“Sleep like a baby.” Whoever said that clearly never had a kid! Prior to having children myself and being asleep coach for kids, I thought all babies slept soundly each night!
However, every parent knows within a few nights that’s just not the case. Some children don’t sleep through the night. Below are five reasons your baby wakes up at night. Knowing these will help you understand what’s happening and help you achieve the goal of a full night’s rest for the whole family!
The good news is, there are scientific reasons and some developmental explanations for these awakenings, which means we can also do something about it.
1. Sleep Cycle
Like adults, babies have sleep cycles and wake up throughout the night. These transitional awakenings are absolutely normal and it is not something we should be worried about – unless your baby is not able to fall back asleep.
But, why do sleep cycles affect babies and their ability to fall asleep?
In short, we all cycle through sleep in various stages of REM and Non-REM. When we complete one sleep cycle, we partially wake up and fall back asleep, sometimes without even noticing that we woke up. Because a baby’s sleep cycle is short, they are more prone to fully or partially wake up between stages.
This is why your baby wakes up at night, and hopefully you take comfort in understanding the science behind these awakenings!
TIP #1: If they wake up, don’t rush in and pick them up. They could very well be transitioning through sleep cycles, which means they simply need a little time to fall back to sleep. As long as it sounds more like a fuss than an urgent need, be patient.
2. Sleep Associations
Now that you know how sleep cycles work and how they affect baby’s sleep, you understand that these awakenings are essential, normal and expected. That being said, when a baby wakes up between sleep cycles, you may find that they have a difficult time falling asleep if they are unable to self-soothe.
This inability to fall asleep independently may lead to tears, crying and a state of full awakening if the baby needs the parent’s help to fall asleep.
If your baby needs your assistance to fall asleep at night or for naps (rock, walk, bounce, nurse, etc.), they’ll need the same help in the middle of the night when they wake up between sleep cycles.
The trick is to do less and less each month to slowly teach the baby to self-soothe when they wake up in the middle of the night.
Tip #2 – This is something they learn on their own. In order for them to explore and develop self-soothing skills, such as sucking their thumb, playing with their feet, rubbing their ears, playing with their blanket or lovey, we have to give them the space and opportunity to do so.
Not only should we ensure our babies are sleeping enough, but it’s important to consider the “awake times” between the morning wake up, naps and bedtime. If a baby is not awake long enough between naps, and not tired enough, he will have a hard time falling asleep at bedtime and wake up more often at night. They could be in bed crying because they’re simply not tired enough to sleep. The opposite is also true. If a baby is awake for too long, he will be overtired and will have difficulty settling down at bedtime and wake up more often at bedtime.
Tip #3 – It is very important to establish a schedule that works for your baby, and stay consistent with it. If your baby is sleeping at different times for naps and bedtime, it will be difficult for her to regulate her internal clock. Consistency is key! Also, make sure the naps are not too long or too close to bedtime.
4. Development Milestones
You may go through a period where your child’s naps (and sleep in general) gets worse. It’s normal to see some inconsistencies in their sleeping patterns where it seems like they are regressing.
Your baby is most likely going through a developmental milestone, growth spurts or even separation anxiety. These regressions can happen whether or not your baby is sleep trained.
The good news is, these phases are temporary, and if your baby has learned the skill of falling asleep and has become a great sleeper, he or she should be able to overcome these normal disruptions and resume great sleeping habits soon.
Tip #4 – You will notice these changes when your baby is about to crawl, stand, or walk. When this happens, keep the routine and remember to be patient. This, too, shall pass.
5. Medical Conditions
As a parent, you instinctively know when something is not right with your little one.
If you have a doubt and think that your baby may be sick or have a medical condition, talk to your pediatrician as they may be able to help with your baby’s potential health and sleep disturbances. When a baby is not feeling well, they can be the best sleepers in the world, but they may wake up in the middle of the night and even experience a sleep regression.
Tip #5 – Any health issue like eczema, asthma, or sleep apnea will impact their ability to sleep. Make sure these are addressed with your physician before starting any program.
If you have any sleep-related questions or are wondering about sleep training for your child, please don’t hesitate to reach out at lullabysleepconsultant.com. I’m here to help!
As always, sleeping babies = happy families.