 3 times a day. They should have plenty of opportunity to work on rolling, and hopefully won’t be trying to practice when they should be sleeping!

Avoid Increased Night Feedings

Even though feeding baby back to sleep may work, do whatever you can not to increase their nighttime feedings. Offer well-spaced, full feedings during the day to make sure they’re taking in enough calories during the daytime hours. If after 12 weeks you’re noticing your baby waking more often and your number of night feeds have gone up, you may be seeing early signs of the regression. Talk with your pediatrician to help determine what an appropriate amount of daytime feeds and nighttime feeds are for your individual baby.

Don’t Let Baby Get Overtired

If they’re overtired going into the night, it’s going to be a long one. Four month olds should be taking three naps a day at approximately 9 a.m., 12 p.m., and 3 p.m. Bedtime should be no later than 7:30 p.m., depending on how the day’s naps have gone! 


How do you survive the four-month sleep regression?

Even if you’re doing everything right, the sleep regression may still hit your family hard. It’s OK! It happens. To get through it:

  • Stick to your routines.

    That means going through your nap/bedtime routine— a story, getting in their sleep sack, turning on white noise, singing a song— and putting baby down in a cool, dark room as often as you can.
  • Motion can help.

    Try going for a stroller-nap or baby-carrier nap— you just want them to sleep, however you can get it! The MamaRoo Sleep Bassinet is also a great choice, since it has continuous motion and white noise built in, and it’s safe for baby to sleep in it without a swaddle (in, say, a sleep sack or even just in PJs!)
  • Be kind to yourself.

    If you’re exhausted from trying to get your baby to sleep, it’s okay to put him or her down in a safe space and take a few minutes alone.

Remember, this is normal, and a sign that your baby is growing and developing.  Usually this regression lasts two to four weeks. You’ve got this, and you’re doing a great job!