Babies and Sleep

author

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Nilong Vyas

Written by

Eric Suni

Starting around the six-month mark, many babies take a major step forward in their sleep, spending more of the night asleep and in many cases, sleeping through the night. But at eight months, some infants experience a new round of sleep difficulties that can seem to counteract their recent progress.

This bump in the road toward steady sleep is frequently called a sleep regression and, though normally short-lived, can cause frustration for parents. Getting the facts about eight-month sleep regressions can help parents know what to expect and empower them to encourage healthy sleep habits for their baby.

How Does Infant Sleep Change Around Eight Months?

During their first year, babies go through significant changes in their sleep patterns. After the first few months, infants start having longer periods of sleep with more of that sleep happening at night.

A panel of experts organized by the National Sleep Foundation recommends that eight-month-olds sleep for 12 to 15 total hours per day. That usually includes a couple of daytime naps, but many babies also start sleeping through the night at around six months.

That said, it is not uncommon for eight-month-olds to still wake up during the night. Sleep patterns vary considerably among babies, so at eight months, many infants are still in the process of consolidating sleep periods and sleeping for longer stretches at night.

Changes to a baby’s sleep don’t happen in a vacuum; instead, they occur alongside these wide-ranging elements of growth, learning, and development. Eight-month olds see notable increases in their cognitive and physical abilities. Around this age, many infants have started teething and can roll over, sit up on their own, and crawl. Their environmental awareness continues to grow, and they may start having stronger emotional reactions and attachments.

What Causes an 8-Month Sleep Regression?

Numerous different factors related to a child’s development can affect their sleep and contribute to an eight-month sleep regression. Some examples include:

  • Teething that may lead to fussiness or awakenings
  • Emotional development that can increase separation anxiety
  • Greater environmental awareness that spurs overstimulation
  • Increased physical abilities that may cause restlessness in bed

The fact that there are a multitude of developmental changes happening at the same time makes it difficult to identify one single cause for an eight-month sleep regression. In addition, parents may be trying sleep training or modifying sleep routines, and a regression may be part of the baby’s process of getting accustomed to those adjustments.

Do All Babies Have an 8-Month Sleep Regression?

Not all babies experience an eight-month sleep regression. The sleep patterns of infants are far from uniform, which means that they don’t unfold at the same pace for all babies. As a result, some infants will encounter sleeping problems around eight months while others of the same age may have few changes to their sleep or even start sleeping better.

What Are Symptoms of an 8-Month Sleep Regression?

When an eight-month-old is experiencing a sleep regression, some potential symptoms include:

  • More nighttime awakenings
  • More difficulty getting to sleep initially or after a nighttime awakening
  • Heightened fussiness, crying, or agitation around bedtime or during awakenings
  • Longer daytime naps and less nighttime sleep

Every infant is different, and the causes of these sleeping problems may affect how long they last. In general, an eight-month sleep regression doesn’t last longer than a few weeks, especially if parents are able to create and reinforce healthy sleep habits.

Even after a sleep regression is over, it doesn’t mean perfect sleep. Babies may still have occasional sleep problems or confront other sleep regressions as they get older.

How Can Parents Cope With Sleep Problems in Eight-Month-Olds?

The most important step that parents can take to cope with an eight-month sleep regression is to reflect on how they can create habits and an environment that are conducive to healthy sleep for their infant. Even when strategies for better infant sleep don’t immediately resolve a sleep regression, they can facilitate healthier sleep going forward.

  • Stick with safe sleep practices. Anytime you review bedtime practices, it’s good to make sure that they are in accordance with recommendations for safe infant sleep, such as reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by keeping soft items out of the crib.
  • Keep working toward a sleep schedule. Even though it can get disrupted by a sleep regression, try to standardize your baby’s sleep schedule, including naps, as much as possible.
  • Have a consistent bedtime routine. Get your baby ready for bed in the same way every night so that they get used to the process of preparing for sleep. A consistent routine has been shown to facilitate falling asleep and reduce the chances of nighttime awakenings. In this lead-up to bedtime, make sure your baby is well-fed and has had time to wind down in a comforting and environment without excess stimulation.
  • Have your baby fall asleep in bed. Rather than putting them in the crib when they are already asleep, put them in bed when drowsy so that they can associate their bed with actually falling asleep.
  • Reduce potential disturbances and distractions. Your child can sleep best if it is quiet and dark around them without things that could startle or distract them. White noise machines may help to drown out background noise.
  • Harness the power of natural light. Exposure to natural light during daytime activities can help establish a sleep-wake pattern for your baby that more closely corresponds to the day-night cycle, making it more likely for them to sleep through the night.

Even implementing all these tips, your eight-month-old may still have sleeping problems. If they wake up in the middle of the night, don’t immediately attend to them. Instead, wait for a couple of minutes to see if they can self-soothe and return to sleep. If not, you can try to quietly comfort them (and feed them if necessary) while keeping the lights low and avoiding loud noises.

Coping With Sleep Regressions Related to Teething

If your baby is waking up from teething pain, different approaches may help bring relief, including:

  • Using a cold, damp washcloth to soothe their gums
  • Lightly massage their gums with your fingers (after carefully washing your hands)
  • Allowing your baby to briefly use a chew toy meant for teething children
  • If approved by your baby’s pediatrician, giving them acetaminophen for serious teething pain

Managing Separation Anxiety

If your baby starts to cry or be irritable when you move away from their bed, it may be because of separation anxiety, which often starts or intensifies at around eight months.

Many children deal with this issue, and it’s helpful for parents to comfort their child without rewarding their crying out. For this reason, it’s best to avoid removing a baby from their crib when they are crying from separation anxiety.

Examples of ways to help ease separation anxiety include:

  • Implementing short stretches of separation during the day so that your baby is more used to it when it happens at night
  • Having a warm and standard good-bye ritual that leaves your baby feeling comforted before you move away from them
  • Leaving something near their crib that they can see that reminds them of you

It may take time for your infant to get used to not having you by their side, but overcoming separation anxiety and learning to self-soothe can be a major step toward them sleeping soundly through the night.

When Should Parents Talk With a Doctor About Sleep Problems in Eight-Month-Olds?

Most sleep regressions are short-lived, but if your baby’s sleeping problems go on for an extended period or seem to keep getting worse, you can raise the issue with your child’s pediatrician. Their doctor can give specific recommendations for issues like teething and separation anxiety.

In addition, you should contact the pediatrician if you detect other changes in your baby including:

  • Lack of weight gain or growth
  • Decreased daily feedings
  • Decreased urination or bowel movements
  • Labored or abnormal breathing during sleep

Self-Care For Parents

It’s important that parents have reasonable expectations for their baby’s sleep. As much as parents hope that their child is sleeping through the night by eight months, even a significant number of 12-month-olds still don’t sleep for six or more hours in a row at night. This doesn’t mean parents are doing anything wrong, and you shouldn’t feel down or blame yourself if your baby has an eight-month sleep regression.

Beyond setting appropriate expectations, it’s important for parents to think about and plan for how they can meet their own daily sleep needs. Quality sleep is vital to every person’s overall health, and parents can practice better self-care and child care when they are getting the right amount of rest.