Surviving The 6-Month Sleep Regression: Tips From The Experts
Medically reviewed by Robyn Rosenblum, MD, FAAP
As a parent, you know that sleep is crucial for you and your little one. So, when your baby suddenly starts waking up more at night, it can be frustrating. But take heart. The 6-month sleep regression is a good sign!
It means that your baby is growing and developing normally. However, just because it's normal doesn't mean it's not exhausting.
To help you survive (and thrive!) during the 6-month sleep regression, here are some tips from our experts.
What Is The 6-Month Sleep Regression?
The 6-month sleep regression is a normal phase that most babies go through. To help you better understand what it is, let's look at each word in the phrase.
Babies are typically six months old when they go through this stage of development. But, of course, not every baby will hit it when they're precisely this age. Some will go through it a bit earlier and others later.
The latter part of the phrase, regression, means to return to a former state. It's taking a step backward instead of forward. So, a sleep regression is when your baby, who was once sleeping well, suddenly starts waking up more at night or taking shorter naps.
Note: If your baby hasn't yet started sleeping through the night, they may start having trouble settling down for naps. Either way, they're sleeping less, which means you are, too.
Why Does Your Baby Stop Sleeping During This Time?
At this age, your baby is busy learning new things. They're starting to sit up, roll over, and babble. They’re playing with toys and recognizing your voice. These milestones are exciting, but they can impact your baby's sleep.
For instance, your child may roll over at night and get into an uncomfortable position in their crib. Since they might not yet have the skills to roll back over, they'll fuss to let you know they need help.
It’s important to note that there are specific recommendations for when to stop placing your baby to sleep on their back and when it’s OK to leave them if they roll over. For more information on this, read our article here.
Your baby might also wake up and start babbling and then realize that they're lonely and want you. If this happens, they may cry to get your attention.
In addition, this age is when your child's napping schedule naturally begins to shift. For example, some babies start to transition from three naps to two when they’re about six months old.
Finally, if your baby has been sleeping in a small bassinet or playpen insert, six months is often the age when you transition them to a larger bed. And while they need the space for safety reasons and comfort, the change is hard on little ones.
Any one of these things could disrupt your child’s sleep. And, at this age, your baby is likely experiencing more than one.
Do Sleep Regressions Happen At Other Ages?
Sleep regressions are normal throughout your baby's first two years of life. Typically, you'll notice major changes in your child's sleeping habits around the ages of:
Developmental changes, teething, and growth spurts are common culprits for these sleep regressions.
What Are The Signs Of Sleep Regression
No matter what age your child is when they experience a sleep regression, here are some signs you may notice:
- Waking up more often during the night
- Taking shorter naps
- Falling asleep later at night
- Difficulty going back to sleep after waking
- Increased crankiness during the day due to sleep deprivation
- Fighting sleep
Your child may not experience all of these, but if you’re noticing a couple of them for several nights in a row, you’re likely dealing with sleep regression.
How Long Does A 6-Month Sleep Regression Usually Last?
Thankfully, the 6-month sleep regression is only temporary. Your child will eventually start sleeping well again.
This phase usually lasts between 2- and 6-weeks. However, some babies may only struggle with sleep for a few days, while others may have a difficult time for a couple of months.
Do All Babies Experience Sleep Regressions?
Most babies go through at least one sleep regression period, but some babies may not experience significant changes in their sleeping habits during this time. So if your baby is still sleeping soundly, you may be one of the lucky ones!
19 Tips For Surviving The 6-Month Sleep Regression
If your baby is going through the 6-month sleep regression, here are some tips that can help you both get through it.
1) Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps
There's a reason this is one of the most frequent pieces of advice given to parents. You cannot take care of your child if you're running on empty. You need to sleep.
If you're exhausted, you're more likely to be short-tempered. And, let's be honest, no one wants to deal with a grumpy parent.
So, when your baby takes a nap, take one, too. Even if it's just for 20 minutes, those few minutes of sleep will help you feel refreshed and recharged. It really can make a huge difference.
2) Establish A Bedtime Routine
If you don't have a bedtime routine yet, now is the time to start one. And, if you do have one, stick to it the best that you can.
Having a calming, consistent bedtime routine signals to your baby that it's time to sleep. In addition, it can help their brain start to wind down so they're more likely to fall asleep quickly.
Your bedtime routine doesn't have to be complicated. It can be as simple as reading a book, singing a lullaby, hugging your baby, and kissing them goodnight. Just do the same thing every night — in the same order — so your baby knows what to expect.
3) Try Dream Feeding
If you think your baby could be waking up due to hunger, dream feeding might help. This is when you rouse your baby before you go to bed for the night and feed them one more time.
