Babies need adequate sleep in order to rest and refresh their bodies and minds. Tired babies are irritable and unwilling to play and learn. Well-rested babies with regular sleep patterns benefit from dream sleep, which helps them process events from the day and lay down memories for future learning. Newborn babies wake from hunger and feed several times a night and sleep for much of the day. By the age of 6 months, babies eat more and are awake more during the day, so they sleep for longer stretches at night.
Six-month-old babies need approximately 10 to 14 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Regular sleep patterns ensure most of that sleep takes place at night. Although each infant is unique, a healthy 6-month-old baby does not usually feed at night, unless, for example, the weather is hot and he or she is thirsty. Babies’ sleep patterns at this age often consist of two naps (approximately 20 to 60 minutes long), with one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
By establishing sleep routines, parents and caregivers maintain regular sleep patterns and ensure adequate sleep for their babies. For 6-month-old babies, this means keeping to regular bedtimes and allowing for a quiet “winding down” period before putting them in their cribs. Babies this age usually respond well to the comfort of predictable sleep routines. A warm bath, followed by a picture story or some gentle lullabies or soft music, will signal to the baby that bedtime is approaching. Regular, short daytime naps refresh babies of this age and prevent them becoming overtired.
Six-month-old babies who wake at night and have not learned to settle themselves will cry in order to be soothed back to sleep. Occasionally babies who have settled into regular sleep patterns become fretful before bedtime, or begin to wake up frequently in the night. Babies of this age sometimes develop “separation anxiety,” which makes them anxious (during the day or night) when they are away from their primary caregiver. Overtired babies have a surge of energy that prevents them from settling easily. Changes to their sleep routines, for example during a holiday, sometimes disrupt babies' sleep patterns.
Along with regular sleep routines, caregivers should place babies in their cribs when they are sleepy but still awake, so they get used to settling independently. It is unnecessary to change the 6-month-old baby’s nappy at night. If it is soiled, it should then be changed quickly and quietly. Steven Dowshen, MD, recommends that caregivers allow 5 minutes for 6-month-old babies who wake at night to settle again before comforting them, for example with gentle back-rubbing. Babies this age should not be picked up at night unless sick, and the 5-minute checking routine should be repeated to re-establish their sleep patterns.
In his book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” Pediatrician Marc Weissbluth, MD, describes his research into infants aged between 4 and 11 months of age and concludes: “Persistence or attention span was the trait most strongly associated with daytime sleep or nap duration. In other words, children who slept longer during the day had longer attention spans.” Weissbluth explains the importance of regular sleep patterns for children’s overall health, as “chronic sleeplessness in infants and young children impairs cognitive development.”