6 month sleep regression: myth or real?Updated Nov 04, 2022
When your baby’s sleep patterns change, it can leave you wondering whether it’s a regression to wait out, or whether you should take action. We’re here to help! Read on for a breakdown of the most common sleep issues (and solutions) for 6 month olds.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
Is there a 6 month old sleep regression?
A sleep regression occurs when a baby that was sleeping well suddenly starts having new sleep issues. Fighting sleep, increased waking, shorter naps — you get the picture. While 6 months is not a common age for a developmental regression, sleep regressions can occur at any age.
Why do 6 month old babies have sleep issues?
(1) Sleep onset associations
Infants who are rocked, fed, or otherwise helped to sleep by their parents, tend to wake more at night. Since they receive help at bedtime, they’re more likely to call out for help when they wake between sleep cycles at night. The same goes for day sleep: parental help often leads to shorter naps.
When your baby stays awake too long in between sleep periods, this leads to a build-up of hormones which makes it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. Aim for wake windows of 2 - 3 hours between naps and before bedtime. This will help limit overtiredness
(3) Too much day sleep
Most 6 month olds need about 14 hours of sleep over a 24-hr period (though this can vary depending on their individual sleep needs). If a baby naps for more than 3 - 3.5 hours or takes more than 3 naps, this can interfere with getting sufficient nighttime sleep.
Many babies this age will sleep better at night with 1 - 2 nighttime feedings. Infants who regularly eat more than that during the night may continue to eat less during the day because they’re not as hungry. This can create a cycle where your baby will continue to make up the intake during the night.
Keep in mind that many babies have a growth spurt at this age. You might notice an increase in appetite for 2 - 3 days, which may temporarily lead to some new hunger-related wakings.
Babies who are sick, teething, or otherwise in discomfort tend to wake more at night. If your baby wakes mid-sleep cycle during the night (meaning that they wake sooner than 40-50 minutes after falling asleep), this can be a sign that they’re uncomfortable or in pain
(6) Mastering milestones
When babies begin to master a new motor skill, whether that’s rolling, sitting up, or getting on all fours, sleep is often impacted. Your baby may get “stuck” in an uncomfortable position or simply prefer to practice their new moves at night. Either way, it can take a few weeks for your baby to adjust to their new mobility.
My 6 month old won’t nap so is this a sleep regression?
Infant sleep regressions can impact naps. However, if your baby is fighting sleep, or has short naps at this age, it’s likely because they need a schedule adjustment. You can view our sample 6 month old schedule here.
If your schedule already looks good, we want to consider how your baby is falling asleep. Babies that fall asleep independently at nap time are more likely to link their sleep cycles without assistance, meaning they have longer naps.
5 Tips to handle 6 month old sleep issues and regressions
Tip #1: Offer 3 naps per day
Taking too many naps or too few naps in a day can cause or exacerbate sleep issues. 3 naps are the sweet spot for babies this age. Typically we see that the first two naps are at least an hour long, while the third nap is a shorter 30 - 45 minute power nap.
Tip #2: Aim for wake windows that are 2 - 3 hours long
Rule out schedule-related sleep issues by ensuring that your baby’s wake windows are age appropriate. Most babies this age can comfortably stay awake for about 2 hours before their first nap, and 2.5 - 3 hours before bedtime. Overtired babies tend to have a harder time falling asleep, wake more at night, and often wake too early in the morning.
Tip #3: Focus on independent sleeping skills
By 6 months old, most babies are physiologically able to fall asleep without being rocked, held, or otherwise helped to sleep. Once a baby learns and maintains the habit of falling asleep without parental assistance, they’ll be more likely to link sleep cycles both day and night. That means longer naps and longer stretches of nighttime sleep.
Tip #4: Ensure the sleep space is dark, cool, and quiet
Prep your baby’s bedroom with black-out curtains, lower temps, and a white noise machine. A really dark room can help ensure that the morning sun doesn’t set your baby’s internal clock to wake too early. It can also help lengthen naps by cutting out visual distractions.
Target a room temperature of 68 - 72F (20 - 22C), which is optimal for babies and adults. Invest in a white noise machine to muffle household and neighborhood sounds that may interfere with your baby’s snooze.
Tip #5: Set a regular wake-up time
If you're looking to improve the quantity and quality of sleep, aim for a consistent morning rise time. This will help you find the best sleep times for your baby and can lead to more predictable sleep patterns. Not only does this help regulate your baby’s schedule, but it can also cut down on sleep issues like split nights (that’s when a baby stays awake for long periods during the night).
Ideally, your baby will wake within the same 30-minute window each morning. Yes, that means weekends too! If you’re in a 2-parent household, consider trading off so you each have a weekend day to sleep in.
Tip #6: Give your baby opportunities to practice motor skills
If your baby is mastering a milestone, chances are it will temporarily impact sleep a bit, no matter what you do. You can, however, help cut down on milestone-related sleep issues by giving your baby plenty of time and space to practice new motor skills during the day. Incorporating tummy time to work on rolling, or using floor time to work on independent sitting, can help your baby master the motor skill faster and make it a bit less exciting to work on their skills at sleep times.
6 month sleep regression FAQ
Q: Is the 6 month sleep regression a myth?
While we don’t recognize an official 6 month sleep regression, sleep regressions can occur at any age. Developmental milestones, nap transitions, sickness, and travel are all common triggers for a sudden decline in sleep health.
Q: Can a sleep regression happen at 6 months?
Yes, an abrupt change in sleep patterns can occur at any age, including 6 months old. Maintaining healthy sleep habits as much as possible can help ensure that your baby’s sleep doesn’t regress dramatically.
Q: Do all babies have sleep issues at 6 months?
No, some babies are capable of sleeping for long periods at night and take predictable naps at 6 months of age. Others continue to need help falling asleep and staying asleep.
Q: Why is a 6 month old baby not sleeping?
Sleep onset associations (typically caused by parents holding, rocking, or feeding their child to sleep), schedule problems, and hunger are the most common causes of night waking at this age. Many babies continue to need 1 - 2 night feedings at this age, even if they can fall asleep on their own and follow an age-appropriate schedule.
Q: Can babies have nightmares at 6 months?
Dreams - both good and bad - primarily occur during the REM stage of sleep. While infants spend much of their sleep time in the REM stage, there’s no conclusive evidence to support that babies dream at this age.
Q: 6 month old baby won't sleep unless held. What should I do?
Help your baby learn to fall asleep in their crib by using a gradual sleep training method. While “cry it out” methods like the Ferber Method tend to have faster results, gradual methods can help limit tears by making smaller changes over a longer period of time. Start by using the methods at bedtime (or for the first nap) only, in order to make the process more manageable for your baby.
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Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.