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The 6-Month Sleep Regression: How It Affects Your Baby’s Sleep & Naps

Overview of the 6-Month Sleep Regression

Sleep is a dynamic process that fluctuates and evolves as a baby grows (1). One particular challenge many parents face with their little ones is a phenomenon known as ‘sleep regression’. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, you’re not alone. Many new parents find themselves in the middle of one before they even know what it is.

A sleep regression is characterized by a period where a baby, who was sleeping relatively well, suddenly starts waking up frequently during the night, starts fussing more, doesn’t want to be in their sleep space, or has trouble napping (2), (3). This can be especially challenging for parents who have just settled into a consistent routine and have just started to get back to some normalcy.

It’s important to remember that while sleep regressions are commonly acknowledged by sleep experts and parents, not all babies will experience them (and indeed, not all pediatricians believe they are ‘real’ (4)). Some may seamlessly transition through these developmental phases, while others may find them more disruptive. Furthermore, not every sleep disturbance is a regression. Illness, teething, the wrong nap schedule or changes in the sleep space can also cause temporary setbacks in sleep.

In this article, we will delve deep into the six-month sleep regression, covering its causes, its impact on feeding and sleep schedules, how long it typically lasts, what you can do to cope, and how sleep training fits in as a possible solution.

OK, so why 6 months?

Sleep regressions can occur at different stages of a baby’s life. But arguably, the 6-month regression is the toughest and most common. This is partly because, by this age, parents are just getting into the swing of things with their little ones; they have a solid bedtime routine and are overall happy with their baby’s sleep habits. And then their little one goes through a growth spurt.

The six-month sleep regression corresponds with a period of significant physical and cognitive development. Your little 6-month-old is just starting to master key motor skills, such as rolling over (their own version of tummy time). And believe it or not, this causes a lot of sleep issues…(5),(6).

Beyond their neurological growth spurt, something very concrete is changing for them in their sleeping space. Think about this, until they can roll themselves over, your little one could only sleep in the position you put them down in. This meant for their whole life so far, they only saw their crib from a certain vantage point – up. And then all of a sudden, they learn to roll. And when they wake up in the middle of the night and roll over, suddenly everything starts to look unfamiliar (a mattress is very different to the roof…). And while this seems like a minor difference from the point of view of an adult, for a child, this change is significant.

Not only this, but it is very common for a child to get “stuck”. When they begin to roll over, sometimes they are not quite sure how to get back down. This disrupts their nighttime sleep significantly as they need you to come and flip them back again. So while this new skill of rolling over is something to celebrate – be aware that it does take some getting used to.

Furthermore, this stage often coincides with the introduction of solid foods (7). This dietary change not only offers a new sensory experience but also alters digestion and feeding schedules, which can affect sleep patterns. Some babies might wake up due to hunger as their bodies adjust to digesting solids, while others might experience discomfort or constipation, leading to disrupted sleep patterns – often for the better (8).

At the same time, babies’ sensory perceptions are becoming more nuanced, making them more susceptible to disturbances such as noise, light, and temperature (9). This heightened sensitivity can result in shorter naps and more night wakings and more fussing and crying during the bedtime routine. 

Tips to cope and come out with better sleep

Although the six-month sleep regression can be an exhausting phase for parents and babies alike, there are strategies to manage this period effectively. For parents who are not yet at this regression, the key is to create healthy sleep habits before you get to the regressions and the 6-month mark. This is where ‘proactive sleep training’ or ‘pre-sleep training’ really comes into play. When your baby is born, they are in a blank state when it comes to habits. Over their first 4-6 months of life, a baby’s sleep patterns change and they develop what we call ‘sleep associations’ (10). This is where parents have maximum control over shaping their child’s sleep patterns and getting the basics of sleep right.

Batelle has designed a course for 0-6-month-olds (called Batelle Babies) that aims to mitigate the effects of sleep regressions by doing just this: laying a solid sleep foundation. Following this, you can ensure that your child is best placed to navigate sleep regressions with minimal disruption.

If you are already in the throws of the 6-month regression, the top things you should be thinking about are:

  1. Creating consistent sleep routines (ideally that are short and repeatable so that it can be the same every night – it’s the final few minutes before sleep that really count!)
  2. Following age-appropriate wake windows. This means that a child is haveing the right balance of being awake and asleep
  3. Creating a familiar and comforting sleep space (see the American Academy of Pediatrics for safe sleep guidelines)
  4. Use supportive tools such as a white noise machine (we suggest using the wave sound rather than white noise or brown noise, as it better masks outside noises given that the sounds undulate rather than remain static)
  5. Understand and respond to your baby’s sleep cues in a way that creates predictability and familiarity. Remember that one of the main reasons a 6-month-old starts having more frequent wake-ups is that because of their increase in cognitive development, they require more reassurance from you.
  6. Use it as a learning and teaching opportunity. We also advise parents to ensure that during this formative time, are not creating any sleep habits that need to be undone when their baby develops object permanence (such as rocking, feeding, or bouncing them to sleep). So even if you feel like you are on autopilot during the regression, try to be intentional about what habits and behaviors you create – they are far more difficult to undo!

