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Is There a Sleep Regression at 5 Months?

At 5 months, your baby is unfolding a new chapter of growth and discovery, and, yes, sometimes sleep problems. If you’ve found yourself typing “5-month sleep regression” into a search bar, know that you’re in good company. Many parents grapple with sleep challenges during this time, seeking answers and understanding. But here’s the thing: every baby’s journey at this age—and indeed, at any age—is as unique as they are.

Recent research by DeMasi and colleagues (2023) provides insights into the relationship between a baby’s movement and sleep. As babies engage with new skills, their sleep patterns may be affected. The key takeaway is that sleep disturbances often correlate more with what a baby is currently learning than with their specific age. While it’s common to attribute sleep challenges to certain age markers, it’s perhaps more accurate to consider the individual developmental milestones each baby is navigating. So is there a 5-month sleep regression? It’s certainly possible as every baby’s developmental journey is distinct, and their sleep patterns can vary based on the skills and challenges they’re encountering at any given time.

In this article, we’ll explore the developmental milestones your baby might be working on at 5 months that could be contributing to a 5-month sleep regression, and offer sleep tips to help you understand and support your baby’s sleep patterns, whatever they may be this month.

You Baby's Development at 5 Months Old

At 5 months, your baby is blossoming in various ways, both physically and cognitively. They’re not just growing in size but also in their ability to interact with the world around them. Each of these milestones, while exciting, can also influence your baby’s sleep patterns, making some nights more restless than others and contributing to a 5-month sleep regression.

Sleep at 5 Months Old

By the time your little one reaches 5 months, you’ve likely noticed a shift in their sleep patterns. They have transitioned away from erratic newborn sleep and may have moved through the effects of the 4-month sleep regression.

Similar to 3 months, this age sometimes marks another stable plateau in their development, offering a brief respite after periods of intense growth before they move into the 6-month sleep regression. No matter what’s going on for your little one this month, maintaining a consistent bedtime routine can offer a sense of security and predictability for your baby which can help everyone get better sleep.

Additionally, as your 5-month-old becomes more mobile and begins to roll, it’s vital to prioritize safe sleep practices. Always place your baby on their back for sleep, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But don’t worry, if your little one rolls over on their own during sleep, there’s no need to reposition them as long as their sleep environment is safe. 

Physical Development Related to 5-Month Sleep Regression

  • Rolling Over: By now, many babies are starting to roll over, moving from their tummy to their back, with the back-to-tummy roll often emerging a bit later.
  • Hand and Arm Control: Your baby is gaining more control over their hands and arms. You might notice them bringing their hands to their mouth more often, or grasping toys with a stronger grip.
  • Teething: Your baby may be working on getting their first two teeth, which can impact sleep.

Cognitive and Sensory Development Related to 5-Month Sleep Regression

  • Increased Curiosity: Your baby is becoming more aware of their surroundings. They might be fascinated by new sounds, lights, or even the feeling of different textures.
  • Vocalization: While they’re not talking just yet, your 5-month-old is likely babbling, cooing, and even trying out different pitches and tones. It’s their way of communicating and practicing for future speech.
  • Visual Tracking: Their visual tracking is improving. If you move a toy across their field of vision, they’re likely to follow it with their eyes, showcasing their developing focus and attention span.

Social and Emotional Development Related to 5-Month Sleep Regression

  • Recognition: Your baby can now recognize familiar faces and might even show a preference for certain people or toys.
  • Emotional Expression: You’ll start to see a broader range of emotions. From giggles and smiles when they’re happy to frowns or cries when they’re upset, they’re beginning to express themselves more. Additionally, you may be able to distinguish your baby’s different cries, whether they’re hungry, bored, or tired for example.

While they’re laying the groundwork for future skills like self-soothing, some 5-month-olds might hit certain milestones earlier than others, and that’s okay. The key is to provide a supportive environment, celebrate each achievement, and remember that growth and development don’t follow a strict timeline.

Navigating the 4 to 3 Nap Transition

Naptimes might be getting a little tricky about now – especially the last nap of the day. One of the most significant sleep transitions at this age is the shift from 4 to 3 naps. While this might sound like a small change, it can have a considerable impact on your baby’s nap schedule.

Signs of Readiness for Dropping a Nap

As your baby approaches the 5-month mark, you might notice certain signs indicating they’re ready to transition from four naps to three. These signs can include:

  • Consistently refusing the fourth nap or having difficulty settling for it.
  • The first two naps of the day become longer and more consistent.
  • Extended wake windows, where your baby remains content and alert for longer periods between naps.

What’s Normal During Nap Transitions?

Transitioning from 4 to 3 naps isn’t like flipping a switch. It’s entirely normal for babies to fluctuate between 3 and 4 naps during this period. Some days, they might seem ready for just three naps, while on other days, they might benefit from that extra snooze. It’s essential to remain flexible and responsive to your baby’s cues during this transition.

