3-6 month old – Baby Sleep Needs

3-6 month old – Baby Sleep Needs

The period between 3-6 months can be a challenging time for baby sleep. During this phase, your baby’s sleep pattern begins to resemble that of an adult, with more distinguishable periods of light and deep sleep and more varied neurological sleep cycles.

 

They’re also starting solids, learning to roll over, cat napping, consolidating night sleep, moving on from swaddling, and have a mature circadian rhythm. 3-6 months is a crucial time for your baby's sleep habits, and it's worth exploring what's happening during this phase.

 

What you can find in this article

  • Sleep cycle development
  • Day vs night sleep cycles
  • Starting a routine
  • Total sleep needs 3-6 months old
  • Cat naps – over/under tired
  • Solids and sleep
  • Dropping night feeds

 

Feeling overwhelmed by your 3-6 month olds sleep? We get it… and our team of paediatric sleep experts are here to help you and your family.

Speak with one of our sleep consultants and get support.

 

Sleep cycle development – when does this occur?

 

If you have a baby you’ll already understand that sleep for babies is a constantly evolving process. During the newborn months, their sleeping patterns are quite disorganized due to your baby's neurological immaturity, which is perfectly normal! While some newborns naturally settle to sleep easily, others require a lot of hands-on soothing from us parents. Think shushing, patting, rocking and cuddles.

During these newborn months:

  • Your baby’s sleep is still developing, they likely don’t have fully developed sleep cycles yet.
  • They have a strong drive to sleep and don’t fully depend on sleep associations or pre sleep rituals yet.

The most pronounced change and most challenging time in your baby’s sleep will hit between 8-16 weeks and is called the 4 month sleep regression in modern times. People tell us their baby entered the 4 month sleep regression and 5 months later their baby is still not sleeping. It is a BIG change and comes with BIG challenges.

What starts to happen in this stage?

  • While we call this the 4 month sleep regression, in reality it should be called the sleep maturation because sleep is maturing.
  • Sleep is moving from newborn (active and deep sleep only), to a more adult pattern involving light sleep (stages 1-2), deep sleep (stages 3-4)  REM sleep, and checking wakes.
  • During checking wakes-ups (1-2 hourly at night) and (30-45 minutes in the day), your baby will wake momentarily to check their environment is safe before going back to sleep.
  • If your baby relies on you to get back to sleep (ie rocking, feeding, patting, holding, cuddling, wearing, lying with), then they will cry out for you to help them get back to sleep rather than going back into another cycle of sleep.
  • This cycle of stage 1-2-3-4-5 and a checking wake often results in 45 minutes naps and 1 -2 hourly wakes in babies who can’t yet self-settle.

What helps most parents to exit this stage called the 4 month sleep regression is teaching their baby to self settle. By removing that parent led sleep association (the rocking, feeding, holding, cuddling, wearing, patting, or replacing a dummy/paci), your baby can learn to go through those stages of sleep, arrive at a checking wake, and then put themselves back to sleep.

While self-settling is a milestone all children will eventually arrive at, it is a skill that is learned. Often, as parents, we get in the way of this skill as we jump up to each sound and immediately try to help them back to sleep. Our own lack of patience or inconsistency can also be a hurdle to overcome. Teaching self settling can take what might be a 5-6 month cycle of poor sleep, and flip it into a short 1-2 week blip followed by consolidated nights and easy naps.

Self-settling is the cornerstone to good sleep; take our self-settling course today.

baby Sleep Cycle

Nap time sleep cycles

 

  • 0-10 minutes

Stage 1 is light sleep, this sleep is marked by heavy or fluttering eye lids and slow rolling eye movements. If you try to move your baby from your arms at this stage, they’ll likely wake up.

  • 10-20 minutes

Stage 2 is also a light sleep. In this stage of sleep if your baby hears a noise their brain waves will respond but they probably wont actually wake up.

  • 20-30 minutes:

Stage 3 – slow wave, deep sleep. The arousal threshold here is high, it takes a lot to wake your baby. Your baby’s neurons fire in synchrony in this stage.

  • 30-40 minutes:

REM sleep, the body is paralyzed so your baby doesn’t act our their dreams but their upper facial muscles move around. They might laugh, cry, or suck during this stage of sleep.

  • 40-45 minutes

A checking wake up will occur. If your baby feel asleep on you or with you, and they’re now in their cot they are likely to cry out. If they fell asleep in their cot unaided by you and are still tired and not hungry, they will likely go back to sleep.

 

What about night sleep?

Stages of night time sleep

A sleep cycle at the start of the night might last 75-100 minutes, or your baby might wake as early as 45 minutes. Sleep cycles before midnight generally contain more deep slow wave sleep, and thus are more restorative, were as sleep cycles after midnight can contain up to 60 minutes of REM sleep, and a lot of stage 2 sleep.

 

baby sleep info

As you can see, the potential for frequent checking wakes at the end of these sleep cycles is high. We even see babies who are very over tire not making it to 10pm, but waking 45 minutes into their night sleep. You can see above these checking wakes occur roughly every 2 hours after 10pm.

What about routine?

Routine means having predictable naps and feeding times, this consistency removes uncertainty for your baby, and thus creates a happy content baby!

Routine gets a bad reputation as some people believe the intention is to stick to the prescribed times and ignore your baby's hunger cues and tired signs. This is far from the truth.

Set nap and feed times are a maximum. If your baby has shown no hunger cues, feed them by the set feed time, if they’ve shown no tired signs pop them down for a nap at the time indicated.

You’ll find after a few weeks of this consistency, your baby starts to slip into a much more consistent day. Along with this predictability, settling becomes much easier as you are working WITH your baby’s circadian rhythm.

