By Kimberly Zapata
Nine-month-olds are full of spunk and personality. They can experience a range of emotions, from joy and anger to displeasure and happiness. They smile consistently and constantly, and cry to express discomfort.
Most 9-month-olds babble, laugh, and imitate sounds. Many are crawling, pulling up to stand, and some even might be cruising around the house.
In short, they are developing new skills each and every day. And these skills can be the cause of a 9-month sleep regression. Yes, after weeks of restful sleep your little one might begin waking again.
But what is the 9-month sleep regression and how can you cope? We asked experts for their insight, tips, and advice.
What is the 9-month sleep regression?
According to Dr. Jacqueline Winkelmann, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC Children’s) in Orange County, California, “Sleep regression is a period, usually lasting a few weeks, when a baby who was previously sleeping well suddenly has difficulty settling down to sleep, is waking up in the middle of the night, and/or is refusing to nap.”
Of course, regressions look different every time and for every child. However, most regressions are associated with a developmental milestone or leap.
While one would assume the 9-month sleep regression happens at 9 months, that is not always the case. Babies cannot read calendars, after all, and for them, time is fluid. That said, this particular regression usually occurs sometime between baby’s eighth and tenth month.
What are the signs of the 9-month sleep regression?
The signs of sleep regression vary. However, if your little one is experiencing any of these changes, a sleep regression may be on the horizon.
- frequent night wakings
- trouble falling asleep
- increased fussiness, clinginess, or crankiness
- excessive crying
- suddenly resisting naps and/or taking shorter naps
How long does the 9-month sleep regression last?
While it may seem like the 9-month sleep regression goes on forever — especially when you are in the midst of it — don’t fret: Regressions are temporary, with most lasting 2 to 6 weeks.
Of course, other disruptions can and do occur. These are usually caused by an illness or maybe a change in routine, like a new child care provider. However, if sleep disturbances don’t resolve within 6 weeks, you may want to contact your child’s doctor. They can help you rule out an underlying health condition.
What causes it?
There may be several reasons why babies regress at 9 months, though the most predominant theory is that they’re undergoing a developmental change or leap.
“Nine-month-olds are achieving major physical and emotional milestones,” Winkelmann says. “They are learning to crawl, scoot, stand up, and sit, and this can be both exhausting and exciting, i.e. they might have an interest in ‘practicing’ these new skills in their crib.”
But the skills your baby is learning aren’t just motor skills. “Emotionally, 9-month-olds are beginning to feel the effects of separation anxiety,” Winkelmann explains.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cautions that babies this age are often developing strong separation anxiety because they are beginning to understand object permanence — if you’re out of sight, they’re still aware you exist — and may be unhappy they can’t see you.
Furthermore, says Winkelmann, “Linguistically, 9-month-olds are continuing to absorb sounds and process language, and all these changes can majorly affect their sleep patterns, at least until they settle into their new skills and routine.”
A shift in their nap schedule and/or overall sleep needs may also be to blame, as most babies drop their third nap around this time.
How much sleep do 9-month-olds need?
Most 9-month-olds sleep 14 hours a day, though anywhere from 12 to 16 hours is normal. Of course, their sleep schedule will vary — depending on your child’s needs and the needs of your family. However, most kids this age log 10 to 12 hours at night and 2 to 3 hours during the day.
What can you do to cope?
Two to 6 weeks can feel like an eternity when you’re exhausted, bleary-eyed, and sleep-deprived. That said, Winkelmann tells Healthline there are a few things you can do to cope during this trying and tiring time.
- Make sure baby is dry and well fed before bedtime. Being hungry or uncomfortable will cause baby to fuss.
- Remove gadgets and toys from the crib. These can distract baby and keep them awake.
- Maintain a solid bedtime routine. Make sure they have predictable activities preceding bedtime, like dinner, bath, a book, song, and dimmed lights.
- Put your baby in their crib drowsy but awake. Holding or rocking them to sleep can become a sleep crutch.
- Make sure they rest during the day. To prevent them from getting overtired, put them down for a nap even if they don’t sleep.
- Make sure there’s physical activity in their daily routine. Let them “practice” their new physical skills (like standing, crawling, etc) as much as possible.
- Be consistent! Stick to your routine. Let them fuss a little in the middle of the night to help them learn to soothe themselves back to sleep.
You should also avoid implementing new habits, rules, or restrictions during a regression, says Alex Savy, a certified sleep science coach and the founder of Sleeping Ocean.
“Try not to implement any new habits during this period, like co-sleeping or the cry it out method, because when your baby is going through the sleep regression, you aren’t likely to get consistent results.”
Sleep regressions are hard, and the 9-month sleep regression is no different. For a few weeks, you’ll be tired, cranky, exhausted, and frustrated. But this period is temporary.
It will pass, and when it’s done, your child will have reached new developmental milestones. So be patient, be consistent, and remember to breathe.