You and your baby have finally settled into a routine. Maybe you’ve been blessed with a few extra hours of sleep as your baby matures from a newborn to nearly half a year old. And then – possibly worse than any diaper blowout – your baby enters into the six month sleep regression.
*cue internal screaming*
The sudden change in your six-month-old baby’s sleep pattern may be due to a sleep regression. Babies go through various regression, characterized by various setbacks to their sleep patterns.
What are you supposed to do to get your baby back to sleep? And why does a sleep regression happen anyway?
It seems so unnecessary when you’re already running on fumes! But alas, a change in your child’s sleep patterns will likely happen at some point, though it doesn’t mean you’ll never sleep again.
We know you can’t wait until your baby can sleep through the night, but until then, here’s your cheat sheet to help you understand and survive the 6-month sleep regression.
Related Post: 6 Month Schedule: Establishing Baby’s Routine
What is the 6-Month Sleep Regression?
The 6-month sleep regression is when your child’s sleep patterns and habits are disrupted after they’ve become consistent.
Your baby enters a phase of new social, cognitive, and emotional milestones. This is when they start to eat solid foods, recognize familiar faces, and have a favorite toy. Unfortunately, this sleep regression feels like all of the progress you made with your baby’s sleep is now gone out the window.
While yesterday you sang her favorite lullabies and followed your usual bedtime routine, tonight she’s nothing but fussy, cranky, and refuses to enter snooze land.
Or she’ll fall asleep, then wake later in the middle of the night and nothing you do seems to get her to fall back to sleep.
Parenting through a sleep regression can suck, but luckily this change in your baby’s sleep habits isn’t set in stone.
If you’re luckier, your baby’s new sleep schedule will sort itself out in a few short, tiresome days.
But if that doesn’t happen, you may have to hustle extra hard for those precious hours of sleep for 3-6 weeks.
For most babies, the 6-month sleep regression lasts for about a month.
Related Post: What to Do When a Sick Baby Won’t Sleep
Do All Babies Go Through a 6-month Sleep Regression?
Not all babies go through a sleep regression. Some babies sleep better and for more extended periods!
Therefore, don’t stress about your child’s sleep patterns or compare them to their daycare peers. Every child is different.
Why is My 6-Month-Old Suddenly Not Sleeping?
If your 6-month-old is suddenly resistant to naps or bedtime, it’s possible to blame it on a growth spurt, separation anxiety, or teething pain.
Still, there are other reasons why your child may be stopping the sandman:
- A developmental milestone (like crawling, walking, talking, or dropping naps)
- Change in routine or environment (like starting daycare or going to your ex’s for the weekend)
- A desire for independence and exploration
Your baby may feel anxious, excited, or in pain, making it hard for them to sleep.
Why is My 6-Month-Old Waking in the Middle of the Night?
Your 6-month-old may be waking in the middle of the night for similar reasons to their sudden distaste for naps.
For example, reaching a new developmental milestone, separation anxiety from you, or changing their routine can cause them to stir and wake.
In addition, teething pain from popping a tooth makes it hard for your baby to sleep soundly.
Signs Your Baby is Going Through a Sleep Regression
Your 6-month-old may be going through a sleep regression if they frequently wake during the night, resist or skip naps, seem more fussy than usual, and fight bedtime like they’re the Karate Kid up against Johnny in the final countdown.
Let’s take a closer look at what usually signals a 6-month-old entering a sleep regression.
1. Waking During the Middle of the Night
A good indicator of a sleep regression is sudden and more frequent nighttime waking, with no apparent cause like a loud noise or hunger.
But, it’s helpful to first know how many times is typical for a 6-month-old who wakes during the middle of the night, sans sleep regression.
At this age, it’s common for babies to wake up and need a nighttime feed 1 or 2 times before sunrise.
So if your child is waking more than that and you’ve ruled out them being hungry or having a sleep association (like needing you nearby or their pacifier), you may have a baby with a sleep regression on your hands.
Related Post: Why Your Baby is Waking Up Screaming
2. Fighting Bedtime
Fighting bedtime may mean that it’s not so easy to just drop them in their crib and walk away anymore. They may scream, cry, kick, and grab to not let go of you when trying to put them down.
Remember that a change in routine, their environment, or a new tooth can cause them to fight sleep. Likewise, reaching a new developmental milestone, like crawling or sitting up without support, makes your child more excited and resistant to bedtime.
Again, fighting bedtime may signal that it’s a sleep regression.
3. Skipping or Resisting Naps
Saying sayonara to naps is another sign that your 6-month-old may be going through a sleep regression, even though your baby may be going through a nap transition.
