It’s probably one of the most Googled questions of new parents:
Why is my child waking up so much at night?!
Night wakings can be exhausting for anyone, and when a child is waking up multiple times throughout the night needing help falling back to sleep, it’s exhausting on a whole new level.
When I was a new mom, I felt that exhaustion deep in my core.
My son would wake up every hour on the hour, and the only way I was able to get him back to sleep was with nursing.
Eventually, I realized that there was no way I could go another night with the constant wake ups, and when I helped my son get the sleep he needed, it was life changing for everyone.
The thing is, I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only mother who felt like there was no other way to get her child to sleep. I know I’m not the only parent who had a child who woke up every hour throughout the night.
The great thing is, there’s a solution to night wakings. First, we need to get to the root of why your child is waking up.
And since there are many reasons why children wake up throughout the night, let’s go through some of the most common reasons and talk about strategies for how to solve those wakings.
Reason #1: Your child is waking because they’re hungry
Newborns will wake frequently throughout the night because they are hungry and need to eat. However, as your child ages, they will typically be able to go longer stretches between feedings.
If your child isn’t going longer stretches between feeds and they wake up so often you lose count, you can start to evaluate whether they’re feeding due to hunger or comfort.
If your child is awake and actively feeding, they’re likely hungry. If they’re suckling and falling asleep quickly, it’s a good sign they’re feeding for comfort.
Deciding when to wean feedings is a choice that you can make with your doctor. You’ll want to ensure your child is healthy and gaining weight appropriately, and once you’re given the green light, you can begin to cut back on those night feeds.
Of course, if you’re breastfeeding, be sure to communicate with your physician, as you wouldn’t want to impact your milk supply or risk engorgement by suddenly stopping feedings.
Reason #2: Your child is waking because they had too much daytime sleep
Long naps are amazing, but if your child is getting too much sleep during the day, it can interfere with their nighttime sleep.
Think of it this way: Your child needs a certain amount of sleep in a 24-hour period. If they’re getting a good chunk of that sleep during the day, their bodies simply won’t need as much sleep overnight.
Sometimes this will result in early morning wakings, where your little one wakes up between 4-6 am ready to start their day.
Other times, it can result in a split night, where your child is waking up for hours at a time during the night.
And other times, your baby will wake up multiple times all night long.
All of these situations can be exhausting, not only for you, but your child as well.
If your child is taking solid naps during the day and you’re worried they’re getting too much sleep, download my free Master Sleep Chart today.
Not only will this chart tell you how many naps your child needs each day, but it will tell you how much sleep your child should be getting during the day.
If you find that your child is getting more than the recommended amount, you can work to bring their daytime sleep to where it needs to be.
Reason #3: Your child is waking because they are overtired
I know this one may seem counterintuitive: If your child is overly tired, shouldn’t they just be able to fall asleep and stay asleep all night?
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
When your baby stays awake longer than their ideal awake window, cortisol levels rise in their bodies. And when cortisol is higher, melatonin is lower. Too much cortisol can prevent your child from actually getting into a deep sleep that will push them through the night.
The quickest way to determine if your baby is overtired is to evaluate their wake windows. If your child is regularly staying awake longer than their age-appropriate wake window, it’s likely they’re overtired.
Luckily, helping your overtired child catch up on sleep isn’t too complex.
Follow your child’s wake windows throughout the day.
Put your baby to bed 30 minutes early to allow them to catch up on missed sleep.
Let them nap as long as they naturally will for a few days.
Let them wake up whenever they naturally wake up in the morning for a few days.
Reason #4: Your child is waking because they rely on a sleep association to fall back to sleep
The truth is, all humans wake up throughout the night. Typically, that wake is so brief that we don’t even register it and we fall back to sleep quickly.
For some children who rely on a sleep association, they’re unable to fall back to sleep on their own.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a sleep association, when it’s something that your child isn’t able to provide to themselves, it can make it frustrating for them, as they’ll need to call out for support.
For instance, if your child is rocked to sleep every night, when they wake up, they’re unable to go back to sleep until they’re rocked. The swinging motion that they are accustomed to has become a sleep association, and they simply don’t know how to go to sleep without that.
Another example is the pacifier for young infants. Sucking is a strong reflex and can help soothe your baby, which is why many babies will fall asleep well with a pacifier. But when the pacifier falls out of their mouth in the middle of the night, they’re going to need it in order to fall back to sleep.
And when they aren’t able to replace the pacifier in their mouth, they cry out for help.
There are two ways to help your child who is reliant on a sleep association:
Remove it cold turkey. Depending on your child’s temperament, you may decide removing that sleep association is best.
Gradually phase it out. If you rock your child to sleep each night, begin to ease back on how long you rock them. Instead of rocking them completely to sleep, rock them until they’re sleepy and then put them down in their crib.
I know that removing sleep associations is not an easy task, and I’ve found that when my clients have support, it can make a huge difference. If you know that you need support while you work on removing sleep associations, reach out to me today!
Reason #5: Your child is waking because of their sleep environment
When your child was a newborn, they likely were able to fall asleep anywhere, regardless of how bright or noisy the surroundings were.
As children grow and become more alert, their environment plays a bigger role in their ability to sleep well.
If your child is waking up in the middle of the night and you have checked off every other possible reason on this list, evaluate their sleep environment.
Does your child sleep with a nightlight or glow-in-the-dark stars on their ceiling? Any light can interfere with your child’s sleep, so get rid of the lights and ensure the room is dark.
Is outside noise creeping in and disturbing your child? Make sure the white noise machine is at an appropriate level and placed in between your child and their door.
Don’t underestimate the power of a sleep environment that is conducive for sleep – it can make a huge impact.
Now that we’ve gone over the common reasons why children wake overnight, you can start to identify which “category” your child falls in, and begin helping them sleep more solidly through the night.
I also want you to know that if you feel too exhausted and overwhelmed to try and determine the reason for your child’s waking, or you feel as though you have literally tried everything to help them sleep longer stretches, we can work one-on-one together and I can guide you to more blissful nights.
Being a parent can be hard, but when you reach out and get the support you need, it can open a world of possibilities.