Updated: Aug 2
Let me first be clear – wakings are normal and can often be nothing to worry about at all. We all wake a number of times in the night and just roll over and go back to sleep. Sometimes we're aware of being up for a second and just need to readjust, but most often, we don’t even know it’s happened.
The same goes with our babies. They wake up, and if they can put themselves back to sleep independently and their needs are met, most often they go back to sleep. But if they don’t, why? And how can we ensure they do.
Here are the top reasons for night wakings and how you can approach them to achieve a better nights sleep:
1. Hunger: If your baby is hungry, you must address their need. But, be sure that it’s hunger and not habit. A newborn requires a number of night feeds, so waking at this time is just par for the course. But if your baby is between 4-6 months, wakings often lessen. Baby may require 1-2 feedings at night, depending on their weight, development and a number of other things. Always check with your doctor before determining if you can cut some of those night feeds. By 6 months, your child may not need anymore night feeds (again check with your doctor on the weight and development of your baby). Other signs baby is hungry - feeds will be long, baby will fall back to sleep right after the feed, and they will generally wake again between 3-5 hours.
What to do: Feed when your child needs it, in a dark and quiet space, close or within their sleep space so you can gently put them back to sleep when you are done. This will help baby stay calm and in sleep mode for an easier transition back to sleep. To ensure baby is nice and full going to bed, give an extra feed in the day to boost those calories. Fun fact – when a night feed is dropped, our babies will take more calories in the day to supplement for the loss at night. Their bodies will just do this! How awesome!
2. Habit: If age, weight and all mentioned above check out and you suspect it’s habit, some other signs you may notice are - your baby is waking every 45 min-2 hours, unable to fall back asleep on their own after the feeding, falling asleep while feeding, and taking short feeds.
What to do: Try to comfort without giving a feed to see if your baby will fall back asleep without it. You will also want to support their independent sleep skills so they can put themselves back to sleep and aren’t relying on the feeding for comfort to get back to sleep. As mentioned above, make sure baby is getting all those extra calories in the day, so you can rest assure they do not need the extra night feeds.
3. Developmental Milestones: Our babies are learning and growing constantly. They are so little, so there is just so much learning and growing to do at this time! While its all exciting and we love to celebrate the crawls and new words, these developments can create an interruption in sleep. Why? Because our children are practicing their new skills and experimenting with them any chance they get. And many times they are doing this at bedtime or naptime, causing wake ups or delayed sleep. Fun for them, but not so much for us…
What to do: Not much! If your child's sleep routine is generally consistent, keep it that way. Wait it out. The skill will likely only create an interruption for a few days to a week. To speed up the process, practice these skills during wake periods.
4. Teething: Similar to the developmental milestone, teething is a growing pain we must muscle through. It can first happen as early as 3 months, and it’s ongoing from there.
What to do: We cannot ignore that our child might be in pain and teething can often cause a fever, runny nose etc. But as per the milestones, teething may last only 2-3 days. Tend to your child as necessary, but please know that a well-rested baby will handle teething much better than a child who is not sleeping well. If you think your child’s teething may be disrupting her sleep, the most important thing you can do is be consistent with your routine and ease the pain with Tylenol and/or a refrigerated teething ring.
5. Unable to sleep independently (connect sleep cycles): This one is a biggy! If your child is unable to fall asleep on their own and requires assistance (sleep props) such as rocking, patting, feeding, they will need that assistance with every sleep situation. This means that sleep will be interrupted often, hence many night wakings. Your child is cycling through sleep from the start of the night, until morning. The end of a cycle is lighter sleep and often when our child will wake. Not really a problem, since waking is normal. BUT if a child cannot get back to sleep and fall into the next cycle on their own, a full waking will occur and assistance is needed.
What to do: Create space between the sleep prop and sleep so not to encourage an association to sleep. Give your child the space to learn independent sleep skills by putting them in bed awake.
6. Overtiredness: When a child is not getting enough day sleep and/or going to bed too late, overtiredness will occur. A well-rested child will welcome sleep easily. An overtired child will fight sleep more, become restless and wake easily after sleep cycles – hence multiple night wakings.
What to do: Value daytime sleep! Ensure your child is taking the appropriate number of naps, following age appropriate wake windows. Opt for an early bedtime - This will allow your child to get the rest they need from the start of the night. Sleep begets sleep!
7. Sleep environment is not conducive to sleep: Do you find that light is coming into your child's room? Are there a bunch of outside noises? Is your child comfortable in the space? Is the space boring? These are all questions you should ask yourself when creating a sleep space conducive to sleep. Perhaps the mobile is distracting and every time your child wakes, she focuses on it. Or maybe you have a dog that barks or noisy neighbours around bedtime. All of these things can disrupt baby’s sleep and create some additional night, or early morning wake ups.
What to do: Do an audit of your child's sleep space to ensure it’s dark, quiet, comfortable and boring. If light is coming in at a very early hour, get black out blinds. If noise is an issue, use a sound machine to mask it. Try not to overdo your child's room with fancy wallpaper and colourful décor, it can be distracting. And, always ensure your child is comfortable. Make the room cool and dress your child in cozy, lightweight sleepwear/sleep sack.
If you are looking for sleep support for your child or would like more information on how I can help you get sleep back in your home, schedule a free chat!
Want a sleep expert in your back pocket? Follow me @lulla.by.gina for ongoing baby and child sleep tips, advice and support.