Let’s talk about the 8 month sleep regression. After the 4 month sleep regression, this one gets a lot of attention because after finally getting your baby sleeping well it can feel like things are falling apart again.
Sleep regressions are really just progressions in a baby’s development that cause disruptions in sleep. They are not a loss of the sleep skills or habits that your baby has already learned. The 8 month sleep regression is all about milestones. Gross motor and fine motor milestones as well as the beginning of separation anxiety due to gaining a grasp on object permanence.
8 month sleep regression is related to developmental milestones and leaps
Big gross motor milestones can happen at a wide range of times which is why sometimes you hear about a 6 month regression, 9 month regression or 10 month regression too. The truth is these regressions in sleep happen at different times for different babies because of the differences in their development and when they are working on certain milestones.
These so called sleep regressions are less about sleep and more about development. Learning these new skills is a competing priority in their brains with sleep. So you see a loss of the sleep progress you’ve seen because sleep isn’t the priority in your baby’s brain at the moment.
The 8 month sleep regression (or 9, 10 month regression and so on…) is usually particularly prominent because multiple milestones are happening at the same time or back to back.
However, you may experience what feels like separate 6 month, 8 month, 9 month and 10 month sleep regressions for example. Likely your baby is working on different big milestones at different times rather than at the same time or back to back.
Disruptions in sleep are very linked to developmental leaps and therefore there isn’t a ton you can do to avoid any impacts on sleep, but there are things you can do to minimize those disruptions.
Gross motor milestones
Crawling, pulling up, getting into a sitting position on their own and other big milestones all tend to happen around this 8-month timeframe. These are skills a baby needs to learn and master, so your baby’s brain can prioritize things such as practicing crawling over sleep.
Giving your baby tons of floor time during the day to practice these skills is very important so they can learn and master them as quickly as possible. This can help minimize their brain telling them nighttime is the time to practice. Additionally, the increased activity level helps babies sleep better at night too.
Your baby may be crawling to one end of the crib and getting stuck or pulling up on the side (make sure you have your crib set to the lowest setting!) and not knowing how to get back down again. If this is happening during sleep times, go in and help your baby get out of the corner or get down from standing. When you go in you want to be calm, boring and businesslike, just there to help your baby get back to a place where they can fall asleep. You may need to do this multiple times before your baby finally goes to sleep.
You will likely see some interruption of sleep no matter how much your baby is practicing their new skills but lots of practice can help minimize it to a few days of disruptions rather than a few weeks. But keep in mind, it is possible that you may have a few days of disruptions for each big milestone.
Fine Motor Milestones
Fine motor milestones can also cause disruptions in sleep, or the 8 month sleep regression, because they are skills your baby wants to practice, just like the big gross motor milestones. Things such as clapping, learning to wave, and accurately putting things in their mouths are all very exciting for your baby to learn and practice.
You may see your baby playing in their crib. When they are happily playing, let them play until they are ready to fall asleep. Their brain is prioritizing practicing those skills before they are able to sleep.
Separation anxiety tends to appear around this time. This also contributes to the 8 month sleep regression. Typically this sleep disruption looks like your baby having a harder time going down to sleep, a harder time going back to sleep after any wake ups, and potentially waking up more frequently than normal.
Your baby is starting to understand object permanence. They now are able to remember things and people who are not currently present. Being able to mentally picture you while you are gone can be difficult for your baby because babies learn about people leaving before learning about people returning. Because of this they may feel like they don’t know if or when you are going to return, leading to anxiety around separations. This includes the separation that takes place for sleep. (This separation is still present even if you are contact sleeping!)
Help your baby learn about you returning. This will help separation anxiety decrease because they confidently know you will be back. Play some peekaboo during the day, so your baby gets used to having you come back after you leave. You can also set your baby down for some independent play time and then come back to assist your baby as soon as they call to help them feel confident that you are always there when they need you. I’ve also got more tips for dealing with separation anxiety and sleep here.
Handling the 8 month sleep regression
Once you are doing all the things mentioned above to help minimize the impact these developmental milestones have on sleep, you will likely still experience some level of sleep disruptions. During these sleep disruptions, whether it is harder time falling asleep at bedtime, increased night wake ups or waking up earlier in the morning, there are two things you want to keep in mind.
First, remember that your baby didn’t lose their sleep skills (specifically speaking to independent sleep skills). Second, keep in mind that being consistent with how you respond to these extra wake ups or challenges falling asleep helps to not create new habits that you don’t want to keep.
For example, if you were feeding your baby once at night (or twice a night or not at all), but all of a sudden you are feeding them 3-4 times a night because they are waking more frequently, it can lead to your baby becoming accustomed to eating (even a little bit at a time) this frequently at night and starting to even feel hungry at night more. Then you can get stuck in this habit. Use other techniques to soothe and support your baby through extra wake ups while they work through these milestones. This most likely leads to getting back to the norm after their brains and bodies master the milestones they are working on.
Support through the 8 month sleep regression
If this sleep regression and disruptions have you feeling exhausted, frustrated and discouraged, you don’t have to continue with your current sleep patterns if you don’t want to. If things aren’t working for the whole family anymore, it can be time to make a change.
Whether your baby was sleeping independently or you want them to be, reach out and schedule a free evaluation call to chat through what is going on, your sleep goals and how I can help you reach those sleep goals. Helping families work towards and achieve independent sleep is my personal specialty. I’m here to help you and your baby get better and more sleep!
To healthy and happy sleep,
*Updated July 2023*