I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!


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Ask Malia: Is It Sleep Regression?

Dear Malia,

Our son is now 6 months old. He started out a great little sleeper and by 4 months he was having sleep regression issues. We were able to get him to sleep from 6 p.m.-3:30 a.m., but then he would be up for an hour or two before going back to bed. We tried to correct that for about two weeks and did not get anywhere. Then he cut his first two teeth, now he is back to being up every couple of hours.

I tried to go back to the pacifier to help him soothe himself to sleep, but as soon as it falls out he wakes up crying. Now my husband is very frustrated that I gave him the pacifier back and have created this mess. I am not sure what to do to get him back on track now.

His daily routine is:

7 a.m.—wake up

8 a.m.-10 a.m.—nap 1

12 pm – 2 p.m.—nap 2

4 p.m. – 5 p.m.—nap 3

7 p.m. —begin bedtime routine. Change diaper and clothes. Go to the bedroom and cuddle/rock while he gets his bottle. After his bottle we cuddle a little bit more to make sure his belly doesn't hurt. By this point he is normally relaxed and will fall asleep with some patting. Some nights we can put him to bed with no problems and he will sleep until 3:30 a.m. Other nights he could be up every hour and very upset. We haven't been able to figure out how to keep him asleep. We tried giving him his pacifier back since that helps him fall asleep fast, but once it falls out he wakes up. 

Hope you can help—we really need some sleep!


First, your situation is not uncommon. In fact, I suspected what was going on from the first few lines of your email, but peeking at his daily routine confirms it: I believe he is napping too much during the day. Although many parents believe that babies should nap for two hours at time, long naps like this start cutting into nighttime sleep quickly when there are two or three of them in one day. Once babies pass the newborn stage, many simply can’t take a couple of two-hour naps, plus a third nap, then go to bed at 7:30pm and sleep through the night. They just don’t need that much sleep. Even more importantly, they need enough awake time during the day to build up an appropriate drive to sleep all through the night.

"Undertiredness" often causes long night awakenings and fussy, on-and-off night sleep. I wrote about it in Ready, Set, Sleep and also wrote a blog post on the topic: Not Too Tired, Not Too Wired: Correcting Overtiredness and Undertiredness.

At six months, most babies can handle being awake for up to 2.5 hours at a time (though many need a shorter awake period first thing in the morning.) Many have two full naps, one morning and one afternoon, followed by a shorter nap around dinnertime.

I suggest a schedule as follows:

7 a.m. wake
8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. —nap 1
12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. —nap 2
5 p.m. to 5:45 pm—nap 3
Bedtime routine 7 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Try keeping his morning and afternoon naps to 1-2 hours each, and aim o keep his total day sleep under five hours.

When extending his awake times, do so slowly (10-15 minutes per day). He will likely be quite tired for the first few days, but of you stay with it he will begin sleeping more soundly at night and have less trouble staying awake for longer during the day.

As for the pacifier, he is so close to the age when he can replug himself (as long as he is not swaddled). If he is swaddled and you don't want to stop swaddling, you'll have to determine whether you want to continue using the pacifier until you wean the swaddle, and his arms are free to replug himself. If you aren't swaddling, I would begin having him work on replugging during  the day to encourage that skill. Put him in his highchair or on his play mat with the pacifier in front of him and have him practice getting it himself.

Hope this is helpful. Please let me know if you have questions! And good luck!

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Reader Comments (1)

Thanks Malia! This is such a timely post as my 10 month old is going through something similar where she is up for a couple hours each night unable to go back to sleep. I thought she might be undertired but if anything seems overtired since her night sleep is so disrupted - she is yawning and rubbing her eyes by mid afternoon. She takes 2 naps about 75 to 90 minutes each (sometimes the morning nap is only 30 minutes at daycare because she doesn't nap well there) and is in bed by 6:30. Can the undertiredcycle lead to overtiredness?

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

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