At six months, so much is changing for your little ones. Cognitively, socially, their nutritional needs, developmental milestones, it seems as though everything is changing! This is the same when it comes to sleep.
6 months is the age where sleep often starts to consolidate and babies naturally start to have a predictable schedule. Even if the 4-month sleep progression hit them hard or they’ve had difficulties with sleep all along, by 6 months little ones start to have longer night stretches and longer naps, phewf!
On that note, every baby is different and meets milestones at different times. If you have concerns however, it is highly recommended that you bring those concerns up with your child’s pediatrician.
DEVELOPMENTAL MILESTONES AT 6 MONTHS
At 6 months you’ll start to notice your baby making major strides in development. They are likely laughing, making noises when playing with you or with favourite toys, exploring the world around them by putting what seems like everything they can in their mouth, may be rolling or pushing up with their arms when on their belly or even starting their first foods.
All of these things are so exciting to parents, each new “first” brings a flood of joy! But it’s not only you who’s excited for your baby to learn something new, they are too and this can lead to disruptions for your baby’s sleep. Your little one could suddenly start to have sleep disruptions such as waking in the night, early from naps or having trouble falling asleep because they’re so excited about mastering the new skill that they’re learning. No need to panic though, as soon as your babe has mastered the skill it’ll lose its novelty. To speed along the process though, you can ensure you’re supporting your little one in practicing the skill during their awake time.
NIGHT SLEEP AT 6 MONTHS
Night sleep at 6 months is highly variable, depending on the baby. One baby might be sleeping through the night without any feeds or wakes* and another might still be waking to feed 3 times, both are completely normal!
Sleep has typically consolidated at this point into more sleep at night, ranging from about 10-12 hours (with wake-ups). Based on your little one’s circadian rhythm, their body’s natural “clock” an ideal time for them to go to sleep is between 6-8pm and for them to wake in the morning between 6-8am. If your little one is waking before this, treat it as a night waking and try to help them back to sleep until morning.
It is important to note that if you’re looking to reduce night wakings through sleep training, it’s advised to get approval from your pediatrician to ensure your baby is healthy and on track for growth before beginning.
*It is important to note that no one truly sleeps “through the night” this is meant to reference when sleep cycles are connected without the need for assistance to return to sleep.
DAY SLEEP AT 6 MONTHS
Some babies at 6 months will be still taking 3 naps and some will be transitioning to two naps, it really just depends on each individual baby and what works for them. As long as they’re happy and thriving, any daytime sleep arrangement works!
Ideally, at 6 months, a baby would be sleeping 3-3.5 hours maximum without it affecting their night sleep. This would be divided between 3 naps and for some babies, 2 naps. 6 months old’s’ can typically only stay awake for 2.5 to 3.5 hours (wake windows). When you’re trying to figure out your little one’s wake windows, remember that the first wake window of the day is the shortest, and they get longer as the day passes. Also, remember that a newly turned 6-month-old won’t be able to have as long of wake windows as a baby that’s about to turn 7 months.
It’s important to remember that the first two naps are often the longest so if it comes to it, you’ll want to cap them at 2hrs to ensure there’s a good balance of sleep/awake time during their day. If they take it, the third nap is just a cat nap, it’s just a “bridge” to get your child through to bedtime without getting overtired. That being said, it’s okay if it’s even just a 5-15 min nap that you have to carry them for or go for a stroller walk or drive when your baby is usually an independent sleeper, do what you need to do in this case to ensure your little one isn’t overtired come bedtime!
If your little one does have a short 3rd nap, ensure that you aren’t expecting them to be able to stay awake for another full wake window afterwards. Although they’re feeling slightly refreshed from their catnap, they will need to go down earlier than they would have they had a longer nap. Remember to aim for their bedtime to land between 6-8pm.
One of the most important things to improve your little one’s sleep is to ensure they have a good sleep environment and a solid routine. Making sure their sleep space is cool (18-21⁰C), using a sound machine and having a pitch-black room can do wonders for how easily your little one sleeps. To help find a blackout solution that will work for your solution, check out this blog post. A routine also helps prime your little one for sleep, calming their body and mind and allowing them to relax enough to fall asleep. The biggest sleep cue for my babies is when I put on their Ry and Pen sleep sacks, they instantly know it’s time for sleep. Check out some other reasons why I always recommend using a sleep sack for babies and toddlers here.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FEEDING AND SLEEP
At this age, I see a lot of issues with babies who are suddenly having sleep issues, in some cases, this is related to nutritional needs change. Suddenly, breastmilk or formula alone isn’t enough to support your baby’s nutritional needs after 6 months. Ensuring that you’re feeding responsively and potentially even increasing the number of times you offer feeds or snacks could help your little one stay on track nutritionally and developmentally.
It's also important to understand that babies are born with a supply of iron that begins to deplete around 6 months of age. This is an important piece of the puzzle as iron levels can affect sleep patterns, making sleep more difficult when a baby isn’t consuming sufficient iron. To help this, it is a good idea to ensure you’re starting your little one off with a diet high in iron.
SAMPLE SCHEDULES FOR 6-MONTH-OLDS
Truth bomb- I hate giving sample schedules because every babe has such different needs. Between varying wake up times, wake windows, nap lengths and bedtimes, the same baby’s day can look so different from one day to the next. But I do know that lots of parents find comfort in referencing an example schedule, so, noting that, below I’ve included a few example schedules. Don’t stress if your baby doesn’t fit this mould, if not every day looks like this or if they wake up at a different time. Ensure you’re adjusting their days to match up with their needs or shifting this schedule based on their wake-up time.
EXAMPLE DAILY SCHEDULE WITH WAKE WINDOWS 2.25/2.5/2.5/2.5
- 7:00am wake up
- 9:15-10:30am nap 1
- 1:00-2:00pm nap 2
- 4:00-4:15pm nap 3 (catnap – so next wake window is shorter than what they could do with a full wake window)
- 6:15pm bedtime
*This example would be better suited for a baby who just turned 6 months or has higher sleep needs
EXAMPLE DAILY SCHEDULE WITH WAKE WINDOWS: 2.75/3.25/3.5
- 6:00am wake up
- 8:45-10:45am nap 1
- 2:00-3:15pm nap 2
- 6:45pm bedtime
*This example would be better suited for a baby who is closer to turning 7 months or has lower sleep needs
With all of this information, it’s important to remember that every baby is different. Use this information as a starting off point, but don’t stress if your little one has slightly different needs than what’s given as examples here. As long as your baby is happy and healthy, and you’re doing well, then things are good!
Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant
Follow Jessica on Instagram: @sleepybunnyconsulting
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jessica Painter is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Sleepy Bunny Sleep Consulting. As a mama of two little ones, she understands that every baby and family is unique and should be treated as such. She focuses on helping her clients to remove barriers to sleep and follow their children’s biology through custom sleep plans and 1:1 support with families. Her holistic approach helps the whole family rest better, respectfully.