A baby’s world is rapidly developing during their first year of life. Changes to their sleep are normal as they grow and hit new milestones, but sometimes that means frustrating steps backward in the quality of their sleep.
Sleep regressions are sudden difficulties affecting a baby’s usual sleep pattern, and they may occur at different times, including around 6 months of age.
Newborns typically sleep for up to 18 hours a day and are generally only awake for periods of one to three hours at a time. By the time they are 6 months old, though, infants usually start sleeping less during the day and may start sleeping six to eight consecutive hours at night.
Not all babies follow this same timeline, and some may take much longer to settle into a steady sleep schedule. In addition, even after showing sleep improvements, some babies seem to have a resurgence of sleep problems at around 6 months.
During a sleep regression, a baby who previously slept through the night may suddenly begin crying and fussing at bedtime or waking up during the night. Though this may appear concerning, sleep regressions are normal and generally short-lived.
Getting the facts about 6-month sleep regressions can help parents and caregivers know what to expect, and finding tips and tricks can help get through a sleep regression as smoothly as possible.
What Is the 6-Month Sleep Regression?
A 6-month sleep regression is a temporary shift in a baby’s normal sleep pattern that includes increased sleep disruption or difficulty falling asleep.
At 6 months of age, many infants reach new social, cognitive, and emotional milestones like recognizing familiar faces and reaching out for specific toys. In addition, their sleep often begins to consolidate into longer nighttime sleep periods.
A sleep regression can seem to undo this progress as it often involves a baby waking up more during the night or being fussy and struggling to fall asleep at bedtime.
One theory of sleep regressions is that every child experiences them at the same age. Today, experts acknowledge that there is no universal timeline for sleep regressions. Instead, every baby follows their own schedule for establishing sleep patterns.
Accordingly, not all infants go through a 6-month sleep regression. For many babies, sleeping through the night is still elusive when they are 6 months old.
Ups and downs are normal as a child grows, reaches new milestones, and establishes new patterns for both daily activity and sleep. Although a 6-month sleep regression can be challenging for parents, it is generally temporary and a typical part of infant development.
Signs of the 6-Month Sleep Regression
The clearest sign of a 6-month sleep regression is a recurrence of one or more types of sleep difficulties after a baby’s sleep had been improving. Examples of these sleeping problems include:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up more often during the night
- Fussing or crying at sleep times or immediately after waking up
Babies can establish sleep patterns on very different timelines and frequently still have sleep disruptions at the 6-month mark. Since they are going through such rapid development, it is normal for a 6-month-old’s sleep to be uneven. For this reason, a couple of nights with sleep difficulties may not reflect a true regression in a 6-month-old’s sleep.
Why Does the 6-Month Sleep Regression Happen?
Many different factors can cause a 6-month sleep regression. Given the sweeping physical and mental changes that a 6-month-old experiences, sleep disruptions can come from their ongoing development and from other causes.
- Emerging sleep patterns: As an infant’s brain and body grow, they have to establish a circadian rhythm, which is their internal clock that helps regulate sleep and wakefulness. It is normal for them to have periods of inconsistent sleep as they settle into a sleep pattern.
- Overstimulation before bed: Many 6-month-olds become more active and mobile and have improving vision. These changes may make it more likely for an infant to become overstimulated, which can lead to sleep problems.
- Teething: At 6 months, many babies begin teething, which is associated with irritability, pain, and sleep problems.
- Dietary changes: When and what a baby eats may affect their gut and digestive system as well as their sleep. However, research has not yet established clear effects on sleep related to the timing of when solid foods are introduced.
- Illnesses: If an infant gets a cold or other illness, they may experience interruptions in their typical sleep pattern.
Because of the natural variability in a 6-month-old’s sleep, in many cases it is hard to identify an exact reason why their sleep has worsened during a sleep regression.
Naps at 6 Months
Daytime sleeping and naps are typical for 6-month-olds.
Experts from the National Sleep Foundation suggest that infants get 12 to 15 hours of total sleep each day, including naps. This sleep supports their health and development.
On average, babies take one to four naps a day, and each nap lasts between 30 minutes and 2 hours. These nap habits can be different for every infant, and both nap length and frequency may vary. As they get older, infants tend to take fewer and shorter naps and start getting more of their sleep at night.
While nap needs for babies can be dynamic, parents can try to establish a general schedule or routine that avoids naps too late in the day or evening that can disrupt nighttime sleep.
