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March 14, 2023 8 min read
Sleep is a hot topic in the land of parenting. We’ve all heard the typical stories of the sleep-deprived parents of a baby who is a terrible sleeper. And the fairy tale of a Sleeping Beauty, a baby who sleeps so soundly through the night, a prince on a galloping horse couldn’t wake her. While these Pulitzer Prize winners may have hit the parenting best-sellers list, there are some tips and tricks of the trade you should know about.
Here, we unravel some infant sleep myths and examine infant sleep cycles at 6 months when the plot takes a turn and your baby typically hits a new milestone in their development. A time of teething, babbling baby talk, and the beginnings of crawling up and out into the world, this is also a time when your baby’s sleep schedule will likely take a turn for the better.
We’ll start the sleep story with a look at how much sleep your 6-month-old baby really needs. Your curiosity will be peaked with a sample sleep schedule and nap time routines. Finally, we’ll challenge the controversy on sleep training and examine the common antagonists to the 6-month-old sleep schedule.
Table of contents
Your baby’s first year of life is a time of rapid growth and development. We could say the story is action-packed from the start, although much of this is behind the scenes as your baby spends most hours asleep. This is a time when the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 12 – 16 hours of sleep per day for infants 4-12 months of age.
Babies need more time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to foster brain development, and by 6 months your baby has reached several developmental milestones. Your little one may gain physical abilities like sitting upright and their awareness of the environment increases as they become more responsive to sounds perhaps even laughing more. All of this activity requires an exertion of energy and will play into their sleep habits.
According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, regularly getting the recommended hours of sleep can lead to better health outcomes for your baby including improvements in:
Physical and mental health
At the 6-month milestone, your infant’s sleep begins to consolidate, meaning they spend more time sleeping throughout the night, especially since feedings are not as necessary during nighttime sleep.
However, nap time is still a central theme in their sleep story. These daytime sleep interludes typically occur between 1 to 4 times per day and can vary from 30 minutes to 3 hoursat a time. While nap times will vary for each infant, it’s important that the daytime sleep setting is quiet and free of outside distractions.
It’s important that your baby’s sleep story follows a script. While slight improvisations are a natural part of your baby’s story unfolding, sticking to a sleep schedule as best as possible is crucial for your baby to develop healthy sleep habits and a sense of stability -- and will provide you literal liberty!
Below, you will find a sample 6-month sleep schedule. Of course, it’s important to remember that each baby is unique and there may be some twists in the plot.
☀️🍼 6:15 am: Wake Up & Feeding
💤 8:15 – 9:15 am: Morning Nap
🍼 9:15 am: Feeding
💤 11:15 – 12:15 pm: Nap
🍼 12:15 pm: Feeding
💤 2:15 – 3:15 pm: Third Nap
🍼 3:15 pm: Feeding
🛁 5:30 pm: Bath
🍼 6:00 pm: Feeding
🛏️ 6:15 pm: Bedtime
Bedtime can be an epic battle in the tale of infant sleep. The silver lining is the further you delve into the story the better-armed you’ll be to ensure you and your baby are getting adequate nighttime sleep.
Knowing your infant’s wake windows will help you in deciphering your baby’s cues for sleep or hunger, and will avoid your baby from getting overly tired, which will make your baby's sleep battle much less stormy.
Many babies, in fact, 25-50% of infants, will wake up during the night at 6 months of age. There are some things you can do to curtail this and encourage your baby to sleep 5-8 hours through the night. This includes teaching your infant to go to sleep on their own by ensuring they are put to bed by themselves in their crib or bassinet. This will help most babies learn to self-soothe, and fall back asleep on their own after waking up during the night.
All babies’ sleep stories are shaped by the same mystery called the circadian rhythm. This internal clock governs our sleep cycles. Once it’s dusk, the body releases a hormone called melatonin which makes us sleepy, signaling the time to wind down and prepare for a restful slumber. It is this body clock that also governs the 6-month-old sleep schedule.
For your 6-month-old baby, this sleep cycle lasts 45-60 minutes, at the end of which your infant will either wake up or start another round of sleep. It is believed that this cyclic sleep pattern in infants is a protective mechanism against SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), which you’re likely familiar with.
