A sleep consultant breaks down the sleep needs and habits of your not-so-newborn baby, with sample schedules.
Four months is a sweet time in your baby's life—it's one of my favorite ages as a mom, when your baby is just discovering the world around them and is full of smiles, snuggles and cute baby coos.
As adorable as this age is, however, it also comes with a not-so-sweet milestone: the four-month sleep regression (shudder). If your once-sound sleeper is suddenly having trouble at night or naptime, don't worry: a sleep regression is normal at this age and there are things you can do to get you both back to the rest you need. Or at least Netflix at night while the baby sleeps because we don't judge here.
How much sleep does a four-month-old baby need?
Your baby needs lots of sleep: according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a baby this age should get 12-16 hours of sleep per 24 hours.
At four months old, your baby has hit a pretty big milestone: they are officially no longer classified as a newborn! Instead, they move into the "infant" category of sleep. That's a bittersweet one, right?
Newborn sleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) can't really be classified because it's so scattered. But once your baby is four months old, some more clear patterns for sleep and wake times do start to emerge. The AASM notes that, on average, infants aged 4-12 months need 12-16 hours of sleep per day, including naps.
"At four months old, your baby is officially no longer a newborn, and their sleep starts to change quite a bit," Rachel Mitchell, a certified pediatric and maternal sleep consultant and founder of My Sweet Sleeper, explains. She adds that at four months old, your baby will need less sleep than they did in the newborn stage, requiring 3.5 to 5 hours of day sleep and between 10 to 12 hours of night sleep.
According to Mitchell, one of the big changes that happens this month is the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. And while that big shift can come with some big changes, sleep-wise, Mitchell urges parents not to panic.
"This is often the stage that parents start to dread the anticipated 'four month sleep regression,' but what is actually happening is that your baby is making big leaps developmentally and this is more of a progression," she says. "While progressions will likely affect your child's sleep habits, there is no need to panic. This is a lot for your baby to go through at once, so consistency in this stage is key."
And just how do you get–and keep–that consistency? Starting a baby sleep schedule can help you both learn to adjust and follow sleep cues that will establish healthy sleep habits. Here's a sample sleep schedule that Mitchell recommends.
4-month-old baby sleep schedule
You'll notice in this sleep schedule that bedtimes are fairly early–that's because at four months old, your baby is just establishing melatonin and a circadian rhythm.
"The circadian rhythm more efficiently drives sleep patterns, so bedtime should be on the earlier side, ideally between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.," Mitchell explains.
She also adds that naps should follow a consistent pattern of 3 to 4 naps per day, with 2 of those naps lasting at least 1 to 2 hours. "If your baby is napping more than 2.5 hours in this stage, you'll want to wake them up," she says. "If the last nap of the day starts to blend with bedtime, then wake your baby up sooner to give them adequate awake time before bed—at least 2 hours before they go down for the night."
Wake windows for a four month old
Wake windows for a four-month-old baby are ideally only between 90 and 120 minutes, says Mitchell, and the first awake window of the day should always be the shortest. To help make the most of those wake times—and ensure your little one is properly pooped out for the next nap—it's important to pack in as much playtime as possible while they're awake. "Do your best to ensure your baby gets enough activity, especially tummy time, during awake windows," Mitchell suggests.
Sleep tips for babies:
While you might notice some sleep regressions at this age, it's important to keep in mind that there is a reason for any sleep disruptions your baby is going through. In fact, it's a sign that they are developing and growing appropriately, so in a way, sleep regressions are a good thing. Even if it doesn't feel that way at 2 a.m., we get it.
With that in mind, sleep is still a precious thing and it can be difficult when you're not getting enough of it, so here are some tips to help you both get the sleep you need:
- Stay consistent, but be flexible. The key to getting through a sleep regression is to stay consistent with your baby's sleep schedule and to be aware of their own sleep cues so you can adjust the schedule as needed. For instance, if your baby needs to sleep a little earlier than the schedule recommends, that's okay! Every baby is different, and sometimes, babies who are growing or fighting off a cold may need more sleep.
- Consider eliminating one night feeding. According to Mitchell, four months is also the time that you can start to consider helping your baby to learn to sleep longer stretches at night by eliminating a night feeding. "You may start to think about dropping to one night feed if it seems like your baby is ready," she says. (Just be sure to clear this with a doctor first, especially if there is any concern about your baby's weight gain.)
- Try sleep training. Another strategy that may help? Sleep training. "This is also the time you can start to think about sleep training, as long as your baby's foundations of sleep are in place," Mitchell suggests.
- Ditch the swaddle if your baby is rolling. The other important aspect to consider with sleep at four months is safety. Four-month-old babies may be starting to become more mobile, which means you'll have to make some adjustments for safe sleep. "If you notice your baby is starting to roll over onto their tummy, make sure to stop swaddling at naps and bedtime immediately," Mitchell says. "You can move to a sleep sack, but once your baby can roll, it is no longer safe to swaddle."
Four months brings a lot of change for both you and your baby, especially in the sleep department, so if you are struggling, be sure to reach out for help if you need it. Sleep is a skill and all of us need help learning new skills, right? "If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the changes your baby is experiencing in this stage, or you are not sure where to start, feel free to reach out to chat with a sleep consultant about your options," Mitchell says.