If your 6 month old is currently still taking 3 naps, they may be dropping down to 2 naps which can lead to a bit of a sleep regression as they transition.
Here’s a typical nap schedule for a 6-month old, not going through a sleep regression:
6:30 AM: Wake up
8:30 AM: 1st nap
10:30 AM: Wake up
12:45 PM: 2nd nap
2:15 PM: Wake up
4:00 PM: 3rd nap
6:30 PM: Start bedtime routine
7:15 PM: Bedtime
A 6-month-old sleeps around 15 hours, including 2-3 naps.
So if your child suddenly does not want to go down for a rest like usual, it could be a sleep regression.
Related Post: How to Get Your Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep
4. More Fussy, Cranky, and Crying
You know how cranky you get when you lack sleep, so it’s no surprise that your little bundle of joy (who’s still getting used to this new world!) reacts the same way.
And you’re probably not shocked that the wails and tears seem to come more when you’re about to put them down to sleep!
So bottom line: if your 6-month-old is more fussy than usual, they’re waking in the middle of the night, and they’re resisting naps and bedtime, your child may be momentarily going through a sleep regression.
I know you’re tired, mama, but remember, sleep regression is temporary.
Now that you can better spot the signs of a sleep regression, let’s talk more in-depth about what causes them.
You’ll feel more compassionate and less reactive to your baby’s firm No! at falling asleep.
How Does Infant Sleep Change Around Six Months Old?
Your six-month-old goes through a lot of changes during this timeframe, including changes in their sleeping needs and patterns
Infants need to sleep between 12 and 15 total hours of sleep per day. Babies stay asleep for longer stretches at a time through a process called sleep consolidation.
A six-month-old still naps throughout the day, but a change is that more of their sleep shifts toward nighttime. This is a common time for infants to start sleeping through the night.
How Often Does a Six-Month-Old Need to Nap?
Your baby won’t receive all of their 12-15 hours of sleep at night. Babies at this age take one to four naps per day to reach this total sleep time.
On average, their naps last between 30 minutes to two hours long. Nap habits vary from baby to baby, along with nap lengths and frequency.
As your baby gets older, they tend to take fewer naps, eventually getting down to only one lengthy nap around 18 months old.
What Causes the Six-Month Sleep Regression?
In many cases, there is no clear-cut cause for a six-month sleep regression, or it may be a combination of factors for your infant. Six-month-old babies undergo a lot of changes at this time, and many factors affect sleep.
Most of the time, parents cannot identify a single cause for the six-month sleep regression.
1. New Developmental Milestone
The most common cause of sleep regression is your child hitting a developmental milestone.
For starters, a developmental milestone is different from a growth spurt.
A growth spurt is based on physical changes, like gaining body fat. In contrast, developmental milestones are physical and behavioral skills most children can do around a certain age. Think reaching to grab a toy or taking turns to “talk” with you.
Your baby is excited about accomplishing this new milestone – and not sleeping is the only way to practice more of it! Their little brain wants to keep working at mastering their new skill.
Moreover, sleep regressions tend to match developmental milestones, as both are based on brain development. Your infant is undergoing significant milestones at this stage.
Here are a few:
- More awareness of the environment around them
- More responsive to sounds
- Increased engagement in laughing and babbling
- Introduction to solid foods
- Increased physical abilities, like sitting unsupported
Related Post: 21 Play Ideas and Activities for 6 to 9-Month-Old Baby
2. Changing Sleep Cycles
Another cause of the six-month sleep regression is changing sleep cycles.
Newborn babies have two sleep stages: REM (rapid-eye movement) and non-REM. As your child ages, this sleep cycle begins to change, resembling an adult’s sleep cycle more. An adult has four sleep stages: three non-REM sleep cycles and one REM cycle.
During this time, babies start sleeping for longer stretches, but they cycle through different stages. Adults often wake up for a few moments as they cycle, but you don’t notice it. For babies, cycling through the stages causes them to wake up, and they often struggle to fall back asleep.
It takes time to get used to this new sleep pattern as your baby wakes up multiple times during the changes.
3. Growth Spurt
Growth spurts are the physical changes your baby undergoes, like gaining weight, getting taller, and eating more.
They can influence sleep regressions and vice versa and are one likely reason your child has sudden sleep problems.
4. Teething Pain
Teething pain is a causing factor in sleep regression. However, it typically does not signify a sleep regression on its own.
If your baby is cutting a tooth, teething pain should last for a few days, not weeks, and is usually accompanied by a low-grade fever and a lot more drool.
Your baby has a lot going on at this time, and while they might be provided enough calories, babies at this age tend to be easily distracted from eating. It’s not uncommon for babies to spend more time moving and playing; they may be too busy to eat.