Do All Babies Experience the 6-Month Sleep Regression?
Not all babies go through a 6-month sleep regression. Sleep changes and regressions can happen at any stage of a baby’s natural development.
Some babies may not experience problems at 6 months of age, but they might have had a sleep regression at 4 months. Babies may also go through sleep regressions at 8 months, 12 months, 18 months, or at various times in between.
Overall, infant sleep quality is known to fluctuate. It may be helpful for parents to know that periods of better and worse sleep are normal, and sleep regressions are usually short-lived.
How Long Does the 6-Month Sleep Regression Last?
Most 6-month sleep regressions are temporary and typically resolve on their own within a few days to weeks. Although there is no exact length for a sleep regression, parents and caregivers can try to limit nightly disruptions by encouraging healthy sleep routines.
Tips for Coping With the 6-Month Sleep Regression
Ups and downs may be inevitable for infant sleep, but you can take steps to cope with a sleep regression and encourage positive sleep habits that can be beneficial over the long term.
At 6 months, many babies can begin sleep training, which involves specific steps designed to help a baby self-soothe when they have sleep difficulties. There are different approaches to sleep training, and if you are interested in sleep training you can ask your pediatrician for specific recommendations.
Various practical tips may be helpful to encourage healthy sleep and manage a 6-month sleep regression.
- Create a bedtime routine: Studies suggest that a predictable bedtime routine can help ease a baby to sleep. Having a set regimen for feedings, diaper changes, bathing, and bedtime stories may help babies transition to bedtime.
- Set a stable bedtime: It may be easier for a baby to get acclimated to a sleep schedule if bedtime occurs at the same time each night.
- Limit disruptions: Removing TV, bright lights, and loud toys can improve your baby’s sleep environment so that there are fewer barriers to them sleeping soundly. Keep the lights off when attending to a baby awoken in the night to maintain this sleep-friendly environment.
- Wind down: Limit stimulating activities before bedtime to get your baby relaxed and ready for sleep. Calming activities like a bath, massage, or a bedtime story can help prepare them for bed.
- Put a drowsy baby in bed: Place your baby in the crib when they are sleepy, not when they are already sleeping. This approach builds a connection in their mind between being in bed and actually falling asleep.
- Keep daytime active: An infant may settle into a typical day-night schedule more quickly if they are exposed to natural light during the day.
- Use white noise: If your baby seems to be bothered by noises, a white noise machine may help keep their sleep from being disrupted.
- Avoid late naps: Making sure that naps don’t happen too late in the day can reduce the chances of difficulty falling asleep at bedtime.
When to Talk to Your Pediatrician
A 6-month-old should usually get between 12 and 15 hours of sleep each day, including all naps. In infants, it is normal for this total sleep to come in fits and starts, and sleep interruptions are usually not a cause of concern.
If you have questions about your baby’s sleep, you can bring them up with your pediatrician during a regular check-up. Discussing your baby’s sleep habits over time may help you feel more comfortable with their sleep health.
In addition, you should let your pediatrician know if your baby has trouble sleeping and you see any signs of other health issues, including:
- Limited growth
- Odd breathing or loud snoring while sleeping
- Difficulties with feeding
- Missed milestones in physical or cognitive development
How to Care for Yourself During the 6-Month Sleep Regression
A 6-month sleep regression may be especially challenging if it comes on the heels of a period of your baby sleeping more soundly.
Although you may want to put all your attention on improving your baby’s sleep, it’s important not to forget about your own wellness. A handful of tips can help with self-care during a 6-month sleep regression.
- Accept help: Taking care of an infant requires significant time and energy, and getting help from family or friends can help lighten the load. Asking for even just a few hours of help may give you time for an afternoon nap.
- Share responsibility: Partners who share caregiving responsibilities can plan ahead to take turns handling nighttime awakenings so that it’s easier for each to get a solid block of sleep.
- Maintain good sleep habits: Trying to keep your own sleep habits healthy can help you make the most of the time you have to rest. Avoid too much caffeine, especially late in the day, and follow other practical tips for positive sleep hygiene.
- Have reasonable expectations: Remember that sleep disruptions are normal for infants and their parents, and this may affect your energy levels during the day and the ability to do chores and other normal tasks. Be realistic and try to avoid the stress that can come from expecting perfection.
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