Preparing for the 4 Month Sleep Regression

August 21, 2023, sierraharlan

Note: I am not a pediatric sleep specialist, merely a fellow tired parent looking to experts for information on helping my newborn sleep well and preparing for the four month sleep regression. This post is a summary of information that I read from credible sources.

I recently took my baby to a “family day” at my husband’s work, and almost every person I spoke with opened the conversation by asking how our baby was sleeping. And it’s no wonder sleep is an essential need that often feels like a luxury when you have a newborn. One change in sleep that I have been anticipating is the four month sleep regression, which can begin as early as three months in some babies. I’ve been curious about what developmental changes cause sleep regression for some babies at this stage and what I can do to prepare my little one for this new phase.

What causes the four month sleep regression?

Baby boy, sleeping with a frog toyIt’s important to note that babies develop at different rates. However, the four month sleep regression is something that many babies experience between 3-4 months of age. While it can certainly feel exhausting and discouraging when your baby goes through a phase of less sleep, remember that it is just that- a phase! Your baby’s incredible little body is developing more mature sleep cycles that are closer to what we experience as adults. As babies go through these sleep cycles, they wake up, and since they likely don’t have the skills yet to put themselves back to sleep, they cry. This is an important developmental step to longer stretches of sleep.

What you do during the day matters

Most sleep specialists seem to agree that four months is too early for sleep training (an umbrella term that includes many styles of helping babies learn to sleep independently). However, you can focus on adequate awake time, daytime naps, calories, and creating a bedtime routine so their little body is more comfortable and ready for a longer slumber. Newborns don’t stick to a set schedule. However, experts recommend that your baby is awake for specific “windows” of time between naps (called awake windows). The general rule is that babies between 3-4 months should be awake for periods of 60-120 minutes.   This blog post by Cara Dumaplin, RN and certified pediatric sleep consultant, has great information on awake windows. Watch for sleepy cues towards the end of these windows. As you get to know your baby, you will probably get a sense of how long their unique awake period should be and learn what signs to watch for. Keep in mind that this will change as your baby continues to grow and develop.

Asian baby asleep on his back with a lot of dark hair.Babies also need a certain number of hours of sleep based on their age. How much sleep they need does vary from baby to baby. Here are two articles by Huckleberry discussing how much sleep a baby should get at three and four. They recommend that 3-month-old babies get around 4-5 hours of sleep during the day, and at four months, baby should be getting 3.5-4.5 hours of sleep during the day.

Focusing on calorie intake is another important ingredient for a (hopefully) long stretch of sleep at night. If babies do not get enough calories during the day, they will wake more at night for feedings. Part of the four month sleep regression can be “distracted feeding,” where babies do not eat as much in a feeding as they need to. This leads to waking more at night for a bottle or to nurse.  This article has some tips on supporting babies with getting enough calories during the day and other helpful information.

Bedtime habits

Lastly, creating a consistent bedtime routine can help your little one. This is a form of communication and helps our baby know that it is time to wind down and get sleepy. Since the time that this occurs will most likely vary to some degree, it’s not so much about what time you start the routine at but what you do. For my baby’s routine, we change her diaper, put her in her sleep sack, get the room dark, and nurse or give her a bottle. Other ideas for nighttime routines include giving baby a bath, reading a story (some people get as specific as reading the same story), listening to calming music, or singing a song.

Take a breath before rushing to baby at night.

Mother kissing newborn baby feet, at home.

My husband and I also slowly learned that we don’t need to rush out of bed every time Camille makes a noise at night. Now, even if she is fussing a little bit, sometimes she will put herself back to sleep. I’ve read that most babies are generally noisy sleepers, and sure enough, sometimes, when I check on her, she is still fast asleep. We do get up with her immediately if she starts to cry.

Putting it all together

Lack of sleep has been one of the biggest challenges for me as a new parent, and if you are experiencing this, you have my empathy. It can make parenting feel overwhelming and make it hard to enjoy the newborn phase. Sleep specialists agree that focusing on awake windows, adequate sleep, calorie intake, and a bedtime routine can help set babies up for a better night of sleep. There is so much great information available on helping your little one sleep. I’ll share the links that I found helpful below. Wishing you and your little one(s) the best week of sleep you’ve experienced yet!

Baby Sleep Resources