I just want sleeeep!
How to handle middle of the night wake-ups is something that nobody can prepare for, despite how many warnings you received before becoming a parent.
And the truth is, if we were told that sleeping in increments of 45 minutes at a time and trying to function as a normal human being was part of the parenting job description, we likely wouldn’t have believed it!
Waking up mid-sleep cycle at all hours of the night to tend to your baby is rough, and even though it is normal for babies and adults to wake up as we transition cycles, we don’t always get the luxury of going right back to sleep.
That is the main difference between our night wakings and a baby’s. As adults, we want and know how to fall back asleep when we are awoken prematurely, but not all babies do.
As we transition from one sleep cycle to the next, entering in and coming out of REM and non-REM sleep, it is common to at least partially wake up. In a 2010 study of more than 22,000 people, 31% said that they remember waking up at least three nights each week. In a 2008 study, 23% said they wake up at least once each night.
By the age of 5-6 months, a baby is capable of sleeping 10-12 consecutive hours, assuming they have no health issues. However, most babies need to be taught how to transition from one cycle to the next on their own. One of the ways they do this is by learning to self-soothe, and if they have never been taught how to do so, it is unlikely they will magically figure it out on their own.
Unfortunately, this is a very common issue no matter how old your child is. Of course, a newborn is going to wake up more often than a 12-month-old would and for different reasons, but there are many factors that can affect your child’s ability to “sleep through the night” properly.
Let’s look at a few of the most common reasons for night wakings:
1) Your child relies on someone or something to be put back to sleep. If your baby is rocked to sleep, fed to sleep, or put down any other way besides being set in her crib drowsy (but awake), that is going to be her last memory. That means that when she wakes up throughout the night as she goes in and out of sleep cycles, she is naturally going to wake up upset and want the “thing” that put him/her to sleep in the first place. These are what we call “sleep associations”.
2) Your child hasn’t learned how to settle on her own. As mentioned above, you should expect your child to wake up throughout the night, so the key is to teach her how to settle on her own so that the wake-ups are short and she can go back to sleep without your intervention. However, one of the issues that I see often is that parents go from feeding their babies to sleep one night to trying to let their baby cry it out and self-soothe the next night, which unfortunately does not work overnight. In order for your baby to fully grasp the concept of self-soothing, she needs to be taught how to do so.
3) Your child isn’t getting enough sleep during the day. Sleep promotes sleep, so contrary to what you may have heard, your child is not likely to sleep well at night if he isn’t sleeping well during the day. Adequate naps contribute a great deal to the quality of your child’s nighttime sleep, so making sure he is getting enough daytime sleep and that nap times are appropriate is key.
4) Your baby is hungry. Despite what you may have read/heard, it is still common for babies to wake up due to hunger until 8/9 months of age. You just want to make sure if this is the case that your baby is actually hungry and not waking just to pacify. If your baby is older than 6 months old and has no issues with weight gain, one night waking to feed is still “normal,” but three is not. You want to make sure your baby takes adequate day feedings and isn’t relying on night feeds to get their calories, so if you are confident they are, night feedings should be limited.
5) There is an external factor waking your baby up. Loud startling noises, the temperature being too cold or hot, or bright lights coming into your baby’s sleep space are all external factors that could be waking your baby and keeping them up. This is why using a white noise machine, making sure the room is completely dark for all sleep, and monitoring the temperature in your baby’s room is super important!
While these are a few of the most common reasons your child is waking at night, there are many other root issues that could be causing this sleep challenge.
Reach out! Lets plan for a complimentary 15 minute call to see how I can best help!