By Nicole Johnson, Lead Sleep Consultant, The Baby Sleep Site
When you bring your newborn home, you expect to be awake a lot at night. After all, many people warn you about how tired you will be in those first few weeks. But, after your newborn baby is eight weeks old, you start to realise just how much of a toll waking up at night takes. If you are lucky, your baby will begin to sleep through the night from a young age, but what many parents find is that even beyond newborn days, your baby wakes at night.
But how many times is normal and why do babies wake at night? Here are 10 reasons your baby wakes at night in no particular order:
This should be no surprise that babies wake at night due to hunger. In the newborn days, babies will likely wake every 2-3 hours to eat or need to be awakened to be fed until they’ve regained their birthweight and the doctor tells you it’s okay to let them sleep for longer stretches. Once a baby is at least 3-4 months old, we start to see night feedings drop to 1-3 times at night until 6-12 months old when they can be night-weaned. When your baby sleeps all night without any feedings depends on several factors including whether they are breastfed or not, any medical issues such as reflux, whether you’ve started solids, and their individual biological makeup.
Many new parents tend to overdress their babies afraid of their baby being cold and not being able to speak up. Keep in mind that the ideal temperature of the room to sleep is 20-21 degrees Celsius. Your baby’s skin should feel cool to the touch without being frigid and your baby should never be sweaty. If your baby’s fingers feel like ice blocks, you need to warm the room up a bit and/or add another layer of clothing, a sleep sack, or wearable blanket.
How your baby falls asleep sometimes dictates whether he or she can stay asleep. If, for example, your baby falls asleep while bouncing on a yoga ball, he or she may wake every 1-3 hours (if not immediately) for you to bounce on the yoga ball again. This becomes their sleep association, which means it needs to be recreated as they transition from one sleep cycle to the next. This is one of the leading causes of frequent night waking in babies and toddlers.
Your baby is developing very rapidly, which is a good thing, but developmental milestones can lead to more night-waking. Your baby may be practicing new skills (intentionally or not) or have a “busy brain.” In addition, a baby will go through several sleep regressions, the first being the 4-month sleep regression. During these sleep regressions, your baby’s sleep will worsen and, if you’re not careful, you may develop new sleep habits that will disrupt sleep even more for your family. Read about all the sleep regressions here.
Unless you’re doing elimination communication, your baby’s nappy may get too full, leak, or your baby may have had a bowel movement requiring you to change the diaper in the middle of the night. This may seem obvious, but as your baby gets older, he or she may become more sensitive to a full nappy, especially if you’ve kept too many night feedings for too long. Or, a baby new to solid food may have changed their bowel movement “schedule” and require a nappy change when you haven’t had to change a nappy at night for a good while. As toddlers get closer to toilet training, they often are more aware of the nappy as well.
Some babies are sensitive to teeth cutting through the gums while others aren’t bothered by it. Some babies are bothered by it for just a few days. The height of any sleep disruption usually lasts just 3-4 nights, so unless your baby is getting one tooth after another, long-term night-waking is usually not related to teething. Short-term night-waking, however, could be caused by the discomfort.
Sometimes our babies fall ill, but the night-waking may start 2-3 days prior to the illness being evident, unfortunately. Just as you and I may start to feel a little under the weather before we actually catch a cold, they too sometimes start to have “off” days and nights.
A lesser-known reason for night-waking, especially long ones, sometimes is due to napping too much during the day. After 6 months old, babies and toddlers tend to nap a total of 2-3 hours, on average, during the day. Beyond 3 hours, unless your baby needs higher than average sleep (which is possible), this could be causing your baby to wake at night.
The most common reason for a baby to wake frequently at night is due to being over-tired at bedtime. Ensure your baby is falling asleep before fatigue sets in for optimum sleep. Review sample sleep schedules to compare your schedule with the average. Of course, all babies are unique, so you may need to make some adjustments, but timing bedtime correctly can make a huge difference in the quality of sleep at night.
Gas, reflux, and starting solids can impact nighttime sleep, too. Reflux can clearly cause discomfort, but so can gas and starting solid food. When your baby starts solid food, their body needs to work harder at digestion and it bothers some babies, at first. They typically adjust fairly quickly while others have a harder time. Be sure to talk to a medical professional if you are concerned about digestion.
Some reasons for night-waking will need more time to be resolved such as sleep associations while others can be addressed immediately such as the schedule or room temperature. There are many reasons babies wake at night, but now that you have a checklist of items to consider, you can address the root cause and maximise your family’s sleep!