Effectively Managing the Challenges of 4-Month Sleep Regression as a New Parent

As a new parent you may (or may not) have been prepared for what is known as “4-Month Sleep Regression”. Just when you thought that you’re little one was settling into a nighttime routine, your baby decides its time to be a hot mess, fussy and wide awake.

Knowing how important sleep is for your baby’s development, you no doubt hit the web searching on Google for “sleep regression” and what you can do to get things back on track.

For your baby’s (and your sake), this guide will help you better understand what sleep regression is and proven steps to help your little bundle of joy get a good night’s rest.

What is Sleep Regression? 

Sleep regression refers to a situation where your baby’s normally progressing and stabilizing sleep schedule all of a sudden takes a U-turn and regresses, causing them to wake up frequently and become fussy at night.

As you can imagine, this is both inconvenient and not exactly optimal as it relates to having a healthy sleep cycle. Although it is called a “regression”, this shouldn’t be considered a “negative”. Quite the opposite. The appearance of sleep regression is a key indication that your child’s sleep cycle is maturing.

What are the Signs of Sleep Regression? 

There comes a time when most parents feel like their baby is finally getting used to a sleep routine (often around 2-3 months of age). Then, unexpectedly, this routine is broken.

Signs of Sleep Regression May Include:

  • Increased fussiness at night
  • Persistent and/or frequent night crying
  • Multiple wake-ups throughout the night
  • Less-frequent napping
  • Changes in appetite
  • General irritability 

How Common is Sleep Regression? Is it Normal?

Rest easy and take a load off knowing that if your baby experiences 4-month sleep progression it is not an indication of anything serious. 

In fact, 4-month sleep regression is a very common, yet often trying experience, for both babies and parents alike. Even “good sleepers” tend to go through a short period of regression.

At What Age Does 4-Month Sleep Regression Tend to Start? 

Although the name gives a strong indication that sleep regression takes place at the 4-month mark, this is by no means a hard and fast rule. 

In general, “4-Month Sleep Regression” may be experienced by your child any time after 8-weeks of age, and as late as 5 months old. That said, some babies have difficulty sleeping from birth, while others sleep like a log.

Other common ages at which your child may experience sleep regression are:

  • 8-months
  • 18-months

That said, 4-month sleep regression is the most commonly experienced type.

What Causes or Contributes to Sleep Regression? 

The circadian rhythm of newborn babies has two sleep cycles during the evening hours. However, as your child gets older, they begin to cycle through 4-stages (much like adults). This means that your baby is now transitioning to spending more time in a “lighter”, non-REM, sleep cycle that results in more frequent wake-ups and fussiness. 

This is also a stage of their lives when your baby is beginning to learn and understand how to be more active, roll over, and recognize voices, faces and language. All of these and more can contribute to sleep regression. 

How Long Does Sleep Regression Last? 

The good news for tired and sleep-deprived parents around the world is that sleep regressions (at any age) are usually short-lived, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to 1 and ½ months. Again, there aren’t any hard and fast rules here and every baby is unique. 

So remember, although this setback can be frustrating and challenging, it is temporary. That might not provide much solace to all the exhausted parents out there, but luckily for you, this guide is full of tips to help you cope and get back on track.

PRO PARENTING TIP: Although sleep regressions are typically short-lived, lasting only 3-6 weeks on average, it is important to remember that “bad habits” formed during this time can (and do) last longer. It may be easy to fall back into habits you had already broken in order to calm a fussy child, but don’t give in to temptation. Things like always needing to be rocked to sleep or picked up to sleep should be left in the past. In fact, this time can be used to double-down on healthy new habits. 

Getting Through Sleep Regression: tips and tricks to help you and your child get the sleep you both deserve

Before we dive into the strategies and techniques you can put in place to deal, take a deep breath and solace in knowing that this is temporary. Although there isn’t much you can do to reverse sleep regression, there are some things you can do to make this time more tolerable.

  1. Embrace Flexibility 

No doubt sleep regression of any kind or degree will put a wrench in your typical daily habits and routines. Nap schedules and bedtimes might as well get tossed out the window (temporarily). Being flexible during this time can reduce stress on both you and your child.

  1. Consistency is Important 

Sleep regressions will no doubt disrupt your “usual” schedule, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep up with any type of bedtime routines to prepare your child for a night of uninterrupted sleep. These routines may not take place the at the same time every day, but during a time when your child is experiencing sleep disturbances, it can be helpful to maintain as many elements of familiarity that you can. 

  1. Maintain a Calming Environment

At this time, anything you can do to encourage a sense of calm for your baby can help them sleep. Pay close attention to keeping the room at a soothing temperature, lights dimmed (or off), or even playing relaxing white noise in the background. You may also want to add massage, a warm bath, swaddling or even story time to their bedtime routine.

  1. Comfort – but with limits

Increasing comfort through activities such as extra rocking, cradling, “pacing the floors”, music, singing can all be important. That said, you will want to limit these activities and interventions once you place them in their cradle or other sleep environment.

  1. Adapt Your Sleep Schedule

Sleep regression almost always means less sleep, leading to increased irritability, which in turn leads to less sleep. You can see how this cycle can be counterproductive. To combat this, consider adapting your daytime sleep schedules and attempting an earlier bedtime to make up for lost hours at night.

  1. Don’t Shy Away from Additional Feedings if Needed

Developmental changes and growth spurts at this stage in your baby’s life may coincide with an increase in appetite. It’s not at all uncommon for your child to need/require additional feedings during this time.

  1. It's Ok to Ask for Help

Your health is important too. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. If possible, partners should rotate sleep schedules. But don’t shy away from asking family or friends for a little support along the way so you can get some much-needed shut-eye.

  1. Put Your Baby Down at the First Signs of Downiness 

Don’t wait until your baby is asleep in your arms before you put them in their crib. Placing your baby in their sleeping environment when they are drowsy will aid in teaching them how to fall asleep on their own.

Closing Thoughts About 4-Month Sleep Regression 

Although going through a 4-month sleep regression can be stressful on both you and your baby, it is a generally short-lived interruption that will soon pass. By implementing the strategies and techniques in this guide, and taking on a “go with the flow” attitude you and your child will be back to sleeping the whole night through in no time. 

Remember, most babies will go through some form of sleep regression as a natural part of their development. Establishing good sleep habits during this time can help them stay healthy and happy for years to come.