Some of these babies slept great as newborns. They were easy to settle, fell into a consistent sleep routine, and took long naps. Now, all of a sudden, their 4 month old just won’t sleep.
Other parents have struggled for 4 long months with a terrible sleeper. Waking all night, micro-naps and no consistent sleep routine has turned these poor parents into zombies. They’re desperate for sleep and terrified of the 4 month sleep regression making everything worse (if that’s even possible!)
Four months old is an age of rapid development and change. It’s easy for your baby’s sleep to get off track. If there’s anything I want new parents to know it’s this: There Is Always Hope!
Although it may be too early for formal sleep training like Ferber or CIO (in my opinion) there’s still plenty you can do to help your 4 month-old sleep well.
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Here are 8 reasons why your 4 month-old isn’t sleeping (& what you can do about it!)
#1 Awake times are off
Young babies have a biological need to sleep often. Specifically, your 4 month-old needs to sleep every 1.5-2.5 hours all day long. Awake times longer than this can make your baby overtired and fussy, which makes it harder for him to settle down and sleep well.
Make sure you watch the clock and let your 4 month old nap every 1.5-2.5 hours throughout the day. At this age, awake times take priority over nap length. It’s more important to get your baby napping often even if the naps are short.
#2 Bedtime is all wrong
Most 4 month-olds need 9-11 hours sleep at night. I don’t mean that your baby can sleep 9-11 hours straight! Instead, this is your baby’s total hours of nighttime sleep. Night feeds are still needed for the majority of 4 month-olds.
The ideal bedtime for your 4 month-old’s body clock naturally falls between 7:30-9 pm. The exact bedtime that best suits your baby will depend on her napping patterns.
Bedtimes that are too late result in baby becoming overtired. Many people think that an overtired baby will sleep better at night. This is the case for us adults, so it must be the same for babies, right? Nope. Baby sleep is completely counterintuitive! An overtired and overstimulated baby will sleep worse, not better.
A bedtime before 7:30 pm will probably result in really early mornings for you. Remember, your baby can only be expected to sleep 9-11 hours at night. So a bedtime of 7 pm or earlier could make baby awake and ready for the day at 5 am! Better to allow for a late afternoon nap so bedtime can be between 7:30-9 pm.
#3 No bedtime routine
When teaching babies to sleep well, we always begin at bedtime. The way that you approach bedtime (and the activities you do) will determine if your baby sleeps long, restful stretches at night… or doesn’t.
The first thing to do is begin a peaceful nightly ritual. The purpose of this bedtime routine is to calm your baby in the evening, so that his body can relax and welcome sleep.
Certain activities have been proven to relax babies, and when done in the right order, it sets your baby up for sleeping longer at night. (You can get step-by-step guidance on creating your peaceful nightly ritual here.)
#4 Baby feeds all night
Your 4 month-old will need 1-3 night feedings. It’s a good idea to ask your pediatrician how many feeds your individual baby needs at night.Their answer will depend on your baby’s weight gain, growth and milk intake. So best to ask a professional who knows your baby personally!
Your pediatrician will probably recommend that your baby eats every certain amount of hours. For example, if your baby needs to feed every 4 hours you’ll know he needs 2 night feeds. But if your pediatrician assures you that your baby can go 6+ hours between feeds overnight, then you should try to wean down to 1 night feed. (This guide on weaning night feedings tells you how.)
Just remember that whenever you start weaning or eliminating night feeds, it’s critical that you compensate by feeding your baby more during the day.
#5 Naps have become a nightmare
Another common problem that keeps 4 month-olds from sleeping well at night is inconsistent or insufficient naps. Keeping up with 1.5-2.5 hour awake times will help your baby nap better. Sleep props will also help him nap well.
For example, if your little one naps better in the stroller, baby carrier, or swing- then let him! It’s totally ok to use motion naps or naps on-the-go at this age. (Just supervise your baby’s naps.)
Here are some nap tips for 4 month olds
#6 Baby is ready for a different sleep space
As your baby becomes mobile and starts to roll, he’ll want a bigger sleep space so he can get himself into comfortable sleep positions. Tight and cosy sleep spaces may be nice for newborns, but growing babies need more room!
You can still share a bedroom if you prefer. But now your little one will have a bigger sleep space (which often helps babies sleep better.)
One tip for this transition is to place baby in the crib with his feet touching one end. Babies typically sleep better when they can feel their sleep boundaries. Having baby’s feet touch one end of the crib does the trick!
If you’re co-sleeping, and getting kicked in the ribs all night- you can also transition baby to a crib right next to your bed. Separate sleep spaces often help the whole family sleep better. And you’re still within arms reach!
Oh, and if you haven’t already, put your baby in a sleep sack.
These sleep sacks are GREAT for babies that roll!
#7 The 4 month sleep regression has arrived
Chances are by now that you’ve heard of the 4 month sleep regression. (Or you discovered it during a 3 am Google search.) This is a normal, yet exhausting, phase of development for your baby.
If your baby was sleeping pretty well, and all of a sudden can’t settle, wakes all night or takes short naps- it’s probably because of the 4 month sleep regression.
Why does this happen?
The 4 month sleep regression has several causes:
#1 Your baby’s sleeping patterns are maturing and becoming more adult-like. This makes your baby more distractible, harder to settle and easier to wake.
#2 Around this age there’s a big growth spurt. This means your baby will be hungrier day and night. He’ll wake up early from a nap or more often at night because he’s hungry.
#3 Your baby may be transitioning from 4 to 3 naps a day. Nap transitions can be tricky and unintentionally lead to long awake times, which can over-tire your baby. Over-tiredness can worsen night sleep, and make baby harder to settle and wake more often. And then we have a vicious cycle…
So how can you help your baby get through the 4 month regression without going completely crazy? This video has all the essential tips!
#8 Old tactics don’t work anymore
Up until now it may have been pretty easy to get your baby down to sleep. You could feed or rock him for 10 minutes and then he’d sleep a few hours.
But these days nothing seems to work! Now you’re feeding, rocking and bouncing him for an hour- only to have him wake 20 minutes later, right?
I know. I’ve been there. It’s terribly exhausting. Remember, your baby’s sleep patterns are maturing and it’s completely normal for old tactics to lose their effectiveness. If you’ve gotten to the point where nothing seems to help your baby sleep well, then it’s time to teach him to self-settle.
There are many ways to do this. For 4 month-olds I prefer a slower, more gradual approach.
For example, you could focus on placing your baby in bed when he’s drowsy, but not yet asleep. You may need to give hands-on support to help him fall asleep (rock his body side-to-side, pat his bottom or put your hand on his chest.)
Each night, focus on lessening your hands-on assistance and getting him to soothe himself to sleep. When your baby can go into his bed awake and settle himself to sleep, he’ll start sleeping longer stretches. This is because he can resettle himself during the night when he stirs.
Your 4 month old CAN learn to sleep well. You just have to show your baby how!
So what’s causing your baby’s sleep struggles? Is it a sleep regression, growth spurt, or no consistent sleep schedule? Maybe it’s improper awake times or the wrong bedtime. No matter the reason, we can always find a solution to help your 4 month-old start sleeping amazingly well.
Once you figure out which of the above is causing your baby’s sleep issues, and you work on fixing it, you and your little one will start sleeping great at night.
Got a question about your 4 month-old’s sleep? Ask Jilly in the comments below.