A good night’s sleep is critical for the well-being of babies. If your baby wakes up frequently and stays awake for hours into the night, it could hamper their growth and cause developmental delays.
Understanding why your baby wakes up frequently at night or stays awake can help you take necessary actions and ensure your baby enjoys deep sleep for longer hours at night.
Read on as we tell you the possible reasons why your baby wakes up frequently at night and give you a few tips to help your baby sleep longer.
Why Don’t Some Babies Sleep Longer?
Night wakings are pretty common in infants and toddlers. A quarter of parents with children under the age of five report that their little ones experience sleep problems (1).
A newborn generally wakes up frequently at night due to hunger. Once they have crossed the four-month mark and you have started night weaning them, they should sleep for longer hours. However, despite proper feeding, if your baby wakes up frequently at night, you should try to determine the root cause.
Here are a few possible reasons why your baby might be waking up frequently at night:
Does the sleep cycle disruption occur a short while after you put your baby to bed every night? If yes, there is a good chance your baby is not being fed adequately before bedtime. If you have just started night weaning, the baby could often wake up hungry until they get used to the new schedule.
Your baby’s primary means of communication is crying. If they cannot sleep for more than 2-3 hours at a stretch, it could be due to some discomfort, and they may wake up crying to draw your attention to the problem. Keep a close eye on your baby’s movements during the day so that you are aware of any bumps or bruises on their body.
Discomfort may also arise due to blankets that are too thick or too thin, a toy hidden under the blankets, soiled diapers, etc.
3. Nose block
Infants are nose breathers, that is, they predominantly use their nose to breathe in and out. Nasal congestion in a baby can cause significant trouble in breathing and in turn result in disturbed sleep.
4. Stomach ache
A very common complaint that babies have is gassiness. This can lead to stomach ache and make the baby wake up while napping and also at night.
5. Noisy environment
A truck passing by, a blaring ringtone, or even a conversation between you and your partner that you forgot to carry out in whispers — any of these can interrupt your baby’s sleep.
If your baby is accustomed to sleeping at irregular intervals and for varying durations, it could become a habit and result in frequent night wakings.
7. Infection or illness
Your baby could also wake up frequently due to an infection or illness. If your baby is in the crawling stage, they tend to grab things and put them into the mouth, which increases the chance of catching infections, leading to frequent wake-ups at night. And if your baby is down with any illness, such as a cold or fever, they might be irritable and wake up frequently.
Babies are fussy when they are teething, and this could keep them awake at night. If you notice symptoms, such as excessive drooling, irritability, reddened cheeks and gums, and excessive biting or chewing, teething pain may be keeping your baby awake at night.
9. Change in the environment
A change in the environment could also cause frequent night wakings. If you move your baby from your room to theirs or move them from the mattress to the crib, it could take them a few nights to get used to the new environment and lead to frequent nighttime waking.
10. Bedtime routine
Many parents have a bedtime routine to put the little one to sleep. It may include singing lullabies, playing music, rocking, cooing, or walking with the baby in your arms. If you do any of these to put your baby to sleep, they may be unable to fall asleep on their own after night wakings unless you do the same all over again.
11. Developmental milestones
Babies may also experience sleep cycle disruption when they are nearing developmental milestones. For example, when they learn to make sounds or grab things, you will find them up in the middle of the night practicing the new-found skill. You may notice this for the first time at the 4-month sleep regression stage (2). This is pretty common, although not all infants exhibit it. At this stage, babies learn many interesting skills, and this keeps them awake at night. Similar sleep regression cycles occur at later stages too.
Tips To Help Your Baby Sleep Longer At Night
The amount of sleep babies need may vary based on their age and sleep pattern. An infant needs about 14–17 hours of sleep per 24 hours, with feeding breaks every 3–4 hours. Some babies sleep up to 19 hours. By the time they are two to three months of age, infants begin to sleep for five or six hours at a stretch (3).
Studies show that the sleep cycle is a dynamic process that changes quickly through the first few years of life (4). When babies are about ten weeks of age, they begin to sleep more easily than before and also sleep for longer stretches. Also, their daytime nap duration reduces, and their awake time increases.
