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 4 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!

    • The Baby Sleep Geek says:

      Hi Katrina- I would focus on helping your baby fall asleep independently at bedtime and that will help consolidate sleep at night leading to longer stretches. It’s all about coming up with a plan to help him work through the struggle by responding consistently overtime so that he knows what to expect. The right schedule, environment, and bedtime routine will also help reduce those tears. Let me know if you’d like some help creating a plan you can be consistent with. I’m here to help!

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