Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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September 7, 2020

8 Month Sleep Regression: Causes, Signs and How to Deal with It

Is there really an 8 month sleep regression? 

Any time you hear “sleep regression,”  I want you to think Progress.  Your baby is growing physically or neurological and that is distracting her from going to sleep.  Historically the books have not identified 8 months to be a significant time of growth or change.  Most people don’t experience an 8 month sleep regression. 

Do all babies go through 8 month sleep regression?

Babies develop at different rates and so some of you might be in the midst of a raging sleep regression at 8 months, while others may be having their best sleep yet!  

Signs Your Baby is Going Through the 8 Month Sleep Regression (at any age):

  1. Early morning wake ups - 5:30 am and earlier
  2. Short naps when naps were long and lovely.
  3. Bedtime resistance or nap resistance

If your baby is an independent sleeper you will be able to recognize a sleep regression more easily than a baby who is reliant on someone to put her to sleep.  It’s much easier to see a regression in a great sleeper than a baby who woke up a lot in the night anyways.

An independent sleeper is a baby that can put herself to sleep at bedtime and naps without anything external relaxing her before hand.  There is no rocking, feeding or pacifier as part of the bedtime routine.  This is the goal of “sleep teaching” to have an independent sleeper who can put herself back to sleep in the night if she wakes up, which all humans do in the night. 

What I’ve found with my clients and students of my online school is the most common sleep disturbance happening at 8 months is 5 am wake ups.

The first thing to do is to identify what the possible cause is. 

Causes of the 8 Month Sleep Regression

  1. Staying awake more than 3.5 hours before bedtime.  Most kids do best with a 3 hour awake time at this age. Your baby is exhausted by bedtime and it manifests with early wake ups.

This often manifests when parents are trying to go from 3 to 2 naps.  They drop the 3rd nap but then don’t move bedtime earlier to accommodate the leap.  You can read more about the 3-2 nap transition here.

  1. Not enough nap time during the day.  Your baby needs 2-3 hours of nap time during the day.

  2. Teething.  Your baby surfaces from a light sleep cycle in the morning and is distracted by the discomfort in her gums which prevents her from going back to sleep.

  3. Motor leaps.  Your baby is learning to pull up to standing or crawling.  She surfaces from sleep and is distracted by wanting to practice or just thinking about that skill.

NOTE:  motor leaps also manifest as being awake for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the night but content and not crying.  Just hanging out in the crib !

How to Get Through This

  1. TIMING.  Focus on the timing of sleep.  Most 8 month olds need to be back asleep by 3 hours.  After that you risk increase night waking and early morning wake ups.

  2. Take away the distraction.  If your kiddo is teething, what can you offer to minimize pain and distraction.  Cold teething rings before nap or bedtime can help, but also talk to your pediatrician about pain killers.

  3. Know that this too shall pass.   It will take 1-2 weeks to get through a regression related to motor and teething. 

Case Study #1

One of my students in Helping Babies Sleep School lamented about these 5 am wake ups that were killing her.  Her little guy was  8.5 months of age and had been sleeping 7 pm to 6:30 am, waking once for a feed around 4 am. 

Her anxiety was further compounded as she’d been trying to get him down to 2 naps, but with these 5 am wake ups it was proving to be very difficult. She tried a variety of things to stop these 5 am wake ups.  She tried dream feeding at 4 am to help shift the wake up time, leaving him to be until 6 am and increasing and decreasing the timing before bed.  None of it helped.  This went on for 2 weeks.  One day her son just started waking up at 6;30 am again.  He’d gone through what ever had been distracting him from sleep and was back on track. This happens a lot.  There are things we cannot control in sleep sometimes, but giving things time can help.  

Case Study #2

My client reported that her 8 month old son was awake but happily playing in his crib between 3 and 4 am.  Being EBF he still had 1 night feed happening around 2:30 am but all of a sudden he wasn’t going back to sleep after the feed.  He was awake and content playing in the crib.  Upon further probing I learned that he was working on crawling.  Currently mastering hovering on all fours.  Being an independent sleeper Mom was able to grab a pillow and put it over her head since she wasn’t responsible for getting him to sleep any longer since he had done “sleep teaching.”   These wake ups occurred intermittently over 10 days and then stopped… once he’d learned to crawl.  For parents of babies who are reliant on rocking, the pacifier or feeding to fall back asleep these types of scenarios are tough because the parent needs to help their little one back to sleep, and if baby doesn’t want to sleep it can be a challenge. 

In conclusion, you may or may not feel the 8 month sleep regression.  However, if your baby has always been waking up more than 1x a night after 5 months of age your baby might be waking out of habit, asking for you to help put him/her back to sleep.  You might want to read more about “Self Soothing Skills” and why your baby needs them.

Looking for more guidance on teaching your baby to sleep long age appropriate stretches?

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