How Sleep Develops Through the Ages: 6-12 Months
Welcome back to my blog series on sleep development through the ages! This 3rd blog post in my series about infant and child sleep outlines the changes in sleep we can expect to see in our 6-12 month old's. It probably seemed as though your baby’s daily napping and feeding routine was constantly evolving during their first four months of life. As soon as you thought you had things figured out it was time to tweak this nap/keep them awake longer/stretch out their night time feeds. The changes never ended!
Now that your baby has reached 6 months you can breathe easy as the large changes in daily routine are softening into a gradual decrease in the amount of daytime sleep your baby needs. There are three main things I commonly affecting sleep in this age group:
- the introduction of solids
- change in naps as daytime sleep needs decrease
- physical and cognitive developmental milestones or leaps.
If your baby has been on a 3 nap/day schedule you should be able to drop that last nap between 6 and 8 months. You can try gradually shortening the nap by 5 minutes over a period of a few days or offer the nap every other day for a week until your baby demonstrates they can make it to bedtime without becoming overtired.
As your baby becomes more interactive with you and their environment you may find it more challenging to put them down for naps as they would rather play and interact with you!
If you find this is the case, try implementing a 10 minute wind down ritual prior to the start of their nap.
Think of it like a mini bedtime routine: relaxing, low stimulating activities taking place in a dimly lit environment. This helps their bodies make the transition from an awake, playful state to a relaxed, sleepy state. Just make sure to begin the wind down routine 10 minutes prior to when the nap is scheduled to begin so it doesn’t take away from their nap length.
Some children begin to boycott their 2nd nap between the ages of 9-12 months. Don’t be fooled! Babies still need two naps a day until 15-18 months. If you drop to one nap too soon you will have an overtired babe on your hands! Just stay consistent with offering and encouraging naps and they should return within a week.
A good daytime sleep goal for this age group is about 2-2.5 hours divided into two naps with 11-12 hours of sleep overnight.
2-3-4 Rule for Naps
Parents often ask when their baby should be napping. The 2-3-4 rule is handy if your baby is achieving two naps a day (but not cat-napping).
2: The 1st nap occurs 2-2.5 hours after they wake
3: The 2nd nap occurs 3 hours afters after the 1st
4: The 2nd nap ends 4 hours before bedtime
For example: if your babe wakes at 7 a.m. you can aim for the morning nap at 9/930, afternoon nap around 1230 and ending around 230, bedtime at 630/7 pm. Remember the daytime sleep goal of 2-2.5 hours; 6 month old's typically will need 2.5 hours and 12 month old's only 2 hours. I like to keep the morning nap shorter compared to the afternoon nap in order to make it easy to drop that morning nap when it's time to transition to once daily naps.
Developmental leaps and sleep
Much of the daily learning your baby does is consolidated in their brain as they sleep; we often see sleep disturbances occurring in association with the developmental milestones of rolling, crawling, standing and walking. These sleep disturbances and night wakings are normal and will resolve with time. Until then, try to remain consistent in how you handle the night wakings and remain confident in giving them some independence to try and return to sleep unless of course they seem distressed. The exception is in regards to rolling: if your baby has started rolling, make sure to continue to roll them back on their backs to sleep until they have demonstrated they can roll from back to front AND front to back. Back to sleep is always the mainstay for safe sleep.
A mom had contacted me about her son who had just learned to pull himself to standing. He would wake several times in the middle of the night, pull himself up to stand in the crib but then cry. What he hadn't yet discovered was the opposite movement: how to go from standing to laying down. The solution here was easy: help him lay down, briefly reassure him and then let him fall back asleep. During the day Mom encouraged him to learn how to go from standing to sitting/lying down and when he discovered he could do this, the night wakings resolved.
The introduction of solids
The introduction of solids is an exciting time full of exploration and new sensations. The World Health Organization recommends introducing solids at 6 months to complement breast/formula feeding in order to meet the changing nutritional needs of infants.
It’s helpful to introduce solids (or new foods) initially at lunch time in order to decrease the potential impact on night sleep.
As solids are introduced into your baby’s diet the flora in their gut changes accordingly in order to digest these new substances. This change in gut flora has the potential to initially cause excess wind or digestive disturbances such as constipation. What I recommend during the introduction of solids is to introduce them initially at lunch until they are tolerated, then advance to dinner and then breakfast. This introduction order should help protect night time sleep from disruption as any digestive disruptions should be resolved come bedtime. The same goes when introducing new foods, especially proteins: introduce initially at lunch.
Until your baby is well established on solids they may continue to need a formula or breastfeed overnight. Typically by 9-12 months your baby should be ready to sleep the night through without a milk feed as long as they are gaining weight appropriately and are well established on solids at all three meals of the day.
Hopefully this post will help guide you through into the toddler years; the topic for next week!
R.n. BSN., Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant
Sources: WHO infant and young child feeding fact sheet: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs342/en/
Ednick, M. et al (2009). A Review of the Effects of Sleep During the First Year of Life on Cognitive, Psychomotor, and Temperament Development. Sleep. Vol 32, 11.
Durmer, J., Chervin, R. (2007). Pediatric Sleep Medicine. Neurology. Vol 13, 3.
Friedrich, M. et al. (2015). Generalization of Word Meanings during Infant Sleep. Nature Communications. Vol. 10.