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.
How Does Infant Sleep Change Around Six Months?
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.
What Causes a 6-Month Sleep Regression?
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.
Do All Babies Have a 6-Month Sleep Regression?
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.
What Are Symptoms of a 6-Month Sleep Regression?
Potential signs of a six-month sleep regression include:
- A greater number of awakenings at night that may involve more difficulty in getting back to sleep
- More problems falling asleep in the first place
- Longer naps during the day with less nighttime sleep
- More crying or agitation during awakenings
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.
How Can Parents Cope With Sleep Problems in Six-Month-Olds?
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.
- Review safe sleep guidelines. As a baby grows and can roll over on their own, it remains important to put them to bed on their back and to keep soft items, which can raise the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), out of their crib.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule. While you may not be able to manage a schedule to the minute, having a plan with a regular time for bed and naps can create stability in your baby’s sleep pattern.
- Institute a bedtime routine. Use the same series of steps to get ready for bed every night as a way to signal to your infant that bedtime is approaching as research has found this to improve infant sleep. Feed your baby before bed and engage in some calm activities, like rocking or cuddling, to help them wind down before sleep.
- Facilitate your baby falling asleep in bed. When your baby is showing signs of drowsiness, such as eye rubbing or fussiness, get them ready for bed and put them into their crib while sleepy but not yet asleep. This helps to normalize their bed as a place to drift off to sleep.
- Minimize distractions to sleep. Keep your child’s sleep area quiet and dark with as few potential disturbances as possible. If you can’t control external noise, a white noise machine may help.
- Reinforce a day-night distinction. Increased activity during the day, especially if it includes exposure to natural light, helps your baby get used to daytime being for play and nighttime being for sleep.
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.
When Should Parents Talk With a Doctor About Sleep Problems in Six-Month-Olds?
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:
- Stunted growth or lack of weight gain
- Reductions in appetite or feeding
- Reductions in urination or bowel movements
- Labored or abnormal breathing
Self-Care For Parents
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.
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