While it might seem counterintuitive to wake your baby so they sleep better, many parents have successfully used this strategy. The secret is to not fully awaken your little one in the process. So keep the lights low, speak in soft tones, and avoid stimulating activity during dream feedings.
Getting extra calories into your baby before you go to sleep can help them sleep through the night and reduce their chances of waking up for a feed shortly after you drift off into dreamland.
4) Invest In A White Noise Machine
Babies don't like missing out on all the fun. And as your little one becomes more aware that they're a separate person from you, they also realize when you are or aren’t with them.
If your baby hears you in the other room while they're supposed to be napping, they may think, "Hey, why can't I be out there having fun with Mom and Dad?"
White noise helps to mask those noise cues that could be disrupting your baby's sleep. Plus, little ones are used to the sound of white noise in the womb, so it can also be a soothing comfort.
You can find white noise machines with various settings, so try a few and see which one your baby likes best.
5) Don’t Let Your Baby Get Overtired
If your baby is waking up in the middle of the night, you might be tempted to keep them up later in hopes that they sleep longer. While it may be a good idea in theory, this plan can backfire.
If your baby is overtired, it's harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. And the more tired they are, the grumpier they get.
Keep an eye on your child and watch for signs of sleepiness. These include:
- Rubbing their eyes
- Being fussy
When you begin to notice these things, it's time for your child to rest.
6) Make Sure Your Child Isn’t Undertired
By six months of age, your baby's wake window is lengthening. They need slightly less sleep than younger babies, so they can stay awake longer between naps.
The wake window is 2-3.5 hours for babies between five and seven months of age. If you're still trying to put your baby down for a nap every ninety minutes, they may not be ready for bed.
Give them a little more play time and encourage them to kick their feet or play with a developmentally-appropriate toy while enjoying tummy time. Or spend this time reading a book, dancing together, or singing a few silly songs.
The goal is to wear your baby out so that by the time their wake window comes to an end, they're actually ready for some shut-eye.
7) Don’t Excite Your Baby
To encourage your baby to go back to sleep, nighttime isn't the time for tickling, loud voices, or bright lights. These things can create a stimulating environment that riles up your baby instead of helping them calm down.
When you go get your little one, keep the lights low and don't interact with them too much. Use a soft voice and gentle touch to help them relax and get back into a sleepy state.
Also, remember that your baby can sense your emotions and will take cues from you. So if you’re angry and frustrated that they’re awake, they’ll pick up on that and get even more upset. It’s best for everyone if you can stay calm.
8) Consider A Schedule Change
Sometimes, changing your baby's schedule can help improve their nighttime sleep. As we mentioned above, babies typically transition from three naps a day to two between 6 and 9 months.
These older babies typically take one nap in the morning and one in the afternoon. And it's not unusual for them to sleep a full two hours during each nap.
If your child isn’t ready to make the nap switch, you can try adjusting your child's bedtime. Try scooting it up a half an hour or so to see if that helps. You can also experiment with letting them stay up half an hour later.
Whatever you decide, consistency is key for your child's long-term sleep habits.
9) Continue Safe Sleep Practices
When you're tired and your baby won't sleep in their own bed, it's even more tempting to make an exception and let them sleep in your bed with you — or to curl up on the sofa together and doze off while watching TV.
But co-sleeping isn't recommended for safety reasons. Make sure your baby is sleeping on their back in a crib, playpen, or mini-crib that meets current safety standards to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
10) Try A Sleep Sack
By six months, your baby is too big for swaddling. But they may miss the secure, enclosed feeling of being swaddled.
A sleep sack can help provide that same snug fit so your baby feels safe and secure. Plus, it's safer than using a blanket since there’s no risk of the fabric covering their face or getting tangled in the sheets while they sleep.
Try putting your little one to bed in one of our Sleep Sacks For Babies. These wearable blankets are made from breathable organic cotton and bamboo fabric. They're so soft your baby will feel cozy as they drift off to sleep.
11) Check The Essentials First
Your baby could be waking for a legitimate reason. When you hear them, have a mental checklist of things that could be wrong. This could include:
- Position: Have they rolled in their sleep and gotten into an uncomfortable position?
- Diaper: Are they wet or poopy?
- Gassines: Does their tummy feel hard? Do they have any trapped gas you can help them get out by burping?
- Temperature: Are they too hot or too cold? Does the air in the room feel comfortable?
- Hunger: When was the last time your little one ate? Are they due for a feeding?
- Pain: Did they get a bug bite or bump their head on the side of the crib?
If you notice a problem, take care of it quickly and quietly. If not, help them get back to sleep by rubbing their back and singing a lullaby.
