So, you’ve spent half a year perfecting your baby’s sleep routine—you know the particular blanket they love to be wrapped in, the white noise machine setting that works best, and the perfect time to put them down for the night. But suddenly, without warning, they start to have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep again!
This period is often referred to as the “6-month sleep regression,” where disordered sleep patterns return despite having a set routine in place.
Unfortunately, the word “regression” is a bit misleading: this phenomenon isn’t a step backward in your baby’s ability to sleep soundly. It’s more like a temporary disruption to their sleep that’s usually connected to various developmental milestones. Nevertheless, it can be a challenging situation for both babies and their caregivers!
Luckily, there are ways to navigate the 6-month sleep regression hurdle and return to the healthy schedule that you and your infant worked so hard to get established. To better understand how to solve the issue, it’s important to figure out the underlying cause first.
Common Causes for Sleep Disruption
As babies grow, they go through many physiological and mental changes. The metaphor of “growing pains” definitely applies here. It’ll take time and patience for everyone in the household to adapt, but that doesn’t mean you all have to just grin and bear it while your baby struggles to rest. Then no one will be sleeping!
However, you’ll definitely need to find answers, and a few different culprits could be to blame. Some typical causes for regular sleep disturbance at the half-year mark include:
1. Developmental Milestones
At 6 months, babies are beginning to reach important milestones like learning to babble, roll over, and sit up, and these new skills lead to increased restlessness at bedtime. Teething is another obstacle in this stage, and the discomfort they feel may also disrupt their sleep.
It’s normal for babies to outgrow old routines as they change, so some of this should be expected. Not a lot can be (or should be) done to alter this path as they continue to develop mobility, curiosity, and awareness. But remember: learning is a good thing, even though it can complicate your routine!
2. Separation Anxiety
The increased awareness that 6-month-olds display is due to a stronger sense of object permanence, which means they realize that their parents still exist even when out of sight. Before this point, a baby isn’t very concerned about who enters or leaves the room, but after developing object permanence they’re instantly upset when mom or dad disappears.
Sound familiar? That newfound awareness can contribute to separation anxiety, making it harder for babies to settle down and sleep. Being left alone is a necessary part of life, of course, but at the moment, it might seem impossible for your little one to comfortably doze off without you present.
3. Basic Changes in Sleep Patterns
It’s easy to mistake normal sleep problems for something else, especially when we’re searching for a concrete cause, but sometimes babies just change their minds as they go along! On average, newborns require 14-17 hours of sleep each day for the first 4 months of their lives; infants between 4 and 11 months old should only get about 12-15 hours. As they adjust, there’s a bit of a transition period—that’s the classic 6-month sleep regression.
Change can be scary for any new parent, but it may be that your baby is just experiencing another day in their life—you and your baby will find your groove together again soon.
What to Do to Support Your Baby’s Sleep
Once you can figure out why your baby is regressing in their sleep patterns, you can plan the next steps accordingly. We can’t (and shouldn’t) fight nature, but there are methods to help ease your baby into a routine that suits them at this stage. Parents looking to cope with the 6-month sleep regression should try the following strategies:
1. Prioritize a Consistent Bedtime Routine
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a consistent routine is everything! Babies thrive on routine in general and benefit from having consistency in their lives early on. By providing yours with a reliable regimen of wakefulness and rest, they’ll be able to overcome sleep disturbances on their own. Stick to the same timing for optimum balance with your infant’s changing needs, including evening feedings, baths, and cuddling.
2. Ensure a Comfortable Sleep Environment
Your baby’s sleep space should be conducive to winding down, with a comfortable mattress, appropriate room temperature, and minimal interference. Their preferences play a crucial role here: the key is to identify what consistently helps them and make sure it happens. Even the most intricate details matter if they support your baby’s sleep, and the right socks could be the difference between screaming and dreaming.
3. Offer Comfort—Wisely
When your baby wakes up crying, it’s tempting to run in and provide comfort to return them to sleep. However, this rapid response can produce an unsustainable dependence for both of you.
Independence is actually a skill, and one of the many your child will learn in the coming years. A fussy baby who’s picked up immediately won’t have the chance to learn this vital aspect of growing up; on the contrary, they’ll get acclimated to mom or dad holding them in order for sleep to occur at all, so you become a necessary part of their routine instead of a happy addition.
Assess whether or not your baby’s initial cries are merely the sounds of sleep by timing your entry. If you hear crying, wait a few minutes before going into the room, and be careful not to pick them up if you can help it—this will likely further disturb their sleep and possibly start the cycle over again. Check on them in intervals and gradually reduce those check-ins until they’ve settled. While it will feel difficult in the moment to hear your baby cry, the most important thing is that you are there offering support even if you’re not supporting them in their preferred way.
Regression Reversal Is Possible
It’s essential to remember that the 6-month sleep regression is just a passing phase, and most babies eventually return to a more regular sleep pattern. If sleep disturbances persist or become severe, consulting with a baby sleep expert for personalized guidance might be a pivotal next step. I started Your Sleeping Baby to assist families in getting a good night’s sleep, and that mission has completely changed the lives of my clients.
With the guidance of a sleep coach, you can have the sleep routine you’ve been dreaming of (at least when you get some rest!) ever since you brought that beautiful baby home. I’m eager to help you reach your sleep goals as a family. Let’s talk about how to revolutionize your rest today!