Updated: Dec 19, 2020
Whoever coined the term “sleeping like a baby” must have been childless.
Surely, they were talking only of the newborn baby that sleeps all. the. time. through anything and everything around them.
Then they turn 4 months old (or 3.5 months, or 4.5 months, or 5 months).
The dreaded (or if you’re like I was with my first, the unknown) 4-month sleep regression hits and they’re no longer sleeping like they were. What worked to get them to sleep is no longer working or taking waaaaay longer to work only to have them sleep 20 minutes.
The exhaustion and frustration is real and totally understandable.
Will it always be this hard?! How can I make this easier? How long will this last?!
But, first, what causes a sleep regression and when do they commonly occur?
A sleep regression is when your baby or child has an unusually difficult time sleeping, whether it be during the night, for naps, or both. These regressions can be caused by developmental growth or a change in their environment (sickness, travel, a new sibling).
Let's focus on the regressions caused by development.
These regressions commonly occur around 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 2 years of age.
It’s good to note that not every child shows signs of regression at each of these ages or, if they do, they’re not always extreme.
Well, what are the signs?
The most obvious sign is sleep struggles - more night-wakings, early morning wake-ups, short naps, no naps, or taking a long time to get to sleep and staying asleep.
The less obvious signs are irritability and the “3 Cs” - cranky, crying, and clingy.
The final sign, that is the cause of it all, is a new skill or developmental advancement.
Will it always be this hard?! How can I make this easier?
Zooming out, looking at the big picture, sleep regressions aren’t so prominent after 2 years of age and are a sign of a good thing - growth and development!
But, my goodness, TWO years of exhaustion?!
So, zooming back in, there are things that can make this easier and not so long lasting or noticeable.
To make it easier on you, Mama, having appropriate expectations, having the facts beforehand, and being as prepared as possible will ease some of the stress!
For your little one, these are my 3 best tips to ease the struggles around sleep regressions:
1. Hands down, number one, is having a baby that sleeps independently.
With the 4 month sleep regression, this is really they best thing you can do because sleep is the major developmental change. Your child is going from “sleeping like a baby” to having more adult-like sleep - having more light-sleep stages, waking between sleep cycles (which is normal), and trying to consolidate those sleep cycles.
When your child is able to get to sleep on their own, they’ll handle each regression with more ease.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice!
When the regression is caused by a new physical skill (rolling over around 4 months; crawling, pulling up, cruising around 6-9 months; walking, running, jumping, talking around 12-18 months) giving your child ample opportunity to practice will ease their desire to practice during their sleep times and will release some energy to help them sleep. Win. Win.
3. Stay consistent!
Stick to your usual routines, schedule, and boundaries to prevent any new, unwanted habits.
If you have sleep trained, it’s ok to bring the method you used back, if needed.
How long will this last?
The 4 month regression is a permanent one since it’s their sleep that’s changing. But, each regression that follows can last between 2-6 weeks, but normally around 2-4.
If you’re still facing these struggles beyond 6 weeks, there’s more going on. It could be time for a schedule adjustment, a poor habit that needs to be changed, or something else causing a disturbance. But, nothing that we can’t figure out!
For even more help with sleep regressions (in a pretty format), you can grab your free guide here!
You got this, Mama!
(And I'm here to help if you feel like you don't.)