12) Ensure Your Child’s Comfort While Sleeping
If your baby isn’t comfortable, chances are they won’t sleep well.
Now is a great time to ensure they're sleeping on the best mattress possible. A Newton Baby Mattress has a soft, quilted cover that babies love. And the breathable material helps keep your little one from overheating, too.
In addition, the crib sheet you use should fit snugly on your mattress. The cozy Newton Baby Organic Crib Sheets fit our mattresses perfectly. And since they’re so soft, they’ll help your baby sleep peacefully.
While you're reevaluating the comfort of your baby's nursery, continue to practice safe sleeping habits, as mentioned above. For example, avoid pillows and blankets until your child is at least one. And know which swaddles, sleep sacks, and sleep positions are safe.
13) Address Teething Pain
When your child hurts, they can't sleep well. So, whenever they're having trouble sleeping, it's crucial to rule out pain.
At 6 months, many babies are cutting their first teeth. Take time to look in your child's mouth and see if that could be the cause of their sleep regression.
If you notice bumps on their gums, lots of drool, a tooth poking through, or other signs of teething, give them a frozen washcloth or teething ring to chew on. You can also rub their gums with your fingertip to help ease the pain.
If nothing seems to work, speak to your child's doctor about options for teething medicine.
14) Encourage Self-Soothing
It's normal for babies to rely on you to help them fall asleep at this age. But that doesn’t mean you should be their only source of sleep cues.
Encourage your baby to learn how to self-soothe so they don't need your help every time they wake in the middle of the night.
For example, you can teach your baby to fall asleep on their own by putting them in bed while they’re still sleepy — but not yet asleep. Give them a few minutes to settle down and see if they can drift off without you interacting with them.
When they do wake up at night, let them practice self-soothing for a short time. You can encourage this by staying close by and offering reassurance with a gentle pat or word instead of immediately picking them up.
A pacifier can also help comfort your baby when they wake. If they haven't taken one before now, it's a good time to try introducing one.
15) Call For Reinforcements
Parenting is hard. Especially when you aren’t getting enough sleep.
If you’re struggling to manage your baby’s sleep regression, remember you don’t have to do it alone. It’s OK to ask for help from your family or friends, so don’t feel guilty about doing just that.
Having a good support system can make a world of difference.
16) Know That You Didn’t Do Anything Wrong
If your baby suddenly stops sleeping, you might worry that you've done something wrong. But that's simply not the case.
It's not your fault that your baby isn't sleeping well. And no matter what well-meaning strangers may say, it's not a sign that your baby is spoiled or that you're a bad parent.
The 6-month sleep regression is normal. It's something that nearly every parent experiences. You and your baby will get through this difficult time. And, someday soon, you'll be sleeping through the night again.
17) Take Care Of Yourself
When you're on an airplane, remember the admonition to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others?
Well, the same principle applies to parenting. You'll be much better prepared to handle the 6-month sleep regression if you’re well-rested and taking care of yourself.
So, get plenty of rest when you can, and make time for activities that help you relax. Exercise, yoga, taking a hot bath — whatever works for you. Also, make sure you’re eating nourishing food and staying hydrated, especially if you’re nursing.
When you're in a better frame of mind, it will be easier to stay calm and patient while your baby is going through this rough patch.
18) Check-In With Your Child’s Pediatrician
The 6-month sleep regression usually only lasts a few weeks. But, in rare cases, your child might continue to struggle with sleep.
If nothing you’ve tried has helped your child get back to snoozing, it's time to ask for help. Bring it up at your baby's next well-child visit or make a special appointment with your child's doctor to discuss sleep.
There are underlying health issues that can impact their sleeping patterns, so it's always best to rule those out. And, even if there's nothing wrong, your child's doctor might have additional strategies you can try to get your baby back to a healthy sleep schedule.
19) Walk Away
Listening to your baby cry when you're already exhausted and frustrated can be pretty tough. But remember, never shake your baby. Though it might seem like it'll help, it won't. Shaking your little one can cause serious harm or even death.
If you find yourself getting angry with your baby, it's best to put your baby in a safe spot, like their crib or playpen, and walk away for a short time to collect yourself. Even just a few minutes can help tremendously.
Your mental health is important. Don't be afraid to take a break for your own sake — and for your baby’s.
Better Sleep Is Coming
The 6-month sleep regression isn't fun. When you're in the middle of it, you'll likely experience frustration and exhaustion.
But don't give up. This stage won't last forever, and better nights are coming!
You'll be putting your baby to bed on their cozy Newton Baby Mattress with a smile on your face in a few weeks. And that is a great feeling for both you and your little one!