Short Naps are Normal

Short naps are still developmentally appropriate. At 5 months, babies often experience a range of nap durations. Some naps might be brief (only a single sleep cycle), offering a quick recharge, while others provide a deeper rest. Both short and long naps play a important role in your baby’s day, contributing to their overall well-being and development.

The Importance of Timing

That said, ensuring your baby is napping at the right times is important. If your baby is overtired or undertired it can lead to shorter naps. It’s all about finding that sweet spot where your baby is tired enough to sleep deeply but not so exhausted that they become restless. This balance is where a consistent sleep schedule can be helpful.

Do I Need to Put My 5-Month-Old on a Schedule?

While you’re navigating the unique sleep patterns of your 5-month-old, you might be tempted to try and find the “perfect” schedule. As highlighted in our guide on optimal sleep schedules, it’s important to understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. 

If your current sleep approach is working for your 5-month-old baby, there’s no need to adjust. However, if you’re encountering sleep challenges, it might be time to consider a more structured routine. The goal is to find what best supports your baby’s sleep needs and adapt as necessary.

Some families thrive on strict routines, while others find success in tuning into their baby’s natural cues. The overarching theme? Adaptability. As your baby continues to grow and change, their sleep needs will evolve, and being flexible can make this journey smoother for both of you. We’ve created a schedule tool that will help you have flexibility in your day, while also meeting your little one’s need.  

Why Flexibility Matters

  • Routine and Predictability: While a semblance of routine can promote better sleep, it’s essential to remain flexible and responsive to your baby’s evolving needs.
  • Wake Windows: Understanding your baby’s wake windows – the optimal awake time they should have between naps – can be a game-changer.

Sample Schedules for a 5-Month-Old

sample sleep schedule for a 4-nap day
sample schedule for a 3-nap day

If you’re considering introducing more structure to your 5-month-old’s routine, our free sleep schedule generator is a great place to start.  

Sleep Tips to Help Navigate the 5-Month Sleep Regression

At 5 months old, your little one is getting closer to having the skills to be able to find ways to self-soothe. If you’re considering sleep training, it’s a good time to take a look at how you are helping your baby get to sleep and work on setting up sustainable sleep routines that work for you as well as your baby. If what you are doing only works for your baby, it’s not going to be sustainable in the long run.

  • Naps in the Sleep Space: This is a good time to have your baby nap in the same place they sleep at night for at least 1-2 naps each day. The other naps can be on the go or contact naps if needed. It’s normal for naps to still be short at this age. As your baby gets better at finding their own way into sleep, their naps will lengthen.
  • Allow space for movement: In order for your little one to have the freedom to get comfortable, they need to be unswaddled and out of sleep suits that might restrict their movement. Additionally, moving from a bassinet to a crib allows more space for moving around. Movement is a big part of the settling process for many little ones. They may kick their legs and bring their hands to their mouth, or roll their head from side to side, and may even roll onto their side or tummy. All of these skills are a pathway toward your little one finding ways to get comfortable before they go to sleep.
  • Minimize disruptions while room sharing: The AAP recommends room sharing with your little one for between 6-12 months, so if your space won’t allow for a crib in your room, you could opt for a play yard. It’s also a good time to move your little one’s sleep space a little further away from your bed so they’re less likely to wake from hearing you.
  • Create a Safe Sleep-Friendly Environment: Make sure the room where your baby sleeps is conducive to sleep and follows the American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines. This includes keeping the room at a comfortable temperature, using white noise to drown out any household or street noise, and keeping the room dark.
  • Laying the Foundation for Self-Soothing: 5 months old is a great time to establish a consistent bedtime routine. After the bedtime routine, and after all needs have been addressed, place them down awake and give them some time to move and vocalize. After a few minutes, and before they get too upset, you can then help them get to sleep. Over time, this routine will help signal to your baby that it is time for sleep.
  • Consistent Responses to Wake-Ups: If your primary response to any fussiness or night wakings is a feed, you can inadvertently create a reverse feed cycling pattern. By utilizing other responses first, the feed becomes your backup. For example, if your baby wakes up and is fussing but not crying, you might wait a few minutes to see if they can settle back to sleep on their own. If your baby is crying and needs attention, you might respond with a consistent soothing routine, such as a brief cuddle and some gentle shushing before putting them back down. The key is to respond in a way that is comforting and supportive, while also being intentional and consistent. Remember, at this age, it’s still completely normal for your baby to need help falling back to sleep, and it’s okay to provide that help.

Final Thoughts

Reaching the 5-month milestone is a testament to your baby’s ongoing journey of discovery and growth. This period might be characterized by both the consolidation of past skills and the anticipation of new ones on the horizon. Your baby’s unique developmental path will shape these experiences. Amidst the challenges and changes, the constants are patience, understanding, and adaptability. Celebrate the moments of calm, and remember that every phase, no matter how challenging, is temporary.

If you have any concerns about your baby’s sleep habits, feeding, development, or any other aspect of their health, don’t hesitate to consult your pediatrician. For more information on sleep regressions at other ages, check out this blog on sleep regressions here.

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists.  

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