3-6 month baby sleep

Baby's sleep at 3-6 months: understanding your baby's sleep needs

Nov 26, 2021
19 min read

In this 3-6 month baby sleep guide:

  • Stages of the 3-6 month baby sleep cycle
  • Daytime sleep stages
  • Nighttime sleep stages
  • How much sleep should a 3-6 month baby get?
  • Oversleeping, feeding and sleep

Up to 6 weeks of age, babies should be having a cumulative total of between 4.5 - 5.5 daytime nap hours. From 6-12 weeks this amount becomes 3.5 - 4.5 hours.

By 3 months of age, babies can be sleeping around 15 hours over a 24 hour period. Between 3-6 month-old babies generally have around 3.5 hours of daytime sleep, spread across 3 naps, and need 2-2.5 hours of awake time between each nap. Babies at this age need about 12 hours sleep overnight.

That’s a big change from the sleep patterns they’ve had in the first three months. In fact, 3-6 months is the trickiest period of baby sleep. In this time, your baby’s sleep patterns will change dramatically! During these few months, your baby's sleep will become a lot more like ours as adults, with more distinct periods of light and deep sleep and more neurologically differentiated sleep cycles. It is during this time that a baby's sleep habits are really becoming important. Let's have a look at what is happening for your wee one at this time.

3 to 6-Month-Old Baby Sleep Cycles

Baby sleep is an ever-changing phenomenon. In the first few months of a baby’s life, their sleep is quite unorganised and is driven by a biological urge to sleep. Some babies will simply fall asleep on their own when they are tired, others need more hands-on settling to help them drift off.

During this time:

  • A baby's daytime sleep cycles are not as pronounced as they will later become
  • Babies do not consciously rely on a series of sleep cues or behaviours in order to fall asleep.

When Does a Baby's Sleep Cycle Begin to Change?

The biggest change in your baby’s sleep cycle happens at around 4 months old and this is commonly known as the 4 month sleep regression. It is possibly the biggest change in your baby’s sleep that will ever happen!

Let’s break it down for you:

  • Your baby’s sleep cycles become more organised and their sleep starts to operate much like ours as adults.
  • Sleep has become a very conscious thing for your little one and it takes practise for them to get this skill right.
  • They will start to wake fully between each sleep cycle rather than drift between cycles automatically.
  • If your baby is relying on you to go to sleep through rocking or feeding etc, they will now need you to replicate this EVERY time they wake between cycles (Every 35-45 minutes in the day and 2 hours overnight)
  • Your baby won't go back to sleep after that cycle if they can’t self-settle, therefore they will end up being overtired in the evening. This is known as catnapping.

4 Month Sleep Regression

Babies go through several periods in the first year where they experience “sleep regressions”. In some cases, babies have to re-learn sleep skills due to the parts of their brain responsible for sleep changing and maturing. Other times the regressions are more to do with developments in their physical and/or social skills and around nap transitions.

At 4 months babies start to wake fully between each sleep cycle rather than drift between cycles automatically as they did when they were younger. Sleep has now become a very conscious thing for your little one and it takes practise for them to get this new skill right.

If your baby is relying on you to go to sleep at the start of their naps and bedtime (by feeding, rocking, patting etc) they will now be needing you to replicate that every single time they wake between cycles as it’s the only way they know how to go to sleep.

Unfortunately, this sleep regression won't go away until your baby has learnt how to self-settle. This simply means your baby is able to fall asleep on their own when they’re ready to. Self-settling doesn’t just develop overnight, it is something new for babies and they need coaching, consistency and the chance to work on this new skill.

Learn more about the sleep regression stages your baby will likely experience.

NOTE: Remember not all babies will reach these developmental stages at these exact ages, so if your baby is 3.5 months and starts waking every 2 hours overnight, its safe to assume they've hit the 4 month regression.

Stages of the 3-6 Month Baby Sleep Cycle

This chart shows how a baby's daytime sleep cycle works:

 

  • 0-10 minutes

Your baby starts to fall asleep and enters a light sleep stage. This is where they can easily be woken by wind, being put down if held, or a sudden noise.

  • 10-20 minutes

Your baby starts to enter a deep sleep stage and will become unaware of their surroundings.

