Is your three month old suddenly fighting sleep? Many parents find that 3 months old is particularly hard, as babies are out of the newborn age but not quite old enough to learn how to self-soothe. This often results in parents doing anything they can think of to get their baby off to sleep.
The three month sleep regression (which can sometimes come later than three months) hits because baby is developmentally changing and their needs are different than they were as a newborn.
If you often found it easy for your newborn to nap throughout the day and perhaps nights were even starting to fall into place, the 3 month old sleep regression can really do a number on even the most content babies.
In today’s post, I’ll outline the common reasons why the 3 month sleep regression hits and what to do to overcome it.
Reasons why the 3 month old sleep regression hits
Did you know the 3 month sleep regression or as it’s sometimes referred to, the 4 month sleep regression, can hit anytime between 3-6 months? There’s a lot happening at this age that makes this sleep regression such a doozy. Here are a few common reasons why:
There’s a huge developmental milestone at 3 months
Starting as early as 3 months, or sometimes it comes later, around 4 to 5 months or even as late as 6 months, your baby’s sleep cycle majorly changes. The circadian rhythm is established at this age and baby now has natural wakeful windows/sleep cycles throughout the day.
You’ll know this is happening if your great napper suddenly starts waking up after 30 or 45 minutes, signaling they are done with their nap.
Their night time sleep will also change, too. Often babies go from 5 to 7 hour stretches to shorter 2-4 hour stretches.
The reason this happens is because around 3 months of age the sleep cycle emerges. A baby sleep cycle is 45 minutes and if your baby has always been assisted to sleep these sleep cycles will really mess them up.
Adults have sleep cycles too, and just like babies who have self-soothing capabilities, most of the time you won’t even notice these and you’ll just put yourself right back to sleep.
Wake time jumps
Another reason babies can really be hit hard with the 3 month sleep regression is because right around this time their awake time changes. Instead of the short 1-ish hour wake window they have likely been following since birth, the 3 month wake window means they’re developmentally able to be awake for 1.5-1.75 hours.
A lot of parents seem to miss the new wake window, and continue to put their 3 month old down too early for a nap, which typically results in a very short nap because baby isn’t quite tired enough for the full nap.
Now that you know why the 3 month old sleep regression hits, here’s how to fix it:
Tips to survive the 3 month sleep regression
Give baby time and space to nap each day
Once you get past those first few weeks of the newborn stage, many parents love taking their baby everywhere, as baby will very easily nap whenever and wherever.
Unfortunately, the stage where baby will nap on the go is fairly short lived, as by 3 months baby is far too alert to take restful naps on the go all day.
Now, it’s not like you need to be tied to your home all day so that baby can nap when they need to, but make it a point to at least do one nap at home.
If you can, try to be at home for at least the lunchtime nap, as that nap is the longest nap of the day and is one your baby will hold on to until they stop napping at around age 3 or 4.
The last nap of the day is always hardest to achieve and I always suggest to parents to do that nap on the go anyway, to make sure baby gets some rest in the afternoon to prevent over tiredness as bedtime approaches.
Insufficient or catnaps leads to very frequent overnight wake ups and many times this can be solved by just allowing baby time and space to nap each day.
Offer bridging naps
Over tiredness is huge issue with this age that will quickly ruin a day and make the nights unbearable for little ones (and parents!). If naps don’t go well, offer bridging naps during the day to prevent over tiredness.
Rather than adjusting your entire day’s schedule when one nap doesn’t go well, you want to just offer quick rest periods in between the normal nap times. You really want to keep baby’s schedule the same each day to help baby get in the habit of sleeping at the same time each day.
Here’s how you offer bridging naps:
- Bridging naps should be no more than 15 minutes. Anymore than this completely defeats the purpose of a bridging nap.
- The nap serves to just take the edge off of your baby’s tiredness so that they can make it to their next scheduled nap time
Fix the sleep environment
Now that baby isn’t napping on the go as much and are considerably more alert, you’ve got some work to do on their sleep environment.
Gone are the days of sleeping on mom while the TV is on in the living room. Your baby needs a quiet, dark sleep environment to facilitate restorative sleep.
The first thing I always recommend to parents is to invest in blackout curtains. Melatonin is the sleep hormone responsible for making your baby drowsy and is only produced in the darkness, so when you put baby to sleep in a fairly bright room it’s pretty difficult for them to get the sleep they need.
Beyond blackout curtains, white noise can really help your baby tune out delivery trucks, barking dogs, you making noise in the kitchen, etc. Put white noise across the room from baby’s crib and keep at a volume that’s no higher than 65 Db.
Remove all nightlights to help facilitate that melatonin production and if you must use one, I recommend a red night light. Red lights don’t block melatonin production and can still provide a little light.