Babies this age also begin to become more mobile, another reason your infant may wake in the middle of the night. It’s common for infants between 6-9 months of age to wake themselves with their own movements.
As babies grow and their sleep story evolves, their REM sleep and related sleep patterns progressively begin to resemble those seen in adults.
As the 6-month-old sleep schedule outlines, it is recommended that at 6 months babies remain awake no more than 2 to 3 hours at a time. Sleep is a critical component of infant growth and development, so it is necessary to aim to follow these guidelines. Although every baby differs in their sleep cycle and as parents, all we can do is our best to establish a sleep route, it is important our 6-month-old gets adequate sleep.
You’re now familiar with the tale of 6-month-old sleep schedules, a major milestone in development with changes in your baby’s activity level and sleep cycle. While your baby is progressing towards sleeping through the night, the sleeping villain can still rear his ugly head, causing sleep difficulties to show up.
A sleep regression, as it’s known, is a step backward in your infant’s sleep progress. Think of it like a pause in the story, or a flashback to days when your baby was having more difficulty sleeping. The cause of the common 6-month sleep regression is unknown, but it is thought to be due to infants’ development which does not occur at a steady pace.
This, coupled with an increase in their movement and physical abilities may be cause for a pause in their sleep progress. Overstimulation may be another factor, as 6-month-old babies tend to be more aware of their environment causing them to be easily distracted and more prone to separation anxiety.
As with any change in routine, it takes time to adjust and while this period can be challenging, the good news is sleep regression at 6 months is rarely long-lasting.
Babies’ sleep stories are punctuated with common problems that many parents encounter. If you’re a parent who is finding a stable infant sleep schedule as nebulous as searching for the Wizard of Oz, rest assured you are not alone on the yellow brick road.
In the most captivating fairy tales, infants would sleep peacefully through the night. In the real world, however, there are problems many parents are faced with.
• An inability for your baby to self-soothe
• Variations in the number of night wakings
• Relying on feeding during the night to fall back asleep
• Crying when awake to signal to the parent
• Waking due to body movements
💡 Remember that during challenging times, it is equally important to focus on your self-care and to trust that you are guiding your baby’s sleep journey with ample attention.
As a new parent, if you’re not already debating it at length in your book club, you’ve at least skimmed the classic controversial novella: sleep training. This is the process of encouraging your baby to learn to fall asleep on their own through several methods.
The long-term research on sleep training finds no evidence that it’s psychologically or physically damaging to babies. Conversely, studies show that it can improve infant sleep quality and increase the development of secure attachment between a parent and their baby.
Similarly, evidence suggests that the most common process termed the “cry it out” method, has no ill psychological consequences on infants, however, it can be very stressful for parents.
At 6 months of age, sleep training is safe and healthy. Some specialists recommend starting at 4 months, the time when sleep cycles begin to mature and most babies don’t require night feedings and can learn to self-soothe.
Parental preferences and views vary, and ultimately the decision to sleep train is up to you and when you think it's right for your family.
There are some tips and tricks of the trade for your baby's sweet dreams...
• Expose your baby to daylight by opening the curtains to support your baby’s circadian
• Consider blackout curtains at night
• Follow a daytime and nighttime routine
• Lessen distractions and stimulation at bedtime by reducing lights including any screens
• Learn to recognize your baby’s sleep cues
• Respond to your baby’s needs for comfort
• Baby yoga and massage techniques can add calmness to your bedtime routine
Learn More: Co-Sleeping with a Baby: Pros and Cons
The captivating tale of the 6-month-old sleep schedule can leave many parents bewildered. Like any other, this chapter in your baby's developmental story is a time of growth and learning. Delving into the world of baby sleep, we examined the common questions around sleep schedules as your baby transitions to a new stage in their development. With all this in mind, we hope you can put any sleep pressure you're feeling aside and rest more confidently in your bedtime routine.
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends evidenced in babies, it is in no way medical advice. Your baby's doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula, and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician prior to making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Disclaimer: Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.
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