However, if your baby wakes up several times during the night and sleep deprivation affects their health or temperament, you have to step in. Read on as we suggest a few strategies you can adopt to let your baby sleep for longer or soothe themselves back to sleep quickly.
1. Feed them well
Make sure your baby is well fed before putting them to bed for the night. Also, make it a habit to burp your baby after every feed and before putting them to bed. This releases the air from the stomach and prevents discomfort and stomach pain. To know more about when and how to feed your baby, read this informative article.
2. Set a schedule
Creating and following a routine that leads to bedtime helps your baby relax and unwind, so they go to sleep without much fuss and stay asleep longer. A good strategy is to sing or play soothing music as night falls instead of the more rollicking activities, such as playing peekaboo with your little one.
3. Add white noise
White noise is the sound that is produced when sounds of different frequencies are combined. Because it contains all frequencies, it is used to mask other sounds in the room. You could invest in a white noise machine or download a white noise app to help your baby drift off to sleep. Studies show that infants fall asleep sooner when they are in an environment with white noise (5).
4. Help your baby soothe themselves to sleep
Teach your baby how to soothe themselves to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. This sleep training creates an ideal situation where you and your partner have an uninterrupted sleep, and your baby learns to comfort themselves without needing your presence or help. Read this post to learn how to teach your baby to self-soothe.
5. Monitor their daytime naps
As the baby grows, the number of hours of sleep they need reduces. Frequent and long naps during the day can affect their sleep at night. Keep track of their daytime nap times and try to gradually minimize the overall nap time during the day. This might help your baby sleep for a longer duration without waking up in between.
6. Create a soothing ambiance
Tweak the baby’s environment when it is bedtime. Dim the lights, put on soothing music, or turn on your white noise machine to create a conducive environment for your baby to enter ‘sleep mode.’ Soon, your baby will start associating this particular environment with sleep time, making it easy for you to put them to sleep.
7. Avoid holding your baby
Your immediate response when you hear your baby crying in the middle of the night is to rush to hold and comfort them. However, this could be counterproductive in two ways. First, picking your baby up from the crib and holding them in your arms further disturbs them and wakes them up fully. Instead, if you wait for a while to let your baby settle down, they may go back to sleep independently. Second, if you rush in every time your baby cries, they may never learn to soothe themselves back to sleep.
8. Change your baby’s diapers
Wet diapers are not conducive to a peaceful night’s sleep. If your baby wakes up often, the first thing you should do is check if the diaper needs to be changed. Also, if your baby wakes up hungry close to midnight, it is a good idea to change the diaper first and then feed so that they can drift off to a comfy sleep immediately after.
9. Share the burden with your partner
One of the most important strategies to deal with your baby’s frequent night wakings is to share the load with your partner. Taking turns to care for the baby and putting them back to sleep ensures that you both get adequate sleep and are refreshed to handle the child the next morning. Even if your baby is breastfed, there is no reason why your partner cannot take care of the night time feeds using previously expressed, refrigerated milk.
The mother can breastfeed the baby and then entrust the task of putting the baby back to sleep on her partner. Sharing the responsibility of comforting the baby during night wakings also offers a great opportunity for the couple to bond and grow as parents.
Waking up frequently during the night, irregular sleep cycles, and staying up until very late are all quite common in infants. Babies may exhibit all these behaviors for different reasons at different ages. It helps to know the reasons behind the frequent wakings. Try the tips mentioned above, and soon, you will be able to get the baby to sleep undisturbed for hours while you and your partner get a good night’s sleep too.
2. 4-Month Sleep Regression; SleepFoundation.org
3. Sleep and Your Newborn; The Nemours Foundation
4. Elaine KH Tham, Nora Schneider, and Birit FP Broekman; Infant sleep and its relation with cognition and growth: a narrative review; Nature and Science of Sleep (2017).
5. J A D Spencer, et al.; White noise and sleep induction; NCBI (1989).