So, we’ve established that babies wake up frequently after short periods of sleep. Yes, some sleep longer, but lots sleep shorter periods than we’d like. But we know that babies are designed to be this way, and so for the first six months at least we’re designed as parents to soothe, settle, rock, sing, feed, cuddle and shush our babies back to sleep again through the night. Once your baby is a little older, the wake ups start to change a little and not all of them are due to hunger. Other things can wake your baby at night, and hopefully we’ll address those things in this week’s post: #BabySleep A-Z… W is for wake ups!
Why do babies wake up?
This is the crux of the matter, and probably why you’re reading this post in the first place! Here are the top ten reasons why babies wake up through the night.
- Because of their sleep Cycle. As babies move through sleep cycles, or stages of sleep, they go through a transition. During that transition, many babies will wake up. Some will call out or cry. Some, if hungry, will cry for this reason. Some will cry because they want to go back to sleep and might need you to help them. It’s normal for babies to wake 4-5 times a night during these times of transition- and we adults do it too. Unlike adults though, babies can’t always go back to sleep and this is where the differences lie.
- Because their brain is developing. And while their brain is developing, your baby is busy trying to figure out how to move on to the next stage already. Be it rolling, crawling or walking- your baby’s sleep can be affected by a pure need to practise some new skills. And while they practise these skills in bed, they often wake themselves up! A baby that has recently learnt to roll over from back to front might suddenly find themselves stuck in that position and so will call out to you for rescue. This is normal.
- Because of their temperament. We all have different personalities as adults, and babies are no different. Some babies will find it harder to settle to sleep once they’ve woken and that can come down to personality. If your baby is a typically ‘fussy’ baby you might be able to put some of that down to temperament once you’ve ruled out changing and feeding.
- Because they’re teething. It goes without saying that a teething baby (who is in pain) is going to wake up.
- Because of how they fell asleep. If your baby relies on you to fall asleep, she will then need you through the night to do whatever it was you did at the start of the night to help her fall asleep again. So be it a feed, a rock or a song- she might not be able to fall asleep without it.
- Because they fell asleep with a pacifier. And when they wake the pacifier has fallen out, so they need YOU to come and put it back in again. Recognise the scenario?
- Because they’re ill. Illnesses and infections affect the way that your baby sleeps, and if they are in pain they are going to wake up.
- Because they’re going through behavioural changes. As your baby grows older, her behaviours change. She becomes more self aware and more ready for independence. She also begins to experience separation anxiety, and this is when she will call out for you!
- Because she’s hot/ cold. If your baby’s room is not at the right temperature or she’s thrown her covers off her bed, she will wake up.
- Because the room is too light. Melatonin is produced when darkness falls, and if baby wakes in the early hours to a bright room, she is going to think it’s time to wake up.
What to do when baby wakes up
If your baby is waking up through hunger, a feed is obviously the only thing that will settle her back for sleep again. But if your baby is waking for other reasons, it might not be so easy. Ruling out being too hot or cold, and the room being dark enough for sleep is your first step. Make sure there is a clear distinction between day and night and that your baby is aware that it is night time and time for sleep. Don’t be tempted to turn on lights, the television or to play on your phone while you try to settle them back to sleep.
Be aware of your baby’s personality and keep in mind too that you will eventually want your baby to be able to fall asleep by herself one day. So if you aren’t prepared to rock/ swing/ cuddle her to sleep for the forseeable, now is the best time to break those habits. Follow your gentle sleep training techniques and slowly your baby will leant to fall asleep independently after each wake up.