In the first 12 weeks of your little one being born, they are growing and adapting to the world around them; learning about this strange outside environment. During this time, it is extremely common for your baby to wake up frequently during the night and have what appears to be an irregular sleep pattern. There are a number of reasons that your baby could be waking up so often during the night, but there are several effective steps you can take to help your baby adjust to a better sleep schedule. Give yourself and your baby more valuable sleep at night by understanding why they wake so much and implementing steps to help develop their circadian rhythm.
In the first 6 months, your new-born will most likely wake up frequently during the night because they do not have a fully developed circadian rhythm (the cycle that helps our bodies know when it is day and when it is night). This means that it is completely natural for your baby to have trouble adjusting to sleeping properly during the night. However, it is vital that you and your baby get a good night’s sleep, to ensure they are developing properly and to keep you sane! Your baby needs day time naps but the night time is when your baby should get the most sleep. Here are the most common reasons that your baby may struggle to sleep more at night:
Hunger is an extremely common reason that babies struggle to sleep at night. If your little one hasn’t had enough milk during the day, they are most likely hungry. Your baby will also wake up during the night for feeding, so make sure they get enough milk to settle back to sleep. Ensure that you are feeding at regular age-appropriate intervals during the day to ensure that you are meeting day time nutritional needs. This may involve waking a sleeping baby during the day to feed; which goes against that old wife's tale to not wake a sleeping baby!
It is key that your baby naps during the day, but doesn’t have too many hours of napping! For babies under 6 weeks old, there should be around 4 to 5 hours of total nap time during the day, and for babies ages 6 to 12 weeks old, there should be 3 to 4 hours of nap time, to properly aid their development. By waking for feeds and stimulating between feeds it will help baby to not end up in a situation of day/night confusion - which is very common.
It is completely normal for your child to catch a cold or get sick from time to time, which will most definitely affect their sleep at night. If you suspect your baby is sick then seek medical attention to check that everything is okay & provide whatever comfort you need to in order to keep things as settled as possible.
Just like adults, if a child is too hot or too cold then they are going to feel uncomfortable and struggle to sleep, or wake up frequently. You can usually tell if your baby is too hot or cold by placing your hand gently on their chest or back of their neck. Extremities like hands and feet will always appear colder and are not reflective of core temperature.
There are other reasons that your child could be waking up frequently during the night so it is a good idea to try out a variety of methods to find out what helps your baby sleep and why they are struggling.
Sleep is so important for babies, so if your baby wakes a lot during the night, you should try a range of steps to improve the quality of their sleep. Luckily, there are a variety of ways that you can help your little one sleep more during the night. This will not only help their development but give you the sleep you need during the night.
If your baby is younger than 6 weeks old then they should be napping for a total of 4 to 5 hours per day with 45 minutes to 1 hour time awake between naps. Once your baby has reached 6 weeks of age, they should be napping for around 3.5 to 4.5 hours per day with a wake period of approx 90 minutes between naps. If your newborn is napping too much during the day then you should gently wake them by picking them up or unwrapping them from blankets or clothing.
Once your baby has woken from a nap, try to keep them awake for an appropriate period. You can do this by stimulating them; play with them, talk to them, show them around their environment. Keeping your baby stimulated and awake will mean that they do not nap too much during the day and be deprived of sleep during the night.
Some more information here on naps.
Increasing the amount of natural light your baby is exposed to during the day is very important to the development of circadian rhythms. Get out for plenty of fresh air and walks in natural light. Outside of sleep times spend time in brightly lit living spaces not associated with sleep. However, at sleep times, including naps, ensure that their sleep environment is as dark as possible.
Darkness supports the sleepy hormone, melatonin in doing its work around getting us to sleep and staying asleep. It cannot do this work in a brightly lit space. So, darkness in day and night sleep is very important. During the night keep your baby’s nursery as dark as possible; even when you are in there, keep just enough light so that you can see what you are doing. Your little one will learn to associate the darkness with sleep, and encourage them to sleep for longer periods of time.
If your child sleeps in their own room or nursery at night, try to make the environment as relaxing and soothing as possible. You can do this by keeping the room dark or playing white noise such as heartbeat sounds or calming and quiet music, and by ensuring you remain calm while talking to or engaging with your baby in the nursery. Try to keep all energetic and playful interactions out of the nursery and in the living area where it is light so that your baby knows to associate the light with being awake.
To combat hunger which will affect your baby’s sleep at night, try to feed more during the day. Even if you have to wake your little one from a nap, try to feed them in age-appropriate cycles during the day. Feeding your baby more frequently during the day will mean they are less likely to be so hungry when it is time to sleep at night.
Caffeine can affect your baby just as it affects you! If you are a breastfeeding parent and you consume a lot of caffeine then it could easily be the reason that your child is struggling to fall or stay asleep during the night. Try to reduce the caffeine you are consuming during the day and see whether it helps your baby sleep.
These steps are simple, yet effective to developing your baby’s sleep pattern properly, and encouraging them to sleep more at night than they do during the day. It is completely normal for your little one to wake up a lot during the night while they are adjusting to a schedule, but if you suspect there is an underlying issue then make sure you speak to your GP.
Need more help? Our online Baby Sleep Series is designed to support you meet your sleep goals!