Swaddle your baby! Until baby shows signs of rolling, swaddling your baby is one of the best ways you can encourage a really great sleep. Not only will they enjoy being wrapped up, as it reminds them of the womb, but a swaddle prevents them from being woken up from their Moro (startle) reflex.
Lastly, baby shouldn’t be napping in the common areas of your house anymore by the time they reach 3 months. It’s just too bright, too loud and too distracting for baby to really get that restorative sleep that they need at this age.
Try Shush Pat
The Shush/Pat method is a great way to get babies to settle, and at this age and it gently teaches them how to fall asleep on their own over time. So, when you notice your baby is tired, bring them to their room, swaddle, cuddle and start the Shush/Pat method to calm them down.
This settling method works well to help a baby fall asleep in their own space, and transition away from you holding, rocking, bouncing or feeing them to sleep.
This method only works if babies are swaddled, so if your baby isn’t swaddled, try other sleep training methods.
Here’s a step-by-step resource on the shush pat method.
Note: If baby is using a Paci, while I do recommend getting rid of it at this age if you notice it is becoming a sleep prop, you want to keep it until your baby gets used to the shush/pat method. Only after your baby is going to sleep fairly quickly using the shush/pat method should you take it away.
Drop the Paci
If your baby uses a Paci but it’s not affecting their sleep, i.e., they don’t call out to you to come reinsert it the minute it pops out, ignore this whole section. However, if your baby wakes up crying out to you each time they lose their paci, it’s time to drop it.
While I know this sounds horribly daunting, it’s honestly 2 or 3 days of no fun and then bam! it’s completely forgotten. Compare this with getting up multiple times per night every night until your baby can replace their own paci, which really isn’t achievable until 8-10 months of age.
Unfortunately, while the Paci is a great tool for babies to soothe in those first few months, after 3-4 months it quickly becomes a sleep prop, as babies can’t sleep without it.
At this age, the easiest and best way to get rid of the Paci is to just lose it, cold turkey.
Create a strong wind down/bedtime routine
The wind down routine is so important at this age, as it really helps to calm your baby’s little brain down and position them to rest well. The wind down routine should be carried out during the wake window.
So, at 3 months, the wake window is 1.5 hours long, which means, after one hour and fifteen minutes, you should start your wind down routine.
Do something non-stimulating and keep the routine the same each day. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your baby will pick up on the routine and know that it’s time to relax and go to sleep.
An example of a non-stimulating bedtime routine would be a quiet walk around the house, followed by a couple books in the rocker, a song and a diaper change.
Use age appropriate sleep cycles/wake windows
At this age, focus on building a schedule around an age appropriate wake window.
If you’re wondering what is a wake window, click the link to read a post I wrote about that earlier.
During the day you want to look for tired signs and also watch the clock (observing the wake window) to gauge when to start the wind-down routine for naps. Here are some common tired signs:
- Decreased activity
- Slower motions, less vocal/social
- Not interested in toys/people as much
- Redness around eyebrows or eyes
Things like whining, fussiness, rubbing eyes, pulling ears are actually overtired signs, so if you see any of those quickly get baby in bed and make note of the time so you can catch them before you see these signs in the future.
The age appropriate wake window for 3 months is 1.5-1.75 hours.
Create a daily routine
Here’s a sample daily routine for a 1.5 hour wake window:
- 7:00 am awake & feed
- 8.15 am wind down
- 8.30 am nap
- 10 am awake
- 10.30 am feed
- 11.15 am wind down (you may offer a top off feed here to encourage a longer nap)
- 11.45 am nap
- 2:00 pm awake
- 2:30 pm feed
- 4:15 pm nap (this is an assisted nap where you can walk, rock or hold baby)
- 5:00 pm up from nap, feed
- 5:30 pm bath, feed
- 6:00/6:15 pm bedtime
Here’s a sample daily routine for a 1.75 hour wake window:
- 7:00 am awake & feed
- 8.45 am am nap
- 10:15 am awake & feed
- 11:15 am top off feed to help baby have big afternoon nap
- 12:00 pm nap
- 2:00 pm awake & feed
- 3:45 pm nap (this is often a smaller, cat nap)
- 4:45 pm awake and feed
- 5.30 pm bath
- 6.15 pm feed and bed
You’ll notice that bedtime is fairly early each night. Putting baby to bed early prevents them from being overtired, and falls naturally when their internal clock is primed for sleep.
Starting each day at 7 or 7:30 is also a great idea, as again, this is in line with baby’s natural, internal clock.
Surviving the 3 month sleep regression recap
- Make sure the sleep environment is conducive to baby getting restful sleep
- Try to stay home for at least one nap per day (preferably the afternoon nap)
- Follow a wake window of 1.5-1.75 hours and make sure to do a wind down routine
- Swaddle your baby and do the Shush/Pat method to help them off to sleep
- Ditch the Paci
- Offer bridging naps when normal naps fall apart
- In bed in the 6 o’clock hour and up by 7:30 at the latest