While routine is just one option when it comes to naps, and following awake windows is another, if you have been struggling with settling or short naps, starting to follow an age-appropriate routine such as the ones inside the Baby Sleep Consultant Program can be the difference you are missing.

 Aside from easy settling and longer naps, having a routine in place ensures that you know when to drop a nap, and when to decrease a nap. Over time this means you can avoid many sleep regressions that come with parents not responding to the changing needs of your baby’s day sleep as they get older.

By 6 months some babies are dropping their third nap and getting through the evening with just their morning and lunch nap. This is only possible if they have consolidated the lunch nap into a nice long 1.5-2 hour nap. If you need some help with this, try the 7 days to longer naps plan.

If you want to get started on a routine, 3-6 months is the ideal age. Your baby can stay awake long enough to take good naps, and their circadian rhythm is fully formed. Your baby is old enough to stop cat napping and consolidate their nights. Routine helps with all this!

Our online sleep programs teach you how to set up a routine and problem-solve in the early days while consolidating nights and working on self-settling.

 

3-6 month olds and their naps

While you wouldn’t skip a feed for your baby because you understand the importance of good nutrition, a lot of parents are guilty of skipping naps. Not realising sleep is just as much a biological necessity as food.

A balance of enough day sleep but not too much day sleep at optimal times will promote a natural consolidation of night sleep.

Too much day sleep will rob your baby of their night sleep, and not enough day sleep will encourage more checking wakes at night as your baby's high levels of cortisol will interfere with night sleep structure.

time table for baby sleep

Exactly how much sleep does my baby need?

Around 3 months, the amount your baby is sleeping has dropped from 17 hours as a newborn to just 14-15 hours a day, including night sleep. This continues to drop as your baby moves through the 3-6 month age range. By 6 months, your baby might be sleeping as little as 13-14 hours.

Awake time has to increase as your baby gets older in order to accommodate the lower sleep needs, make sure you keep increasing this, or simplify your life and follow our Baby Sleep Consultant routines inside our comprehensive sleep programs.

time sleep

What about nap consolidation?

While the newborn months can feel chaotic in regards to naps, your baby is either very sleepy, or taking random naps requiring a lot of help from you. By 3-4 months we are aiming to consolidate those naps into a nice 3 naps a day pattern. My favourite is a short morning nap, long lunch nap and a micro third nap in the afternoon.

We favour the long lunch nap because it keeps your baby’s day balanced, (See the graph above) discouraging early wakes and encouraging consolidated night sleep. It also makes it easy to drop to 2 naps and then 1 nap when required. This long lunch nap falls when your baby takes a natural dip in energy levels, and their circadian rhythm favours a big sleep. This nap of several sleep cycles is the most restorative nap your baby will have over the day.

During this long lunch nap your baby will…

  • Have their appetite regulated.
  • Emotions are regulated (this gets important when your baby becomes a toddler!).
  • Long lunch naps reduce cortisol.
  • New memories move from short-term to long-term.
  • Immune system strengthens too!

Sleep is amazing!

Cat napping – 45 minute naps

After 12 years of working with thousands and thousands of parents I understand how frustrating short naps can be. After reading this article you understand the structure of sleep and that these short naps are a sleep cycle, and that eventually your baby can learn to go back to sleep after a checking wake and sleep for another seep cycle.

But in the mean time this phase of short naps is emotionally draining for us parents as we feel we can’t get another done in the day, and unless your baby takes 4 or more of these short naps, they’re likely getting over tired and this starts to impact night sleep natively.

Your best offence against short 45 minute cat naps is teaching your baby to self settle and re-settle. We cover this extensively in our online sleep programs.

One of the confusing aspects of short naps is knowing whether your baby is doing a short nap because they are under-tired and don’t have the sleep drive to need any more than 1 sleep cycle, or over tired and are waking from the stress of too much awake time! The answer seems simple if you’ve read this far through the article… routine!

Solids and sleep

In the 3-6 month stage you will also hit the exciting stage of starting solids. Most babies start solids between 4-6 months, and health professionals recommend you start by 6 months at the latest to prevent issues with low iron.

Whether you go down the routine of baby led weaning, or traditional weaning you’ll want to know that as much as people tell you starting solids will be the cure for night wakes… it’s unlikely if your baby was waking every 2 hours.

Waking every 2 hours is a sign your baby needs to learn to self settle, and isn’t usually hunger.

When you start solids we advise that you start with lunch time (before the lunch nap), in order to give your baby time to adjust to eating solid foods, and not risk disturbing night sleep.

Introducing protein in the form of meat is now considered a first food to aid in iron levels. Offering meat at lunch time in the early months of starting solids can ensure that night sleep is not disturbed by digestion. Offer a dinner of vegetables in the early days, gradually offering protein when your baby has adjusted to starting solids.

Dropping night feeds

The final exciting stage in the 3-6 month period is your baby is ready to drop some night feeds!

While we often suggest newborns are fed on demand overnight, once your baby moves into the 3-6 month age bracket and has been thriving, feeding well, and gaining lots of weight we can start to look at their night feeds and night wakes, and work towards that golden milestone of sleeping through the night!

You already have an understanding from above as to why your baby might be waking so much (those check in wakes), and that not having day sleep structured in a way that supports night sleep can influence this along side your babies ability to self settle and re-settle.

We move on from parent led sleep associations and focus on your baby learning to get to sleep themselves (self settle), and this works towards consolidated night sleep. All of this is possible in the 3-6 month age range! Most of our clients are working towards just 1 feed from 7pm to 7am in this age range, but if you feel your baby needs more night feeds, this too is just fine. Dropping night feeds is personal decision and you have to be ready for this stage.

 

baby sleep consult

 

Emma Purdue

Emma Purdue

Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education. Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.

 

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