  • 20-30 minutes:

Your baby is deeply asleep. Their breathing is deep and regulated and this is the most restorative part of their sleep cycle.

  • 30-40 minutes:

Your little one starts to come out of their deep sleep stage and if they are over/undertired, they can wake fully at this point.

  • 40-45 minutes

Sleep cycle finished. Your baby will either fully wake up or enter another sleep cycle, starting with a light sleep stage.

Stages of Night Time Sleep

Babies sleep cycles are longer in the night than in the day and they are sleeping their deepest between bedtime and midnight.

Take a look at this chart to see how a baby’s night-time sleep works:

 

  • 45 minutes after bedtime

If your baby is over or under tired, sick or uncomfortable, they can wake at this point.

  • 2 hours after bedtime

This is where your baby rouses out of their first night-time cycle. They will now enter a very deep sleep phase that lasts until midnight. In this phase they are less likely to wake unless they are sick or hungry.

  • Midnight

Your baby’s deep sleep phase ends and they enter a lighter sleep phase. In this phase they are more likely to be woken if they are under or over tired, hungry, cold, sick or uncomfortable.

  • Every 2 hours

Your baby’s sleep cycles are 2 hours long, so every 2 hours they will enter a very light sleep phase and can rouse fully at the end of the cycle. This is where some babies might need help going back to sleep if they can’t self-settle.

  • 5 AM

Your baby is at their highest chance of waking here. If they can wake, it can be very hard to get them back to sleep, especially if they’ve slept well overnight up until this point.

Sleep & Feeding Schedules


Routine is a tricky word because it can imply a very rigid regimental pattern to your day and certainly for very young babies, we know that's not always entirely possible and it's not something we would even really advise.

But, in saying that, an element of structure is quite important for a baby or toddler of any age and definitely around 3-6 months old.

If you think about it like this, we all have routines we follow every day. You yourself might have a morning ritual of getting up, making a coffee, having some toast and reading the newspaper before jumping in the shower. We find these situations comforting and relaxing because of their familiarity.

Babies are no different. This is why so many babies thrive on having a good reliable pattern to their entire day - feeding and napping at predictable times.

The Importance of Naps to a 3-6 Month Baby

Sleep is as much a nutrient for babies as milk. It is just as important for their growth and development. In order to encourage good night sleep, babies need to have day time naps.

Babies need a delicate balance of day sleep vs night sleep – too LITTLE day sleep results in cortisol (a stress hormone) building up in your baby which will make them harder to settle and also lead to night waking or early morning waking.

In a nutshell, babies who don’t nap very well can become very hard to settle. You will already know that tired or overtired babies cry more, are fussy when feeding, resist settling and always have an extended unsettled period in the early evening that can last for hours at a time.

To find out more about the importance of napping for your little one check out our article here

So, How Much Sleep Should a 2-6 Month Old Baby Get?

This really can depend on the age of your wee one. Babies vary in the scale of their sleep needs and some do need more sleep than others. This is why the awake times in our Sleep Program are the maximum, this way you can assess your own baby’s sleep needs and tweak the times in the guide to suit your little one.

The chart below shows the total number of daytime sleep hours your little one should approximately be getting, specific for their age and how many naps this should be spread across.

NOTE: When creating a nap pattern for your little one, always allow for 12 hours sleep overnight.

AgeTotal Daytime Sleep (approx)NapsLength
3-4 months3 ¼ hoursX3Between 15/45 mins - 2.5 hours
4-6 months3 hoursX3Between 10/15 mins - 2.5 hours

How many naps are appropriate per day?

This depends on the age of your baby, but by 3 months your little one should be having around 3 ½ hours of daytime sleep a day, spread across 3 naps - one in the morning, lunchtime and a late afternoon nap.

You may find between 5-6 months your baby might start resisting their third nap - this doesn't mean they're entirely ready to drop it though. Up until 6 months the late afternoon nap is essential, even though it might become very short, because it ensures your baby isn't overtired at bedtime and unsettled overnight. Even just a 10 minute power nap is enough to stave off any residual overtiredness to get your baby through to bedtime.

How long should daytime naps be?


Your baby’s nap times will vary throughout the day and as we mentioned should be split into a morning nap, an afternoon nap and lunch-time nap. We believe it is vital to establish and maintain a long restorative nap of approximately 2 hours across the middle of the day when there is a natural dip in their energy levels.

