It is normal for a baby (that no longer needs to wake for feeds) to wake up for a short period of time several times a night. These arousals should only last for a few seconds and at most a few minutes. The problem occurs when these awakenings become more recurrent, last for more than just a few minutes at a time, or when baby is unable to get back to sleep by himself without outside help.
Here are some of the main causes of night wakings along with some solutions:
Here are some of the main causes of night wakings along with some solutions:
- Something woke your child up like a loud neighbor or traffic (see Sound And Sleep). If this is the case then try to keep things quiet when your baby is in light sleep or going through sleep transitions. You may also want to consider getting a sound machine.
- Baby is waking up at the same time each night (see habitually waking).
- Baby needs to eat. Young babies need to eat often day and night. If he is older he may be in a growth spurt, didn't eat much during the day due to teething or he simply isn't taking in enough during the day to meet his body's growing needs (see below). Also be sure to double check your milk supply if you are nursing to make sure it isn't decreasing.
- Baby feels hungry because he has a habit of eating at night but is capable of having his nutritional requirements met during the day.
- Baby is not able to replicate the conditions that he went to sleep with (see sleep props/associations) and is therefore unable to fall back to sleep by himself during sleep transitions and other times he wakes. Think pacifier, eating to sleep, rocking to sleep and being held to sleep. See Sleep Training in the blog index for ideas on how to get your baby to sleep better (this can be used for babies of any age depending on what method you are using and what your personal preferences are).
- Baby does not fall asleep by himself at bedtime. This is similar to above but it is really important so I'm mentioning it here. Most babies that can easily and fairly quickly put themselves to sleep at bedtime for at least a couple weeks time will begin to sleep through the night on the own (if they're a reasonable age, of course). Even babies that have previously been waking to eat are much more likely to start sleeping through the night on their own without further sleep training if they can just get themselves to sleep at bedtime first. See. I told you this was big!
- Your child is learning a new skill. Children practice new skills (even when they can't quite do the skills yet) before they fall asleep and even in their sleep. Obviously if you're trying to crawl or walk when you should be sleeping it can cause some disruptions :)
- Your child is uncomfortable.
- Is his clothing itchy?
- Does he have eczema? Talk to your doctor about getting something to help if lotion doesn't fix the problem.
- Is his mattress uncomfortable? I suggest buying the best mattress you can afford and preferably a hypoallergenic one. If you are using a pack 'n play as a crib you can buy padded sheets and even put additional blankets for padding under the sheets (make sure it is SAFE).
- Is baby too hot or too cold? See Getting the Right Temperature.
- Is he in pain? **Does your young baby have gas? If you think this is the case, burp your baby, help him calm down and then set him down to try and sleep again. **Is an older baby teething? **Is baby sick? **Does he have acid reflux? **Does he have a diaper rash? ** I've noticed that some things that don't bother my son too much when he's awake (like teething) will be a bit more bothersome when he is trying to sleep since he doesn't have other things to take his mind off of the pain. You can all probably relate with this when you're trying to go to sleep and you notice your sore neck or back for the first time.
- Does he have a wet diaper? Some children are more sensitive than others and do better with diapers that are extra absorptive like huggies supreme. These unfortunately usually cost more. I would first try the next size up to see if this works.
- Has his diaper leaked? This could be from too much liquid before bed or in the middle of the night, ill fitting diapers (try a different size or brand), and a baby who sleeps in positions that make the diaper leak even when it isn't very full (I've had a child who has done this- frustrating!--try tight fitting clothing to see if it will help). You may want to try using night time diapers, double diapers, a diaper soaker or diaper insert if you have a heavy wetter.
- Does he have a dirty diaper? If he has a dirty diaper you obviously need to change it. Keeping with a eat/activity/sleep routine usually helps reduce dirty diapers during sleep times. Check out the post about sleep and poop for more on this.
- Is his tummy upset from something in mom's diet if she is breastfeeding or new solid foods that have been introduced? If your baby is formula fed he may be constipated (uncommon with breastfeeding).
- Your child may have separation anxiety.
- Your child, while transitioning through sleep phases, may wake up for a bit and make noises. If left alone for several minutes he may go right back to sleep. Don't rush in!
- Your child has a disrupted sleep routine. A disrupted routine could include something that happened the current day or the even the night or day before. While some children don't mind a few disruptions, other children are very effected by them.
- Your child has an inconsistent or nonexistent sleep routine. A child that has an inconsistent or nonexistent routine does not have consistent internal rhythms to help him know when he should be sleeping and for how long. See Why have a schedule/routine?
- There is no consistent pre-sleep routine. Research has shown this to help children fall asleep as well as stay asleep.
- You are starting to let naps slip. When young children do get sufficient day time sleep, they often start to have increased night wakings.
- Your child has too much daytime sleep. This may be true even if your child seems to need this day time sleep. Sometimes you have to slowly wean your chlid from some long naps and increase waketime a bit and night sleep will improve. It is a bit opposite from the adive I often give (put your tired baby bed to bed, people!), but it does happen. It seems to be happening more lately as more and more parents are educated about the overtired child and try to put their baby to sleep after an appropriate waketime. As their baby gets older some of these parents, in their attemp to keep their child well rested, end up not introducing adequate waketime into their child's day and night time sleep suffers.
- Your child may be going to bed too late. Often moving bedtime early by 30 minutes or so will suddenly stop or decrease night time waking.
- Your child's last nap starts or ends too late pushing bedtime too late. Yes, even if the waketime prior is good, children may wake up crying shortly after going to bed if their bedtime is too late. It messes with their sleep rhythm.
- A child that was previously waking and playing quietly in the middle of the night may now want mom and dad's company. This kind of "happy and playful" awakening is possibly due to a child being put down to sleep at night longer than he has the capability of sleeping (see The "Too Long in Bed Problem" and Nightly Sleep Phase) or due to mom and dad reinforcing the waking habit by going in to their child, even if they do not play with him (see habitual wakings).
- Are you reinforcing the waking by frantically rushing into your child when he wakes up and making a big deal out of the situation rather than calmly walking into him and quickly helping him go back to sleep? (see attitude is everything)
- Bedtime may be too early. See the too long in bed problem.
Whatever you do, do not play with or entertain your child when he wakes at night . This will reinforce the waking habit.
When will my child start sleeping through the night?
How long do I let my child go without a feed at night?