Surviving the 4 Month Sleep Regression

Woman Kissing the Top of a Baby's Head (3-6 Months) --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

In All About the 4 Month Sleep Regression, I explained some of the reasons why 4 month old seem so intent on keeping you up all night and so fond of those mini cat naps. Here I’ll talk more about the steps you can take to make it out on the other side, and feel human again. If you haven’t already starting protecting and promoting sleep for your little one, now is the time to get started. Here are a few of my tips to get through the 4 month sleep regression. Remember, if you try to wait it out, you might be waiting a long, long time! If it’s been a month and your baby is still waking every 2 hours at night, you likely need to help your baby over the hump.

How can your survive this and come out the other end more rested?

Establish an age-appropriate napping schedule.
As babies pass the 4 month mark, sleeping cues become more unreliable. He may yawn because he is tired, because he is bored, or because he is overstimulated. Instead of timing naps only by your baby’s cues, use a combination of watching for sleepy cues and watching the clock. Aim to help your baby fall asleep within two hours of wakefulness. This doesn’t mean starting your pre-nap routine at the 2 hour mark; give yourself some time for the pre-nap routine and him some time to settle into sleep.

Respect your baby’s need to sleep and be home for naps and bedtime.
You wouldn’t expect your baby to miss a meal because you were too busy to sit down and nurse, please don’t expect your baby to miss a nap or nap on the run. Make sure your baby has an age-appropriate sleeping schedule and that you’re home for your baby’s naps. Create an environment conducive to sleep by keeping the space cave-like: cool, dark, and quiet. This will both promote sleep and protect sleep, by creating a positive association with his sleeping space while eliciting the flow of melatonin, that sleepy hormone.

Pull bedtime earlier.
Instead of trying to squeeze in a 4th (or for short nappers, perhaps a 5th) nap starting after 5:00 pm, opt instead for an earlier bedtime falling sometime between 6:00 and 8:00 pm. For a 4 month old, I would do bedtime within 2 hours of the last nap. Why? If a nap runs too late into the evening, we risk it interfering with the sleep rhythms in the earlier part of the night. This can lead to more early night wakings. It can also push bedtime too late, leading to more frequent night wakings overall and an earlier morning wake up.

Put your baby down drowsy but awake.
While “drowsy but awake” during the first 4 months of life are just practice, now is really the time to help your baby learn to fall asleep independently. If he fusses, soothe him. But as Kim West, author of The Sleep Lady’s Good Night Sleep Tight says, “Be his coach. Not his crutch.”

Respect your baby’s feeding needs, especially during a growth spurt, by nursing more during the day.
The same excitement about the world around him that keeps him from napping well during the day may also keep him from nursing well during the day. You want to make sure you are getting in those necessary feedings during the day in order to meet your baby’s nursing needs so that he doesn’t have the physical need to nurse frequently at night. It will also help maintain and increase your supply during and after a growth spurt.  Help increase the frequency and length of nursing sessions during the day by nursing in a dark, quiet space. And that may mean being homebound for a while, to respect your baby’s nursing needs just as you should be home to respect your baby’s sleeping needs. Remember, this doesn’t mean cutting out all night feedings, or not allowing an increase in frequency of night feedings during the growth spurt, it simply means feeding your baby at night when he is hungry, and soothing on other ways when he is not.

Do I need to do sleep training?
Sticking to these tips will help many babies learn to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer. If you are just approaching this age, don’t jump to the conclusion that you need to sleep train right away. Work on these tips and see where it takes you. Your baby may surprise you!

But some babies, those who I call “spirited sleepers” may take longer to learn to sleep independently. Maybe they are not developmentally ready to sleep independently? But more often it’s simply a combination of an inappropriate sleep environment and schedule and inconsistent response by parents. Certainly if you have a baby who is spirited and overtired, waking at unexpected times day and night, it makes responding consistently very difficult for parents! Adding in the fact that you are incredibly sleep deprived yourself and will do anything to get more sleep, makes it virtually impossible!

Sometimes you might just need a little support in creating a plan and while you make these changes. You may turn to family members, friends, or your baby’s doctor. Often their advice is conflicting or just doesn’t feel like a good fit for your family. It’s not that their advice is wrong; it’s that there is no right way or wrong way to help your baby sleep better.  This is where a sleep consultant can help you design an approach that is comprehensive, customized to your family’s needs, and answers all those unforeseen “what-ifs”, and then provides you the support along the way to help you stick to your plan. I will help you create a plan that allows your family to move past the four month sleep regression. My plans are developed with you, not for you, while maintaining and protecting the breastfeeding relationship, and using an approach this fits with your parenting style.  When you are going through the 4 month sleep regression, it’s easy to feel defeated.  But with the right plan, you’ll discover that you and your baby can be well-rested again!

Jessica Begley

Author Jessica Begley

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Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Rachel Jamieson says:

    I just wanted to let you know how much this post helped me. My son struggled with transitioning from his rock and play to crib about the same time as we were dealing with the 4 month sleep regression and your tips really helped. I am a new mom and have read a lot of conflicting advice from breastfeeding advocates and doctors who advise cold turkey crying it out, but I feel like you have a wise and gentle in the middle perspective. My son really needed more of a routine and to be put down awake, but it wouldn’t have been wise to cut his night time feedings all the way. Thank you so much for your advice!

