How To Tackle The 4 Month Sleep Regression

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Solving typical sleep problems at 1-6 months, part 2

The 4 months sleep regression

3 month old playing

Straight to the solutions

If your baby suddenly wakes more often at night, only sleeps when held/rocked/nursed/fed, cries more, takes shorter naps than before; you're likely facing a sleep regression.

We see regressions at a few specific ages, and a very typical one is the “4 months sleep dip”, or simply the 4 month sleep regression.

It's often babies who have slept well - even through the night - in their first months who seem most spectacularly affected.

At 4 months old, the regression is likely related to a spectacular growth spurt & involving changes in different areas: digestive system, motor skills, understanding and processing, emotional maturing, and sleep patterns to name the main ones.

So much is going on for baby and they have to process that, both physically and mentally. These big developmental steps also mean a step-up with regards to food. Your baby will simply need to feed more for a while, topping up and ultimately increasing portions.

Looking at it from that side, we sometimes say it's actually a surprise that a 4-month old infant can get any decent sleep at all :/

Luckily we can minimize the effect of the sleep regression, let's have a look:

What to do

Balancing food well and establishing the right sleep habits are your strongest partners to get through the 4 month sleep regression.

  • Careful not to over-feed, consider feeding on demand when possible, for 3-5 days. This goes for breastfeeding as well as formula feeding.

    Gently increase your baby's total food intake, taking good care not to over-do it. You can do this by increasing portions / consistently encourageing to empty both breasts and/or add an extra feed or two.

    Important reminder: the idea is NOT to stuff before bed. Starting the night with an overly full stomach is not healthy, leads to restless sleep and will have an inverse effect.

    How to balance and increase food intake safely is one of the dedicated techniques described inside the award-winning Overcome Frequent Waking program.
  • Nicely adjusted sleep habits are critical right now.

    Sadly, though understandably!, when a sudden sleep regression pops up, many parents start doubting the good routines and schedules they so carefully set up before.

    Or no longer believe they are important.

    But on the contrary, your baby needs that powerful foundation and regularity more than ever now. It's what will get your little one, and you, through the sleep regression fastest, and return to sleeping well most quickly.

    Keep offering a regular, recognizable and well-adjusted daily schedule, pay attention to when and how you put your baby down for naps and nights, keep a really good bedtime routine, keep the bedroom cozy and well-aired, etc. and in general limit the amount of changes right now. Also pay attention to effective self-soothing practice.

What if your baby sleeps more during the day than at night

Straight to the solutions

If your baby's body has not adapted to a typical day/night rhythm yet, they may not sleep more at night than during the day. Day and night sleep may be roughly the same. Or your baby may have a reversed day/night rhythm and seem to sleep all day and be awake all night.

It typically takes about 12 weeks for a good day/night rhythm to set. When it does, nights are quieter and more restful than days, which is great for all. Having this clear difference between day and night is also very important for building long-term sleep skills.

Your baby may grasp the idea much earlier of course, some 2-3 week olds are much quieter at night and livelier during daytime. That's of course wonderful and something to cherish. Still keep up the good habits as I discuss right below, it will only reinforce the good and avoid retrogression later on.

What to do

Use the simple yet very effective Light and Activity Cues technique to help your baby learn the difference between day and night.

  • When the day starts, make your house light and alive. Make sure there is a lot of light, curtains and blinds are open. There is music, you speak normally, no hushed voices, there is playing, laughing, dancing, activities going on, you go out, …

    You interrupt this a little for nap times of course, but still there is not the same dark and quietness as at night.
  • Then when the night starts, the house goes soft and quiet. Switch to softer voices, have low lights, less activity is going on, no more playing except for example reading a story quietly, …

These cues are very powerful and help your baby physically adapt to our daily rhythm.

Also in this this 1-6 months section: