How to Handle Sleep when your Baby Starts to Roll

In my humble opinion, babies between the ages of 4-5 have the hardest time with sleep.  Why?  There are simply so many changes that are going on in their little brains and bodies.  During this time, your baby will:

  1. Be working through the sleep cycle changes of the 4-month regression
  2. Dealing with the lingering effects of the Moro (startle) reflex
  3. Be lengthening wake windows and possibly dropping down to 3 naps.
  4. Be practicing to ROLL!

Learning to roll is a giant disruptor of sleep. Why? Once your baby gets the itch to start trying to roll, they just can’t stop themselves. Truly, they can’t stop. Their brain is completely laser-focused on this new skill that they just can’t stop themselves from practicing.  And what is one of the best places to practice? In their crib, of course! It’s boring, it’s empty, it’s flat…it is a perfect place to work on these new rolling skills.  

Here are a few tips to get them through this difficult phase:

  1. Be sure your baby is out of a swaddle and into a traditional sleep sack. Many parents will try to use products to stop the rolling, but this is not safe (or helpful). We want to encourage it! We want your baby to move as much as they can during their sleep.  Having a full range of their arms and legs gives them the opportunity to get into their own comfy position and the opportunity to self-soothe (fingers are perfect for that)!

If you’re afraid sleep will get worse when you drop the swaddle, you’re right, it will.  Sleep will probably be affected for a few days until they learn to work through their freedom and adapt to the feeling of that Moro reflect that may still be hanging around.  At this age, it’s best to just drop the swaddle cold turkey. They really do adjust quickly! If you feel like this will be impossible, a swaddle transition product, like the Zipadee Zip, is a great option. It helps calm the Moro reflex while still fully allowing your baby to safely roll.

  1. Practice. And I don’t just mean practice a couple of times. Practice ALL the the crib, out of the crib, on the floor, anywhere (safe). The more quickly your baby masters rolling, the more quickly sleep will improve. It’s a great idea to move the crib mattress into the living room so they can practice on that type of surface too.  

A great way to help your baby practice rolling (in both directions) is to lie your baby down on the corner of the blanket.  Now, gently lift one corner of the blanket to encourage your baby to roll over.  This will help your baby get used to the feeling of rolling and help teach them to do it on their own. 

You truly cannot have enough tummy time and rolling practice at this age.  Limit container use (swings, bouncers, nests, etc.) as much as possible.  Let’s get that baby moving! 

  1. Be patient. This is a rough milestone, but sleep WILL go back to normal (or even improve) once they have mastered this new skill. While we can support their learning, it is something that will simply take time to learn. This is not the time to start introducing new ways to get your baby to sleep.  If you weren’t rocking them to sleep or feeding them to sleep, do not start! They will figure out how to sleep on their own…and many even sleep better when they find their comfy spot on their tummy.


  1. Keep placing your baby on their backs when they go into the crib (until 1 year old).  According to the APP, if your baby can roll both ways, it’s safe to leave them in whichever their chosen position (and if that’s with their little bummy in the air…please take a picture! It’s the cutest). But, what if they can’t roll both ways? If you find your baby stuck,  you may need to go in and help them roll back until they can proficiently roll on their own. That’s why the practice piece is so essential 🙂

Struggling to get through this phase? Or just struggling in general with your 4-5 month-old’s sleep? There is help for you! Even through this season of such great change, it is still completely possible to help your baby get the sleep he or she needs!

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