Our reason for aiming for this long consistent nap is that during restorative sleep, babies enter REM and this is where a whole lot of amazing stuff happens! Including - the regulation of their appetite and emotions, reduction of stress and cortisol levels, the consolidation of new skills and memories, their immune system is boosted, brain connections are made and strengthened.

Between 3-6 months we recommend that babies should be having 3 naps a day between 7am-7pm.

Awake Times

Now, napping is hugely important for your little ones development, but having the right amount of awake time is just as important, as too much awake time can lead to overtiredness, while too little awake time can lead to undertiredness. Both of which lead to poor napping and/or poor nighttime sleep. This can mean a grumpy baby and very frustrated parents!

At the ages of 3-6 months your baby's awake time needs are a lot greater than when they were a newborn. At this age, your baby is a lot more aware of the world and will love playing, laughing and visual stimulation. So, if you're still trying to put them to bed after an hour of being awake you're most likely experiencing a lot of protesting from your wee one or you're having to do a lot more rocking or feeding to get them to go to sleep in the first place.

3 - 6 month old babies need around 2 - 2 ½ hours awake time between each nap. This is a good amount of awake time to allow them to then nap well later on.

Oversleeping - Why Does My Baby Sleep So Much?

Sleep is a nutrient for your baby. It sustains their physical, mental, emotional and social development, but can they have too much of a good thing?

The answer is yes, but the problem is no one thinks their baby is oversleeping, when in fact it is crucial that your little one has the right balance of awake-time and sleep.

Too MUCH day sleep can lead to a lot of night waking and your baby being unsettled overnight because they really just need some awake time.

But, if you find that your baby is sleeping a lot throughout the day (more than the recommended times in our Sleep Programs) then there could be a number of reasons that your little one is having too much shut eye:

Illness

Illness is the number one reason for your little one sleeping more. Illness can wreak havoc on your baby’s sleep routine, often it can cause your baby to wake up from naps early or wake in the night due to discomfort, but your baby may be sleeping more than usual as they are trying to fight of the illness. If your 6 month old is still sleeping like a newborn then there may be an underlying issue, so visit your GP or pediatrician.

A Growth Spurt

Growth spurts can cause babies or toddlers to suddenly start taking extra-long naps and sleeping later in the morning. This is especially true for newborns; lots of parents find, in the first 6 months of their baby’s lives, that they go through a number of sleepy spells when they seem to sleep around the clock.

Reducing Your Baby's Daytime Sleep

So, to gel together awake time vs nap time, here comes the sometimes contentious part - WAKING THE BABY.

While it might seem very counter-instinctive (or downright mean) to wake a sleeping baby, we do advise doing it if your baby is at risk of having had too many daytime sleep hours, or of sleeping for too long in the morning nap, which will mean their lunch nap is consequently shorter, or if they're sleeping too late or long in the afternoon which will have a negative impact on their bedtime settling and nighttime sleep.

We like to say it is better for you to wake your baby in the day rather than your baby wake you in the night.

Waking your baby

It sounds harsh we know, but waking your little one if they sleep longer than the recommended nap time is really important for your baby to settle and sleep well throughout the night, which is the most restorative sleep your baby will get.

What time should you wake your baby in the morning?

We recommend that you should wake your baby at 7am.

It's fine to wake your baby up in the morning if they’re sleeping past their usual waking time, to help set her daily clock. Your little one needs to follow a regular sleep/wake pattern and recharge with naps during the day. Waking her up at the same time every morning will help keep her on a predictable sleep schedule.

So, how do you go about waking your baby?

It’s very simple really, you reverse everything you have done to get them to sleep, so instead of taking away any stimulation, when you wake them for a feed you simply add stimulation by:

  • Turning off white noise
  • Opening the curtains and letting in natural light
  • Gently pat and talk to your wee one

Eating Solids at 4-6 Months & The Effect on Sleep

Between the age of 4-6 months your baby may start showing signs of being ready for solids. If this is the case, you should consult with your healthcare practitioner about the best way forward. Many babies do start on solids in this age bracket and one of the signs of readiness (along with other signs) is more frequent night waking out of genuine hunger.

