The 9 Month Sleep Regression

Every few months, there seems to occur another sleep regression. While some babies will sail through each regression and sleep like a baby, others will start to nap terribly and wake frequently at night at every single regression. The 9-month sleep regression might be the first time that your baby demonstrates any resistance to sleep at all. Unlike the 4-month regression, which was the maturation of your baby’s sleep cycles, the 9-month regression is a sleep regression. A regression means that your beautiful, sleeping baby is now not sleeping well at all.

This first 12 months of your baby’s life is a hectic time, with lots of developing and learning going on. At 9 months, there is a whole lot of development that get in the way of your baby’s good sleeping habit. 

What Does a 9-Month Sleep Regression Look Like

The most significant and most visible signs, of course, are that your previously sleeping baby is not sleeping anymore. Or perhaps things never got back on track after the 4-month regression, but they suddenly got a whole lot worse. They might be

  • refusing to nap during the day,
  • not napping for very long or not long enough to meet their sleep needs,
  • resisting bedtime,
  • waking shortly after falling asleep at night,
  • waking several times during the night, or
  • not wanting to be parted from mum or dad.      

What’s Going On?

Development

At this stage in their life, your baby is going through some huge developments. At 9 months of age, your baby can see colours. They’ve also got some depth perception, and the connection between their eyes, hands, body and movement is well developed. If they are crawling, they can spot a toy over the side of the room and move to get it. This eye, hand, body and memory development makes the world very interesting and fun for them. 

Babies generally learn to crawl or move around in some fashion between the ages of 6 and 10 months. By 9 months, your baby is likely getting around pretty well. They might be crawling, bum-scooting, pulling themselves up and cruising around furniture. Also, they will be strengthening their body with all these activities and preparing to walk soon.  They will be babbling and chatting away to all the family members and are starting to understand some simple words spoken to them regularly. 

Now, why are we talking about all this incredible baby development in a 9-month regression article? Well, all these can lead to some sleep problems. Your baby might want to wake up during the night and practise their newfound sitting, standing or crawling skills. They might be so energized, so excited and so wired from all their new skills practice during the day that they are just too enthusiastic to go to sleep.     

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

My grandma gets the worst FOMO (bless her) that she doesn’t want to miss a thing. Right about 9 months of age, your baby gets it too. Life is so exciting, mum and dad are so much fun, look at how my toys move, I’m having too much fun, I’m not going to bed and miss out.

This stage is when you can start to have some real issues trying to put your baby down for a nap or bedtime. They don’t want to miss out on all the excitement and will actively resist going to bed. Also, at this age, babies can resist naps for a week, which is a long time and can lead to real overtiredness.     

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a huge part of your baby’s development. It often peaks around 9 months of age and can be the most significant and common reason for sleep issues at this age.

Separation anxiety can become a problem as your baby develops object permanence. Object permanence is when your baby starts to realise that things still exist even when they can’t see them. This development occurs between 4 and 7 months of age. Now, if a toy rolls out of sight, your baby might go to look for it because they know it is still there. They even love to play games where they find missing toys. Also, if you leave the room, your baby might start to cry because they know you are there somewhere and they want you to come back. They know when you are preparing to go, they know that you are gone, but they don’t know that you are coming back or when you are coming back.

It can be a stressful time for mum and baby. Baby doesn’t want to leave their mum, not even to sleep. Baby is tired, and mum is tired, and no one is happy.   

The critical thing to know is that separation anxiety is a normal and healthy part of your child’s development. It can come and go in intensity between 6 months and 2 years of age and peak right here at 9 months.      

Stranger Anxiety

Along with separation anxiety comes stranger anxiety. It might have been a few months since your baby saw the grandparents. Now, at 9 months, they want nothing to do with anyone who isn’t mum or dad, especially at bedtime when they might be even fussier than usual. It can be difficult for family members, but it’s normal for your baby to need some time to get to know people now.     

