The six-month mark is a milestone for many reasons. Not only is it a baby’s first half-birthday, but it also frequently kicks off a period of major changes in development, activity, and sleep.
Between four and six months, many infants start to show noticeable progress toward sleeping for long periods and sleeping for much of the night. But sometimes that progress hits a snag, and sleeping difficulties can rear their ugly head.
This is often called a sleep regression, and it represents a stop or a step backward in a baby’s process toward normal sleep. Although rarely long-lasting, a six-month sleep regression can be a challenge for parents. Knowing the background about infant sleep and strategies to improve it can help parents during a six-month sleep regression and beyond.
At six months of age, it is recommended that infants get between 12 and 15 total hours of sleep per day. Most babies of this age are starting to stay asleep for longer stretches at a time, a process known as sleep consolidation. Although they still usually nap a couple of times per day, more of their sleep shifts to nighttime, and many six-month-olds start sleeping through the night.
Infants at six months are also undergoing significant physical and mental growth and typically reaching a number of development milestones. Awareness of their environment increases, they become more responsive to sounds, engage in more laughing and babbling, and they may gain physical abilities like rolling over or sitting unsupported. All of these factors may play a role in a baby’s activity level and sleep habits during the day and at night.
In most cases, there’s no clear-cut cause for a six-month sleep regression. As babies grow, their development can unfold at an uneven pace, and this can result in periods when their sleep seems to hit a plateau or worsen.
Multiple factors can affect infant sleep, and it’s often not possible to identify one single cause for a sleep regression. With an increase in their physical abilities and mental and environmental awareness, they may be more sensitive to overstimulation, separation anxiety, or other disturbances that can affect their sleep. With sleep consolidation, parents may be adjusting sleep schedules or routines, and it may take a baby time to acclimate to change.
Some babies experience a six-month sleep regression, but many do not. In fact, some parents may note a clear improvement in their baby’s sleep, including longer nighttime sleep periods, around this age.
While there are general patterns in infant sleep, research has found significant variability from one baby to the next. This means that parents shouldn’t be surprised if their child has a sleep regression at six months or if their sleep stays the same or shows signs of improvement at this age.
Potential signs of a six-month sleep regression include:
How long these symptoms occur can vary significantly for any infant. Usually symptoms of a six-month sleep regression don’t last for very long, especially if parents implement healthy sleep tips. Sleep problems often resolve within a few days or weeks, although a plateau in sleep improvements may continue for longer.
When a six-month sleep regression occurs, it’s an opportunity for parents to review how they approach their child’s sleep. While there is no sure-fire cure for a sleep regression, following tips for healthy infant sleep can reinforce positive habits that promote better sleep in the short- and long-term.
Even if you follow all of these steps perfectly, your baby may still wake up during the night. If that happens, avoid rushing in immediately. Wait for a minute or two to see if your baby is able to calm down and get back to sleep on their own. If you do need to check on them, or if they need to be fed, keep light and sound to a minimum and do your best to avoid stimulation that could make it harder for them to fall asleep again.
Separation anxiety may cause your baby to cry when you walk away from their crib. If this occurs, resist the temptation to take them out of the crib. Instead, try techniques to lightly comfort them such as rubbing their head or speaking in a quiet, calming voice. Once they have relaxed, you can move away from the crib and allow them to doze off.
It’s rare for parents to need to talk with their doctor about a six-month sleep regression; however, you can always raise questions about a baby’s sleep during normal check-ins.
In addition, it is best to check with your baby’s pediatrician about sleep regressions if you also notice other issues such as:
Parents of infants should remember the importance of self-care and getting the sleep they need. While it’s tempting to focus entirely on a baby’s needs, healthier parents are in a better position to provide loving and attentive care for their infant.
Part of this self-care is avoiding self-blame when an infant has sleeping problems. It’s common for babies to have trouble sleeping through the night even when they are a year old. Recognizing that a baby may go through phases of better or worse sleep can help parents set reasonable expectations and adapt to the way that their specific child grows and develops.