There is a long-standing myth that starting solids will quickly mean your baby is sleeping better at night, however this is not necessarily true. When your baby starts solids the amount they will be taking is relatively small, increasing every few days, so the impact on their night sleeping won't be very noticeable right away.

We advise caution around the timing and choice of solids too - lunch is the best meal to start with and babies under 10 months should be careful about having lots of protein at dinnertime as it can sometimes cause MORE night waking due to a baby's inability to effectively digest protein at night when their metabolism is slowed.

For more information on when and what solid foods to offer your baby, our Baby Nutrition Program has everything you need to get started on solids!

Night Feeds - When Can you Stop Them?

We're never going to tell you to stop night feeds as it depends a lot on the age of your baby and also how many feeds they are having. In fact, it’s very normal for your baby to still be having feeds at night until they’re well established on solids.

If your newborn is having 5 or 6 feeds at night then that probably is because that's what your baby needs, but if your 6 month old baby is having the same amount of feeds then there might be some other reason why. It’s not always hunger waking your baby, so we suggest ruling out some other factors first before tackling any night weaning.

  • Too much or too little day sleep

We would initially rule out if your baby’s night waking is being caused by them having had too much or too little day sleep or their naps aren’t quite at the right times during the day to promote good sleep overnight.

  • Sleep environment

You could also look at their sleep environment. Try using white noise overnight to help your baby sleep more deeply and link their cycles together.

  • Daytime calories

Make sure that your little one is getting enough calories in their waking hours, so that they are less likely to need a feed overnight.

Once you’ve looked at all of the other factors you can look at when your baby is waking for a feed in the night. If it’s 2 hourly and they are over about 4 months old, it’s usually a settling issue, especially if they can go for longer than 2 hours between feeds in the day.

NOTE: Hunger can be an issue with babies between 4-6 months. A hungry baby will not settle or sleep. However, whether you are breast or bottle feeding, there are factors that need to be considered if you feel your baby seems to be constantly hungry or unsettled, such as an undiagnosed lip or tongue tie, reflux or low milk supply. If everything else seems to line up for your baby to get them sleeping well yet you suspect hunger is still the issue, talk to your paediatrician about these possibilities.

3-6 Month Old Baby Sleep & Bedtime Routines: Day & Night

Having a bedtime sleep routine for your baby is an easy and effective way to signal to them that sleep is approaching. This routine will become crucial to them settling well during day-time naps and bedtime.

Daytime Sleep Routine

Having a short wind-down period before each nap will help your baby to fall asleep nice and relaxed. You could try:

  • Reading a story
  • Singing a lullaby
  • Reading the SAME story or singing the SAME lullaby each time is even better!
  • Nappy/diaper change
  • Cuddle and putting your baby into their swaddle or sleeping bag and saying a sleep phrase like “it’s sleepy time now”

These strong cues are the perfect way to get your little one ready for bed and will let them know that it is time for sleep. Make sure to replicate these steps in the same order each nap time.

Bedtime Sleep Routine (evening)

For bedtime in the evening, you'd want to have a slightly longer routine to really help your baby wind down from their day. Often babies can have a build up of overtiredness as the day progresses, so their bedtime routine shouldn't be too stimulating or overly drawn-out.

Here’s an example of a bedtime routine for a 3-6 month year old:

  • 6:00 PM Bath baby in a nice warm bath
  • 6:10 PM After drying baby, message her with some natural oil
  • 6:10 PM Dress baby in her sleeping clothes and sing a song or read a book
  • 6:15-30 PM Start bedtime milk feed
  • 6:50 PM Bedtime milk feed ends, give baby a cuddle and sing her a song. Put baby in bed for the night.
  • 7:00 PM Baby goes to bed awake, but ready to sleep

To find out more about creating a good bedtime routine for your baby read our Bedtime Routine article here.

 

Nap Transitions: How & When Your Baby Will Drop Their Naps

If your wee one has been napping well in the day or sleeping well at night, but suddenly has started waking more overnight or waking early in the morning, it may be time to drop a nap.

If you can rule out causes like over or under tiredness, hunger, room conditions or sickness and your baby is in the age brackets below, you are left with the likelihood that it might be time to drop a nap.

By 3 months3 consolidated naps
By 5 monthsYour baby might start resisting their third nap
By 6 monthsFrom 3 naps to 2

If you think it’s time for your baby to drop their nap, then read our Nap Transitions article here

What is Catnapping?