Naps and Bedtime

One of the signs of the 9-month sleep regression is the baby’s refusal to go for naps and not napping long enough. The problem here is that the longer your baby is going without proper naps, the more overtired they get and the bigger their sleep debt is becoming. At 9 months of age, your baby still needs two naps a day, totalling 2 to 3 hours of daytime sleep. They will also have recently dropped their third for the day and might need bedtime to a bit earlier for a few weeks.

Getting More and More Overtired

It’s so frustrating: the less sleep your baby gets and the bigger their sleep debt grows, the harder it is for your bubba to fall and stay asleep.

During the day and night, our body and that of our babies have different levels of melatonin and cortisol. They move in opposition to each other. As we near waking, cortisol levels are getting higher, priming the body to awaken, and melatonin levels are dropping. As the day ends, melatonin levels are rising and cortisol levels are dropping, priming the body for sleep. What happens with overtiredness is that cortisol levels are higher than they should be to deal with the lack of sleep. Then these hormones cross over too early in the morning, and melatonin is lessening off too quickly during the night. Thus, overtired babies wake more during the night and earlier in the morning, rather than sleeping in like we wish they would.

We also have our drive to sleep and our drive to wake. When these are competing with your baby’s hormones, you get a cranky baby. For example, it’s the middle of the night; your baby’s drive to sleep is high, but their cortisol levels are too high and melatonin too low. What you get is a baby needing to sleep and needing to wake up at the same time.

Overtiredness wreaks havoc during a sleep regression. Don’t despair; the regression will end, and sleep will return. But it can be a frustrating cycle of overtiredness and lack of sleep that can take a few weeks to break off. 

What to Do

We’ve talked about all the things that can go wrong and the reasons your baby is waking up and having trouble staying asleep. But what can you do about it? 

Consistency and Patience

Remaining consistent and patient is more important than anything. If your baby was previously napping well and sleeping through the night, then know that the regression will pass and sleep will return.

In the meantime, try to consistently implement the routines and sleep practices that you already have in place. Have patience with both your child and yourself through the bout of sleeplessness. If your child was previously self-settling, allow them to continue to self-settle. Perhaps they need you in the room for longer or a little extra cuddle. Try not to resort to rocking, patting or co-sleeping, especially if you weren’t doing these things previously.   

Good Wind-Down Routine

If your baby is super excited about their vibrant life, their brand new toys and their entertaining parents, make sure you have a consistent and good wind-down routine. Your baby might need some extra settling time. Get your baby ready for their nap or bedtime 15 minutes earlier than usual. Spend a good 20 minutes with your baby, getting them relaxed, sleepy and ready for bed. Make sure it is dark and you have white noise playing to make the perfect sleep environment. This extra settling time will help alleviate their FOMO and calm their alert, little body.     

Hang Out at Home More than Usual

Just for a week or two, you might need to hold off on the social engagements. Even if it’s music class your baby loves, a week or two at home concentrating on a solid routine and consistent naps might be just what your bubba needs to get their sleep back on track. Then in a few weeks, they will be ready for music class, swimming lessons and a morning at the park. Once your routine is back in place and naps and bedtime are going well, you’ll have more flexibility again.    

Naps, Naps and More Naps

For a 9-month-old baby, a morning nap at 9:30 a.m. for 30 to 60 minutes is an excellent start to their day. Their lunchtime nap should come at around 12:30 and go for 2 hours in length. We want to see a peaceful, long and consolidated sleep here. Then, they’re onto the bed at 6:30 p.m. for the night.

Now, this is the ideal scenario. You might be thinking, ‘Well, that’s all well and good. But I can’t get my baby to nap longer than 40 minutes at the moment, and then they are exhausted and overtired by bedtime’.

If you never had a solid nap routine or your baby always catnapped, getting into a nap routine now is going to be difficult but not impossible. However, it will take a few weeks of supporting your baby and helping them to learn to sleep at more consistent times during the day.

