So, your little one is creeping out of the “newborn” phase… and you are wondering why your little one’s sleep has or is changing… Yes, you are reading the right article as I want to explain to you what goes on when your baby is 3-6 months old!

The sleep patterns your baby has from birth to 3 months is very irregular. In the first few months of a baby’s life, their sleep is quite unorganised and is driven by a biological urge to sleep sleep sleep. 

So, what’s going on with my little one’s sleep at 3-6 months?

Did you know that 3-6 months is the trickiest period of baby’s sleep? During these months, your baby’s sleep patterns will change dramatically! Your baby’s sleep will become a lot more like ours as adults, with much more distinct periods of light and deep sleep and more neurologically differentiated sleep cycles. It is during this time that a baby’s sleep habits are really becoming important and permanent. Let’s have a look at what is happening for your little one at this time.

The 4 month sleep regression

So, let’s talk about the 4 month sleep regression. The biggest change in your baby’s sleep cycle happens at around 4 months old and this is commonly known as the 4 month sleep regression! It is possibly the biggest change in your baby’s sleep that will ever happen!!

Let me break it down for you:

  • Your baby’s sleep cycles become more organised and their sleep starts to operate much like ours as adults.
  • Sleep has become a very conscious thing for your little one and it takes practise for them to get this skill right. Sleeping is a learnt skill!
  • They will start to wake fully between each sleep cycle rather than drift between cycles automatically.
  • If your baby is relying on you to go to sleep through rocking or feeding etc, they will now need you to replicate this EVERY time they wake between cycles (every 20-45 minutes in the day and roughly 2 hours overnight).
  • Your baby won’t go back to sleep after that cycle if they can’t self-settle, therefore they will end up being overtired in the evening. This is known as catnapping.

This sleep regression won’t go away until your baby has learnt how to self-settle. What do I mean by self-settling? It’s where you baby is able to fall asleep on their own when they’re ready to. Self-settling doesn’t just develop overnight, it is something new for babies and they need coaching, consistency and the practice to work on this new skill.

Something to note on the 4 month sleep regression is that it can come on earlier as not every baby reaches these developmental stages at the exact same time. Remember not all babies will reach these developmental stages at these exact ages, so if your baby is 3.5 months and starts waking every 2 hours overnight, it’s probably safe to assume they’ve hit the 4 month regression.

What is catnapping?

Catnapping means your baby is only sleeping for one sleep cycle at a time (between 20-45 minutes), which can be caused by under or over tiredness or the reliance on a sleep association or prop. Catnapping is mostly common between 4-6 months and it usually leads to an overtired baby come bedtime because they haven’t had the chance for a good long restorative sleep… leading to the “witching hour” before bedtime.

Catnapping is not “bad” or a “problem” and it is in fact, a developmental portal all babies must pass through, peaking at between 4-6 months. That said, we do know that prolonged catnapping can begin to impact a baby’s night-time sleep due to a build-up of overtiredness throughout the day. Catnapping also doesn’t offer your little one restorative sleep which is really important as they grow for their brain and growth development.

How do I deal with catnapping?

If your baby is catnapping, your best line of defence is to allow them to learn to self-settle at the start of naps. However even then, some babies will need help to resettle during a nap to get a longer stretch of sleep. This is completely normal and for some babies it can last quite a while which can be really tough for parents! Especially if they have a baby who wakes from a nap after 20 minutes. Yes, I have worked with many families who have little one’s that ONLY sleep for 20 minutes at a time! 

Resettling them rather than getting them up from their nap helps teach them to sleep for longer.

It is in this tricky sleep stage that it is important to foster good sleep habits, so aiming to have your baby do at least one nap a day in their cot is a great way to head towards better sleep.

Here are some of my tips for creating a good sleep environment for your little one:

  • A dark room – the darker the better. Babies do not need to sleep in a lighter room in the day to avoid them getting their body clock mixed up! Babies find dark calming and relaxing.
  • White noise – it helps babies to link their sleep cycles, so I highly recommend it. Get yourself a white noise machine, a fan works well in the summer months or play some white noise through a speaker.
  • Swaddle or sleep sack – swaddle until your baby can roll (roughly around 4 months) and then use sleep sacks from then. A lot of babies wake in the early morning due to being cold so make sure your baby is dressed appropriately for the room temperature.

So, there you go… hope you have found this helpful!

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for constant tips and support on there – head to @countingsheepbabysleep 😊