One of the most common questions I receive is “Why is my baby waking up in the middle of the night?” Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why your baby could be waking up in the middle of the night. I remember with my first how difficult it was to understand the reasons why he was waking. I would drive myself crazy wondering why he wouldn’t stay asleep more than three hour stretches. “Is he too cold?”, “Is he too hot?”, “He must be hungry, let me feed him”, “Did he poop and spoil his diaper?” It was always difficult for me to identify what the real cause of his middle of the night waking’s were until I implemented strategies to help him sleep independently. This is one of the reasons why I help families create good sleep habits--to help them identify why their baby is waking in the night and how they can help them get more restful sleep.
Creating a nice, calm and relaxing bedtime routine can significantly help your baby sleep. It can help them fall asleep more quickly, but also stay asleep for longer stretches throughout the night. A simple bedtime routine consists of a feed, pajamas, book, massage, cuddles and turning off the lights. Turning on white noise will help as well! Without this routine, your baby may be too alert and too stimulated, making it hard for them to settle at night and throughout the night.
If your baby isn’t suffering from night terrors or nightmares (which typically doesn’t occur until 2-3 years of age), I would recommend removing any light that is in their room. The slightest bit of light in your baby’s room can suppress melatonin, a sleep hormone that helps your baby sleep and stay asleep. Toys and mobiles cause unnecessary stimulation for your baby and will keep them up when they should be sleeping.
Your baby is overtired
Overtiredness is one of the biggest culprits of middle of the night waking’s and fragmented sleep. You want to try your best to ensure that your child is not going to sleep at bedtime overtired. Watch for those sleepy cues and age appropriate wake windows (which I can help you with) as it will prevent your child from regressing sleep and waking in the night. You also want to look at the amount of sleep your baby is getting in the day as too little sleep can impact baby’s night sleep.
How is too much sleep a bad thing? If your baby is sleeping for long stretches, that’s great! However, you need to be aware of the effects of too much sleep during the day as it can take away from their sleep at night. If your baby is having a hard time sleeping at night, they may catch up on their sleep throughout the day. You need to be careful of this as it can turn into a cycle of your baby sleeping too much in the day and less at night.
Babies have many sleep-wake cycles as do adults, but if your baby is unable to settle on their own without your intervention or the dependency of a “sleep prop” such as a pacifier, or bottle to feed etc., they will fully wake up and cry out for you. This can cause multiple night waking’s and calling out for you. Teaching your baby independent sleep skills is extremely important in helping your baby learn how to transition from one sleep cycle to the next without your help or the help of a “sleep prop”.
It doesn’t seem like a bad thing when your baby falls asleep while nursing or bottle feeding or falls asleep with a “sleep prop” such as the pacifier, but if your baby is waking up multiple times throughout the night looking for you or the pacifier, it is something I would consider getting them less dependent on. For example, feed your baby before bedtime, but add an “activity” such as changing their diaper before placing them in their sleep space. This way they are awake understanding you have made that transition from your arms. This is a skill I teach families to implement when creating good sleep habits.
AUTHOR: Anita Patel, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Founder of Hush Baby Hush, helps create healthy sleep habits for families all around the world with newborns, toddlers, and preschoolers. Anita provides personalized sleep consulting services for families who are seeking advice and support to overcome common sleep challenges.