Is sleep training an option to combat sleep regressions?

There is varying advice on when a parent should think about sleep training, and also conflicting views on whether you can sleep train while regression is going on and whether that would b effective (method dependent) (11). So let’s break it down. Sleep training is just a reset of behaviors. A sleep regression is a period of fluctuation and change, so while it may take longer for your baby to settle into good sleep habits (just as it does it you sleep train while your baby is teething), you can still work on these behavioral aspects.

In fact, because sleep training is so much about how a parent interacts with their child’s sleep, regression is usually the time of peak motivation (and pain) by the parent. This means parents are more likely to follow through as they are desperate for a solution. One of the most common reasons sleep training fails is that a parent isn’t able to follow through. So you can use this period of time to your advantage, get your partner on board, and really work on laying good sleep foundations for your child that will help avoid future sleep regressions.

A lot of parents seek medical advice from their pediatrician when their baby starts having sleep problems. Pediatricians usually recommend a cry-it-out approach, which can be tough on younger babies – largely because they are not aware of the alternatives (12). The more incremental and supportive sleep training methods are usually better suited for these younger little ones as they receive more co-regulation and support from their caregivers. Remember that some children develop later than others, so it’s safer to err on the older side of 4 months – usually 5-6 months – than sleep training at the 4-month mark. With a slightly older baby, a parent is also more confident as they feel more secure in the knowledge that their child is able to self-soothe and sleep for longer stretches.

How long does this sleep regression last?

The duration of a sleep regression can vary widely, but on average, they last between two to six weeks. The length depends on various factors including your child’s temperament, the nature of the developmental milestones they’re reaching, and how those changes are managed. Some regressions might be relatively short, lasting only a few days, while others might feel like they drag on for an eternity.

But here is a key insight: a regression is an opportunity to reset and reframe your child’s relationship with sleep – for good or bad. So while the 6-month regression may not last very long, the habits you create during this time will have an enduring effect. You often hear parents saying that their baby slept well until 6 months and then for the next year they are waking up consistently. The reason? Not only did little ones have developmental leaps, they also changed their sleeping habits. So while a regression may be short, the effects can be long-lasting.

Furthermore, each sleep regression corresponds to different milestones and experiences, thus creating unique challenges and impacts on your child’s sleep patterns. What we find is that if you get the sleep foundation correct early on, then coping with subsequent regressions is far far easier. 

How the 6-month sleep regression affects feeding schedules

Sleep regressions don’t just impact sleep – they can significantly disrupt your baby’s feeding schedule too. Parents might notice an increased demand for night feeds and changes in daytime eating habits during a regression (13).

This increase in nighttime feeding can be taxing for breastfeeding mothers as the disruption in her sleep schedule can potentially affect her breast milk production (14). Moreover, it’s not unusual for a baby to eat less during the day, making up for those lost calories by feeding more at night.

The relationship between sleep and feeding during a regression can be complex, but understanding it can help parents better navigate this challenging phase.

The TL;DR on the 6-month regression

Let’s sum up. First of all, keep a look out for signs your child may be going through a regression:

  1. Are they starting to develop new skills or reach developmental milestones
  2. Is their fussiness around sleep increasing?
  3. Are they no longer comfortable with their normal bedtime routine
  4. Are they having frequent and prolonged wake-ups

If you are not yet seeing these signs, it’s worth looking into a sleep program that teaches you how to get ahead of this and lay the best sleep foundation possible so as to minimize the intensity and duration of any future regressions.

If you are already in the midst of a regression, then try to set up as predictable a sleep routine as possible and ensure the sleep environment is optimally designed for good sleep habits. Also, consider doing sleep training at this time – if you pick the right program, what you learn now will set you in good stead for all future regressions still to come.

And lastly, see this as a learning opportunity. Yes, regressions (especially this one) are super tough. But it’s a sign your baby is growing and developing and it’s a great time to increase the connection and communication around sleep. 

To read more about sleep regressions at other ages, read our Sleep Regressions Blog

This article was written by Batelle – a team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists.