A good night’s sleep is crucial for the well-being of babies. However, you may feel defeated in your parenting attempts if you find your baby waking up every hour or staying awake for hours into the night. Additionally, it can hamper their growth and cause delays in child development.
A thorough understanding of your baby’s sleep patterns can help you take the necessary actions and ensure your baby enjoys a deep sleep for longer hours at night.
Keep reading to understand the possible reasons why your baby wakes up frequently at night and for some tips to improve sleep quality and 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 weaningiXIntroducing solid foods to baby 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 sleep disturbances.
4. Stomach ache
A very common complaint that babies have is gassinessiXCommon signs of gas in the digestive tract include burping, bloating, abdominal distension, and passing gas . 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 cause sleep disruptions.
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 teethingiXThe development of teeth through the gums in infants , 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 and disturb their sleep schedules. 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.
Marian Thomas, a mom and blogger, faced sleep regression issues with her four-month-old. Recalling the journey, she says, “At four months, our baby began waking every hour throughout the night. We were experiencing the 4-month sleep regression. We moved our son into our bed and nursed him to sleep on demand after taking all the safety measures outlined by the APA for this period. It was the most difficult period for me in terms of sleep. Our baby developed a strong sleep association with nursing (i).”
Katie Ramirez, a registered nurse, a certified lactation counselor, and a sleep coach, says, “Often sleep regressions are related to developmental changes in the child. Sometimes these resolve on their own within a few weeks, if the challenge is exacerbated by the developmental change. For example, the child is learning to roll over but gets stuck. Once that child learns to roll over independently, the challenge resolves. Other sleep regressions are due to developmental changes that stay. For example, the child did not need to be rocked to sleep but now prefers to be rocked. If we do not, we teach the child to learn to fall asleep without rocking. They may learn to do this on their own over time, or they may not. And if the child learns to do it on their own, it could be days, weeks, months, or years.”
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 or sleep tips 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.
2. Set a schedule
Creating your baby’s sleep schedule and following a routine that leads to bedtime can help your baby relax and unwind while also helping them 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.
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 your baby’s sleep needs by monitoring 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 and avoid sleep interruptions. 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 bottle-feeding using previously expressed, refrigerated milk.
You can breastfeed the baby and then entrust the task of putting the baby back to sleep to your partner. Sharing the responsibility of comforting the baby during night wakings also offers a great opportunity for you both to bond and grow as parents.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why does my baby nap for only 30 minutes?
The duration and frequency of sleep vary significantly among babies. However, most babies (until one year) sleep 12-16 hours daily, including naps. Also, some babies may nap only for 30 minutes, while others may nap for two or three hours (6).
2. How do I sleep train a baby?
It is ideal to choose a method that you and your baby feel comfortable in and be persistent and patient while sleep training your baby. You may begin sleep training your baby only when they cross the four-month mark. Furthermore, the Ferber, pick up, put down, and chair methods are some effective sleep training techniques for babies (7).
3. Can babies learn to fall asleep without sleep training?
“Yes, many babies will progress through many phases of development, adapt, and learn to sleep just fine. However, 35% of children less than two years old have challenges with sleep,” opines Ramirez.
A new parent often complains about their baby waking up every hour through the night. It can be exhausting for parents when this goes on for months. There might be many reasons why babies keep waking up frequently. Finding the underlying cause and working on fixing it can save you from disturbed sleep. The tips mentioned above can help you train your baby to sleep for longer hours at a stretch. However, be consistent with your efforts to yield results.
Infographic: Babies’ Waking Up Patterns And Encouraging Night Sleep
A baby’s sleep pattern transforms considerably over the first year. Some babies may have longer naps, while others tend to wake early, with most needing support to go back to sleep at night. Learn about the typical waking patterns in babies and how to aid your baby sleep for longer by reading through this infographic.
- Babies’ sleeping patterns differ depending on their age and habits. They should get 14 to 17 hours of sleep per night, with three to four hourly feeding intervals.
- Factors such as hunger, nasal congestion, underlying health issues, or changes in the sleep routine may disrupt their sleep.
- To assist children in getting a good night’s sleep, try creating a cozy setting, avoiding extended daytime naps, or gradually allowing them to fall asleep independently.
Are you struggling with your child waking up every two hours? Learn why this is happening and how to help your child sleep better in this video.
Personal Experience: Source
1. Eleanor Bathory and Suzy Tomopoulos; Sleep Regulation, Physiology and Development, Sleep Duration and Patterns, and Sleep Hygiene in Infants, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children; ScienceDirect (2017).
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).
6. Sleep and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old; KidsHealth
7. Hair Tourniquet; Cleveland Clinic
8. Everything you need to know about 9-month sleep regression; Children’s Health of Orange County (CHOC)
9. 4-Month Sleep Regression; Sleep Foundation