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The 6-Month Sleep Regression-What You Should Know

Here's what you need to know about 6-month sleep regressions and how to handle them.

The 6-Month Sleep Regression-What You Should Know

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Having an infant has its challenges. From latching to feeding, and especially bedtime, parents of babies have a lot on their plates. One of the biggest challenges is getting your baby to sleep. But after a few weeks, you get into a consistent bedtime routine, have a sleep schedule, and hopefully, you can catch a few ZZZs yourself.

Then, one night, around six months, your baby's sleep pattern changes. They take shorter naps during the day, falling asleep takes longer, your baby's nighttime sleep might feel off, and there could be more frequent night wakings. It's official—your baby is in a sleep regression.

The good news is that babies experience sleep regressions as a regular part of their development. While this might exhaust your entire family, that does not mean you will never sleep again (even if it feels that way). It just means you need to understand what happens during a 6-month sleep regression and create a plan of action.

Here's what you need to know about 6-month sleep regressions and what to do if your baby is experiencing one.

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What is the 6-month sleep regression?

According to Rachel Mitchell, founder of My Sweet Sleeper, which offers guides, classes, and coaching to parents struggling with their baby's sleep, the 6-month sleep regression isn't necessarily bad. Sleep regressions, whether at six months, four months, or during another period, are the result of a major developmental leap.

So, Mitchell suggests re-framing these challenges as a progression instead. "At six months, babies usually sit up on their own, start to try solid foods, and become more vocal. Babies often experience a growth spurt at this stage, and because of this parents may notice that their baby is waking more frequently at night looking for feeds," she explains.

Another reason for this sleep regression is that babies also typically drop a nap at around the 6-month stage. If this is the case, Mitchell suggests moving bedtime up slightly earlier. While this might sound difficult, it's worth a try to see if it nips the problem in the bud.

Lastly, according to Dr. Whitney Casares, board-certified pediatrician, maternal child health expert, and author of Doing It All, the regression is also the result of having a more challenging time with sustained sleep and initiating sleep starting at about 4 to 6 months of age. However, she notes that not all babies have sleep regressions, and some have more difficult regressions than others. So, it's best to avoid comparing your child to someone else's.

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How long does the 6-month sleep regression last?

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Ask any parent dealing with a six-month sleep regression, and they will say this regression lasts too long. While sleep regressions generally aren't a long-term issue, unfortunately, there isn't a perfectly definitive answer here. Mitchell says this sleep regression can last anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks, depending on the child's experience and the parents' approach to sleep. "I often see parents panic in the middle of regressions/progressions and introduce new routines that can draw out the progression."

On the other hand, Dr. Casares tells me that all babies are different. "Sleep regressions may be shorter or longer, depending on the individual baby," explains the Doctor. So, there's no choice other than to change things up and wait until your child can fall asleep and stay on their own once again.

So, what do you need to change? Because several factors are at play during your child's wake window, it's crucial to be aware of a few issues. One of these is the temperature in the room. Your baby may want it a little warmer or cooler.

Also, it's a good time to start if you aren't using a white noise machine already. If your noise machine does not have a white noise setting, you may want to buy one or consider downloading an app that plays white noise.

Why is my 6-month-old suddenly not sleeping?

While this may feel like it comes out of nowhere, there's likely no singular reason your six-month-old has sleep issues, even if they do have healthy sleep habits. "Babies can have a more challenging time sleeping at six months because they start to develop a skill called object permanence," explains Dr. Casares. "Object permanence is when they understand an object still exists even when they cannot see it.

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That means when 6-month-olds wake and don't see their caregivers (or their bottles they fell asleep with), they still know they exist somewhere else and miss them." So, keep in mind that sleep issues could potentially be the result of separation anxiety. Alternatively, you may want to consider sleep training.

The Doctor also notes that 6-month-olds undergo other rapid developmental and cognitive changes, including teething and learning to eat and sit unassisted. "Whenever babies have developmental leaps, sleep can be more fitful."

Teething can be particularly painful and uncomfortable for babies. If you suspect your baby is waking up from tooth pain, you may want to try giving them pain relief medicine such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You could also try homeopathic remedies. However, it is best to consult your pediatrician if unsure of what to give your baby.

While this situation can be highly stressful, Mitchell says it's important to remember that during the first 18 months, babies are developing rapidly both physically and mentally. So, inevitably, sleep will be impacted by these development periods. "But there are also factors unique to the child and their family dynamic that can impact sleep," she explains.

How many times should a 6-month-old wake up at night?

If you're wondering if your six-month-old is waking up too many or too few times during the night, or you've noticed that their sleep pattern has changed, remember how many times experts say they should wake up.

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According to Mitchell, it's normal for 6-month-olds to wake up once or twice per night. However, not waking up at all is also okay.

So if your baby is sleeping through the night—there is truly nothing to worry about. "These wake-ups often require a feed, especially during a growth spurt. I only become concerned when wake-ups are more than three and last for long periods," explains Mitchell.

However, Dr. Casares tells me, "All babies are different. Some babies may sleep for shorter or longer stretches." So, if your baby is waking up every few hours, as challenging as it is, those wakings may be perfectly normal for them.

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FAQs

How long should babies sleep every night?

Most parents will become concerned if their baby sleeps too much or too little. Dr. Casares tells me that most babies can sleep at least six to eight hours at night with brief wake-up periods. However, every baby is different.

Things like teething, other developmental milestones, or an incredibly busy day can influence how many hours of sleep your baby gets every night. So, if your baby sleeps a lot more or less than six to eight hours, you may want to call the pediatrician or bring up this issue at your next visit.

Is it okay to change your baby's sleep and wake windows?

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Sometimes, things happen, such as a parent going back to work, moving to a new home, or simply changing seasons, that may require you to change your baby's sleep and wake windows. While things are always beyond our control, according to Dr. Casares, consistency is crucial. "Attempt to provide consistent sleep and wake windows during the day so your baby is not overly tired when it's time to sleep at night," explains the Doctor and author.

What is the best thing for parents to do when their baby has a sleep regression?

While sleep regressions can make parents feel lost and exhausted, the only thing they can do is hang in there. "The best thing parents can do during this progression is to return to the core foundations (sleep environment, awake windows, routine, and nutrition/activity) and ensure these align with their developmental stage. Often, some tweaks need to be made to one or a few of these areas," says Mitchell.

"It is also important for parents to do their best to remain consistent during any regression/progression. Parents often panic (understandably) and start changing everything at once, which backfires and often makes things worse. Try to keep your approach and response as consistent as possible and remain calm through the process."

Gear that may improve your baby's sleep

If you're looking for subtle ways to improve your baby's sleep environment and bump your chances of longer, deeper sleep, consider upgrading your little one's room. If you share a room with baby, these tweaks are just as easy to make.

Start with one of the best baby cribs and one of the best crib mattresses, because a comfortable bed is half the battle. Ensure the crib bedding is soft, machine washable and breathable—and never use a crib bumper. Then, consider wrapping your little one in a cozy baby sleep sack that feels like a warm hug.

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Add finishing touches like blackout curtains and a white noise machine. We love designs that offer a soft nightlight glow and easy remote adjustments, like this one.

And remember, sleep regression is temporary—your little one will emerge from this sooner rather than later.

Experts

  • Rachel Mitchell is the founder of My Sweet Sleeper, which offers guides, classes, and coaching to parents struggling with their baby's sleep.
  • Dr. Whitney Casares, board-certified pediatrician, maternal child health expert, and author of Doing It All.

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