On the other hand, your baby simply may need more food provided. Make sure your baby is satisfied with the formula or breast milk they received.
You may also be offering solid foods. Remember, solid food before age one year old is simply “just for fun,” so your baby should get their necessary calories from formula or breast milk.
6. Change in Routine
Children thrive on routine, so disruption can spur a sleep regression.
Try to keep your child’s routine and sleep schedule as consistent as possible, whether at home, daycare, or jetting off with the fam for the weekend.
7. Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can make your child resistant to naps and bedtime by needing you to fall asleep. And since you have to spend extra time coaxing your kid to sleep, their sleep schedule gets out of whack.
It is around this age that babies start to become more aware of their surroundings and may be more easily distracted. At bedtime, they may be fixated on the ceiling fan, art on the wall, or window curtains.
“Starting solids can also cause some babies to be hard to settle, or to wake more during naps and overnight sleep. This is usually a sign that solids are making them uncomfortable.” says Jessica Torrisi, Pediatric Sleep Specialist Little Ones
They may be eating a bit too much, too soon, or there could be a specific food that doesn’t agree with them.
To help prevent digestive discomfort, we recommend taking solids slow and steady and avoiding too much protein at their dinner meal, as protein is harder to digest.
How Long Does the Six-Month Sleep Regression Last?
On average, the 6-month sleep regression lasts for 4 weeks. However, anywhere between 3-6 weeks is also typical.
The length of the six month sleep regression varies from child to child, as well as the cause of the regression.
The good news is that sleep regression is typically just a phase that ends eventually. How you respond helps shorten the regression; sticking to a consistent routine is essential.
How To Get Through the Six-Month Sleep Regression
1. Prioritize Your Baby’s Sleep
A consistent sleep schedule teaches your baby’s body to wind down at bedtime.
So if you love the nightlife and bring them along with you when they should be sleeping, it’s best to stop now and wait until they’re older (or hire a sitter).
An overtired baby is likely to have more sleeping issues.
2. Have a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Find your groove and stick with it.
Here’s an example bedtime routine:
- Feed your baby dinner
- Play a fun game like peek-a-boo or blocks
- Soothe them with a warm, relaxing bath
- Snuggle them into their pj’s
- Read a story and sing a lullaby
- One last feed, if needed
- Give them a kiss and say goodnight
Aim for bedtime between 7-8 PM.
3. Use a White Noise Machine
A white noise machine mimics the sounds your baby heard inside your womb (and your shhh-ing), and many little ones find it comforting to listen to as they’re falling asleep.
We love The Baby Shusher because of its battered-powered portability, adjustable volume, and 15 or 30-minute time settings.
So if a kind soul didn’t get you a white noise machine for your baby shower, consider purchasing one.
4. Consider Sleep Training
Sleep training can help your child learn to fall back asleep by themself if they wake in the middle of the night.
Most experts recommend starting sleep training when your baby is 4-6 months old.
So if you haven’t already, you may want to consider sleep training.
5. Consider Weaning Off Nighttime Feedings
At this age, it’s possible for babies to get enough calories during the day to sleep through the night without eating. Many babies eat at night simply out of habit rather than necessity.
The first step with this change is ensuring your baby eats enough during the day. Track their feedings and ounces to make sure they get what they need.
You can’t expect your baby to drop feeds if they lack the proper calories during the day.
Nighttime weaning takes time; the process often takes two to three weeks of consistency. However, breaking the pattern may be just what your baby needs to sleep through the night again.
When Should You Talk to Your Doctor about Sleep Problems in a Six-Month-Old?
Sleep is an important part of your baby’s development.
“If you are noticing any changes in your baby’s sleep patterns, it is important to talk to your pediatrician. They can rule out any medical causes and provide guidance on how to help your baby through the 6 month sleep regression.” says Amy Duncan, KindMommy.com
It’s not common for parents to need to discuss the six-month sleep regression with their doctor. However, if you notice other issues, you may need to consult with your doctor. A few warning signs include:
- Stunted growth
- Lack of weight gain
- Reduced appetite
- Reduction in urination or bowel movements
- Labored or abnormal breathing
The 6-month sleep regression is common for babies and reasonably unpleasant for parents. While reaching a developmental milestone is the primary factor for this month-long period, teething, separation anxiety, and growth spurts also contribute.
To improve your baby’s sleep, use a white noise machine and keep a consistent nap schedule and bedtime routine.
How did you fare this fun time with your baby? Share below!
Kris McCormick is a boy mama, wife, and blogger. Since becoming a mom six years ago, she’s been researching the best advice, resources, and baby gear from small businesses to make pregnancy and child-raising easier for all parents. You can read more about Kris here.