  • The Baby Sleep Geek says:

    I am so glad that you found this post helpful! Just like with all parenting, there is no one “right” way. It’s about piecing together what works for you. So, in that way getting a lot of advice can be helpful. It’s just being able to ignore the advice that doesn’t make sense for your family. I just sent you an email with a little gift for sharing your story with us. It is so appreciated!

  • Katrina says:

    I have no idea what to do with our 4 month old. I’ve been going sleep regression and through the night I have a maximum of 2 hours sleep at a time quite often less before he’s awake again. I’ve been trying to put him down for every sleep awake in his cot and helping soothe him without picking him up but it only ends in screaming and tears! I’m at a loss as to what to do anymore. Any advice very welcome!

  • Frances says:

    Just looking for some advice, my 15 week old was sleeping 7pm-6am. We had a good routine bath, feed, bed and I would put him in his cot awake. But recently he has started waking every 2 hours from midnight.

    Any advice appreciated! One very tired mumma!

    • Jessica Begley says:

      Hi Frances- This sounds like the classic 4 month sleep regression. Unfortunately sometimes even babies with a good sleep foundation experience some trouble. Focusing on putting him down awake at bedtime and then soothing in another way besides feeding at the wakings when he is not hungry will help him get back on track.

  • Nicky says:

    When you say babies will learn to fall asleep quicker what kind of time duration would you say is normal? Our little one has slept in her own cot since day 1 and I’ve tried to promote healthy sleeping habits. (no co-sleeping or rocking) She uses a pacifier to sooth her when she goes to sleep (I only use it for sleep). On average it used to take her 20 minutes to fall asleep, sometimes quicker if we were lucky. She was sleeping through at 3 and a half months but has started waking either once or twice a night at 16 weeks. We always put her in her cot and let her fall asleep on her own sometimes we would have to stroke her face or let her hold our hands to fall asleep if she was overtired. I’m finding since 16 weeks she is struggling to fall asleep on her own and also cries in the evenings if the pacifier is out and she wakes up, which she never used to do.

    • Jessica Begley says:

      Hey Nicky! It is completely normal for a baby to take 20 minutes to fall asleep. About 15 minutes is the average time it takes a healthy, well-rested person to fall asleep so that is not off mark at all!

  • Jessica Ward says:

    All your advice sounds doable apart from getting my little one to fall asleep on his own. I am trying an early bedtime but he doesn’t end up sleeping until 11pm and I feed him to sleep which usually starts at around 9pm. Please help me, I’m worried I’m making things worse

  • Jennifer Mathieu says:

    My son is just shy of 5 months and all of a sudden he is waking up every 30-60 minutes crying until I put him back to sleep. At 2 months I got him on a schedule with a night time routine. He gets a bath, bottle, lullaby and I put him down sleepy but awake. He would wake only 1-2 times a night to eat, often sleeping 6-8 hours before the first waking. I only used a soother if he was wide awake after one of his night feedings and those times it would take over an hour to get him back to sleep. Now he won’t go back tomsleep without the soother. I should also note that he has never napped well right from birth. He sleeps 30 minutes on average every 1.5 hours. I put him down as soon as I see signs of tiredness and he always falls asleep on his own.

    What do in need to do differently to fix this?

    • Jessica Begley says:

      Hi Jennifer- I can imagine how frustrated this must be. It sounds like you worked hard on establishing those healthy sleep habits and were reaping the reward for quite a bit. Unfortunately even babies with a great start are sometimes impacted by the 4 month sleep regression. It’s such a bummer! One thing you could try is putting you little guy down more awake at the start of bedtime. Somewhere between 4 and 6 months “drowsy but awake” puts babies at a disadvantage. I like to use “ready but awake”. Put him down physically and emotionally ready for bed but completely awake and aware of where he is. This helps because after 4 months babies actually wake fully in the night often and if they aren’t comfortable going from awake to drowsy to asleep on their own they can start signalling (read: crying) for you for help. This process can lead to some protesting at bedtime so you’ll want to have a game plan for that. Amelia or I can help, if you need it. Good luck, mama. You’re doing an awesome job. You’re steps ahead of many other mamas of 5 month-old.

  • Sarah says:

    Hi. My LO is two months old and used to fall asleep on my boob at night. I’ve been reading up on good sleep habits and realized we shouldn’t be doing this. During the day the only way he will nap is on me in his carrier. I have been trying to start with rocking him to drowsy and putting him down for night sleep and then I’ll move to naps. He hates being rocked in the cradle position. He screams and it has been taking an hour and a half to get him to sleep. I try to get him to sleep within an hour of his last nap but it takes so long that he becomes so ot and angry. If I rock him sitting up on my shoulder he just looks around even in a dark room. Any suggestions!?!? Taking an hour and a half to get him to sleep is driving me crazy!

    • Jessica Begley says:

      Hi Sarah- This sound so normal for a two month old baby. As they become more interactive and social it’s common for the to have trouble settling to sleep. I’d aim to have him asleep by the 2 hour mark, so I think you are on the right track. He’s still a little guy but as he gets a bit older, I’d give him a little more space to fall asleep. If he’s crying and really struggling when you are rocking to sleep he may actually be sending you a signal that he needs a little less help and a little more space.

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