Nearly every parent has asked themselves why their child seems to wake up so often at night. The answer is, it depends. We asked Baby Sleep Trainer, Natalie Willes, to provide us with tips to help babies from newborn to toddler sleep through the night.
Newborns (Birth to 16 Weeks)
Newborns wake repeatedly overnight for two main reasons.
First, they need to eat. While some babies are capable of sleeping long stretches as early as just 2-3 weeks of age, many will wake up often overnight because their immature bodies need frequent milk in order to regulate their insulin levels. Also, during periods of rapid growth, newborns may legitimately be unable to consume the necessary amount of calories without eating very frequently, both day and night. Thankfully these growth spurts tend to pass within a few days, but they can seem never ending to parents.
Second, newborns can wake constantly at night because their brains have not yet regulated their melatonin secretions enough for the child to have consistent periods of wakefulness (during the day) and lengthy periods of sleep (overnight). Thankfully, one sure fire way to combat both of these issues is to make sure that from 7 am to 7 pm, one never allows their newborn to nap for more than 120 minutes at a stretch.
If your newborn has been asleep for 2 hours, do whatever you can to wake them up. Once they are awake feed them while doing everything in your power to keep their eyes open during the feeding. Then, keep them awake for up to 50-60 minutes total and then watch for signs of sleepiness (eye rubbing, staring into the distance reduced engagement, fussiness), and put them down for a nap. If baby sleeps less than 2 hours, simply feed them when they wake up, working hard to keep them alert during the feeding so they take a full feed. The younger the newborn is, the tougher these suggestions may be to implement but keep trying and as they grow older, things will get easier. Limiting daytime sleep to no more than 2 hours at a stretch, and ensuring frequent feeds during the day, will help baby sleep longer stretches overnight.
Infant (16 weeks to 18 months)
If your infant is waking frequently at night, it’s likely because they’ve matured into a sleep pattern in which they wake each time they finish one sleep cycle and start the next. This is how all humans aged 4 months and older sleep at night, and if your infant has not yet learned to fall asleep for naps and nighttime 100% on their own without the use of sleep props, then they do not yet posses the skill set to fall back to sleep on their own when they wake normally overnight. Until they learn the skill of independent sleep, they will call out to you for help to get back to sleep each time they wake overnight.
Toddler (18 months and older)
Like infants, toddlers will always wake as they complete one sleep cycle and begin the next. As your child grows older and learns to fall asleep on their own without sleep props for naps and bedtime, you will see that it is easier for them to link sleep cycles overnight without waking all the way up (like adults do).
How to Solve Frequent Night Waking
For children aged 4 months and older, frequent night waking is solved by teaching your child to fall asleep 100% independently and without the use of sleep props or reliance on caregivers for naps and bedtime. This is called “sleep training”.