A couple of short weeks ago, you felt like you finally had this whole newborn sleep-thing
under control. Your baby would sleep long stretches during the night, and have big,
restful naps during the day (in the stroller, your arms, the vibrating chair – you name it,
he’d sleep there!).
Then, without warning, something changed. Those blissful two-hour naps dipped to 30
to 45 minutes, and those one or two night-wakes turned into five-plus wakes per night.
Why did this happen?!
It’s likely that your baby has entered the dreaded four-month sleep regression. So,
what does that really mean, and what is the best way to manage it?
Babies and toddlers go through various sleep regressions (I actually don’t like this word
– so let’s call it “developments”), which are generally thought to occur around months
four, eight, twelve, eighteen, and twenty-four. The biggest development of all of
these, and the most significant, is the four-month sleep development.
I’m about to tell you two things you probably don’t want to hear; then, my advice on how
to deal with this development is further down in the article – so keep reading!
1. Every baby goes through the four-month sleep development.
2. The changes during this development, unlike during other developments,
Developments at other stages are generally about a particular milestone (e.g.,
milestones such as crawling at 8 months and language acquisition at 11 to 12 months;
and toddler independence – also known as tantrums! – at 18 to 24 months). These
should pass in a matter of one or two weeks. But the four-month sleep development
comes as your child exits one big phase of life (newborn to infant) and progresses into
another (older infant).
First, try to think about the four-month development as a step forward rather than a step
back. Your four-month-old is more alert and easily-stimulated than your six-week
newborn was. Your child’s sleep patterns are now more like those of an adult, going
through many deep and light stages of sleep.
If your baby has not developed any sleep associations in the first few months of life, you
may not experience a big sleep challenge at this point. This is because, although your
infant’s sleep patterns have changed, he is able to put himself to sleep, stay asleep
through stages of light rest, and put himself back to sleep on his own if he wakes.
However, for most babies (and parents), the four-month sleep development is HARD.
Often, little ones have developed strong sleep associations or “props” (like being
rocked, fed to sleep, etc.) in the newborn stage. This isn’t on purpose of course.
Associations happen because parents do everything possible to help their little ones
sleep. But your four-month-old is more heavily reliant on these props during these new,
frequent, light stages of sleep.
Things you can do to manage the 4-month development:
1. Create a peaceful room environment: I’m a big fan of blackout blinds —
covered by blackout curtains — to darken the room. Avoid bright, flashing lights
on things like toy aquariums, light projectors, and mobiles. If your house is noisy,
a sound machine is your best friend. Keep it on the “white noise” or “fan” setting,
running continuously as your child sleeps (refrain from setting the timer option).
2. Naps are important – don’t skip them: Ensure your child is getting adequate
daytime sleep. The better-rested your baby is during the day, the more likely he
is to sleep at night. Remember: sleep begets sleep.
3. Routines, routines, routines: Consistent nap and bedtime routines are crucial.
Ensure the same steps are carried out every night at the same time as part of
bedtime. This will help your child understand that the big, long sleep is coming
up! Babies and toddlers thrive on consistency and predictability. A great
bedtime routine could include:
- A cozy cuddle
- Into bed
4. Put your little one down awake: Awake. Not drowsy. Not asleep. For your
baby to learn to put himself back to sleep when he rustles and wakes at night, he
first needs to know how to go from awake to asleep with his own, using the
healthy sleep habits he learned at bedtime. Putting your child down drowsy or
asleep will cause him to wake unaware of his surroundings in the night. Not
knowing how to get himself back to sleep, he’ll look to you for his regular props or
interventions. Putting him down awake, however, and allowing him the chance to
fall asleep on his own, will help him begin to go back to sleep on his own when
There are many strategies for helping your child learn to go to sleep independently, and
the important thing is that you choose the one that best-suits your baby, your family
situation, and your parenting style. Remember, this stage will pass, as they all do.
Once healthy sleep habits are formed, your baby will have learned a new life-long skill.
I am Khudeja Williams, a Paediatric Infant & Toddler Sleep Consultant and owner of
Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting. I work closely with parents to help them help their
little ones get the healthy, restful sleep they need. Follow Sweet Dreams Sleep
Consulting on Instagram and Facebook. Let’s get your family the healthy, happy sleep
you all deserve!
The advice provided by Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting is not a substitute for medical
advice. The advice on this website is provided solely for informational purposes.
Always seek the advice of your doctor or another qualified health practitioner with
questions regarding medical conditions or the health or welfare of your child.