If your baby was previously sleeping well, know they can fight their naps for a week sometimes. Staying consistent is the best thing to do, and you should see a return to a good day sleep in about a week or so. Keep your wind-down routine; keep putting them down and offering the usual comfort you would.

Make sure that your morning nap is not too long. A long morning nap can mean that your baby doesn’t have a good afternoon nap and then is overtired come bedtime. This overtiredness then causes early morning wake-ups. Then your baby begins to wake even earlier to be tired for their long morning nap. Cut down the morning nap by 15 minutes every few days until you see a longer lunch nap and a later morning wake up. Because we are shifting the settings of your baby’s circadian rhythm, it can take a few weeks to see some success. Stay consistent and patient. Cutting down this morning nap now will also help you later when you drop down to one nap a day.

If your baby is overtired, you might need to offer some assisted naps to make sure they are getting some much-needed sleep during the day. Have the occasional nap in the pram, car or baby carrier so that they get a good sleep. These assisted naps can help reduce overtiredness in your baby. 

Working on Separation Anxiety

Help your baby to understand that when you leave, you will be back. Talk to your baby and let them know you are going to leave the room. ‘I’m just going to the toilet. I’ll be back here with you in 5 minutes’.

Alternatively, if your baby is struggling with separation anxiety, shorten the time even more. Start with a minute of separation; every few days, make the time longer. On the first day, you might practise leaving your baby for 1 minute, the next day 2, and then the next day 3. Make sure you speak to them the whole time and let them know you are going to the next room and will be back in just a minute.

If you leave the room and your baby is upset, you can call out to them so that they can hear you. Your baby will learn to recognise your voice very early in their development. It can help them learn that even though they can’t see you, you are still close by and coming back.

Make sure you practise separation from your baby when they are happy and well-fed. The best time is after naps and mealtime. When your baby is hungry and tired, they are more likely to want to be close to you.

At nap and bedtime, you might need to remain with your baby through this period. Try not to intervene and settle them too much if they didn’t need it before, but stay by their cot and offer comfort with your presence and voice. When sleep is back on track, you can always use a gradual withdrawal method so that your baby is back to independent sleep before long. Playing peek-a-boo is fun and also an excellent way for your baby to learn that even though you go away, you will come back. 

Sleep Training

Is nothing working? You’re at the end of your wits and need help? If so, then get some help. There are numerous books and courses on sleep and, of course, sleep consultants that can help you and your family through this time. Quality sleep is essential for both your baby and you. Find a method that suits you and your child and make a plan to help your baby improve their quality of sleep.     

What Not to Do

When we are sleep-deprived, we can feel desperate to get sleep back on track for everyone. When you don’t get enough sleep, even the most simple of things can be difficult. However, in the struggle for consistent sleep, there are few things you should try to avoid.  

Changing Things Up Too Much

Everything feels like it’s not working. You try one routine today and another the next day. Then, you try to rock your baby, feed them to sleep and then, in desperation, you leave them to cry. But nothing is working. You’re not happy, they’re not happy, and you don’t know what to do.

Firstly, trying every routine and sleep training method under the sun is not going to work. The best thing to do is to work on consistency. Babies and children feel safe with routine and consistency. Choose a routine that is age-appropriate and meets your baby’s sleep needs. Continue your reliable wind-down routine.  

Resort to Dependent Sleep Associations

If you weren’t previously rocking, feeding or co-sleeping with your baby to bed, don’t start now in an effort to help them sleep again. It can create more sleep issues later on. Stick to your routine and wind-down ritual as best as you can. Maybe get your baby to nap here or there in the car or the pram. Have some patience; this will end. 

How Long Will It Last

This period of fussiness and resistance to sleep generally lasts 3 to 6 weeks. It’s not forever, but it’s long enough to be exhausting yet again, especially when you thought sleep was finally back on track. Give your child consistency and patience; in time, you’ll come out at the other end of this.

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