Catnapping means your baby is only sleeping for one sleep cycle at a time (between 35-45 minutes), which can be caused by under or over tiredness or the reliance on a sleep association/prop. Catnapping is mostly common between 4-6 months and it usually leads to an overtired baby come bedtime because they haven't had the chance for a good long restorative sleep.

 

Is catnapping a problem?

Now we are by no means saying that catnapping is "bad" or a "problem" and it is in fact, a developmental portal all babies must pass through, peaking at between 4-6 months. That said, we do know that prolonged catnapping can begin to impact a baby's night-time sleep due to a build-up of overtiredness throughout the day.

How do I deal with catnapping?

If your baby is catnapping, your best line of defence is to allow them to learn to self-settle at the start of naps. Even then, some babies will need help to resettle during a nap to get a longer stretch of sleep - this is completely normal and for some babies it can last quite a while! Resettling them here rather than getting them up from their nap helps teach them to sleep for longer.

It is in this tricky sleep stage that it is important to foster good sleep habits, so aiming to have your baby do at least one nap a day in their bed is a great way to head towards better sleep.

To read more about catnapping and what causes it, read our catnapping article here.

Tips on How to Get your Baby to Sleep

There is a range of tools to help your baby settle when they are under 6 months old.

A dark room

Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to sleep babies in daylight during the day to avoid any kind of day/night confusion. In fact, Babies do not fear the dark, in fact, like most mammals, they actually find the dark comforting, calming and safe. There is no need for a nightlight and if you have anything in their room such as a monitor with a small light on it, you might think about covering it as the light can be very stimulating to babies, making it hard for them to settle or stay asleep for long periods.

For babies older than 8 weeks, napping in anything other than a dark room can lead to catnapping in the day, which will then lead to overtiredness at bedtime as they need darkness to create melatonin, which will move them from one sleep cycle to another.

White noise

White noise works in a couple of ways: it replicates the loud whooshing sounds babies hear in the womb, sounds that can be louder than a vacuum cleaner in utero. Hearing white noise triggers the calming response in babies, letting them tune into the noise, especially if they are overtired, overstimulated or crying. When babies reach around 4 months old and start waking between sleep cycles, their senses fully switch on. Having white noise playing means they are hearing the same comforting sound they heard when they fell asleep and they’ll find it easier to transition between sleep cycles.

For babies under 4 months - Swaddling

Using a swaddle for babies under 4 months old is proven to help your baby settle and sleep well. Swaddling replicates the tight, confined feeling of being in the womb and ensures babies can’t wake themselves up with their startle reflex.

By the time your baby reaches around 4 months old, they can start to be weaned off the swaddle for sleep.

For babies over 4 months - Baby sleeping bag/ sack

Often babies wake in the night or early morning due to being too cold. We can misinterpret their waking for hunger or a settling issue and end up feeding or rocking or resettling our babies, which can create a waking habit. Using a baby sleeping bag can help make sure your baby stays nice and warm all night long. We recommend sleeping bags that are made of natural fibres. Having a room thermometer is good too, as some babies are very sensitive to even the slightest temperature change.

We know that this is a super tricky period of sleep for your little one as there is so much going on. Their sleep needs have changed quite dramatically, but there is no need to panic as we can ensure smooth sailing through this time with our Sleep Programs, as they change with your baby to help stay on top of these big developments.

“When my baby was 3 months old, I was lost in terms of a sleep schedule. Being a new mom was overwhelming. At around 12 weeks I slowly started losing my sanity due to sleep deprivation. My baby would only fall asleep on me. Then I found Little Ones and they have saved my life! I began implementing the structured routine, and my baby began to thrive completely. I, too, became more confident and assured about my abilities. For someone that craves structure, Little Ones provides that for me. Not only is the program gentle, the community that comes along with it has been by far the most supportive community I’ve ever been a part of. So many amazing mothers and administrators contribute daily, and it makes you feel as if you’re not alone. Thanks, Little Ones! I am forever in your debt!” - Tracy

 

At this age, babies sleep needs have changed quite dramatically; our Sleep & Nutrition Program changes with your baby to help stay on top of these developments. 

CLICK HERE to download your FREE Baby Sleep Journey Chart

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