We all wake up periodically between sleep cycles at night. But, when your baby is waking up excessively, it can leave you feeling frustrated and exhausted. While there are many reasons why a baby might wake, here are the five main reasons your baby could be waking at night…besides hunger.
Babies change a lot during their first few years of life. Developmental milestones are fun! Your baby will learn to roll, crawl, babble, talk – we love that part of parenting!
But, when your baby is learning all of these new fun skills, your baby’s mind is busy. And, that can keep your baby awake at night.
During this time period, when your baby’s sleep is impacted, we call this a sleep regression. A sleep regression is a period of time, usually around 3 to 6 weeks, when your baby stops sleeping well for no apparent reason.
Most babies will go back to sleeping better when it’s over unless you’ve developed some new habits that need to change. This brings us to the next reason babies wake at night.
Sleep Associations (aka Sleep Props)
Once your baby hits the 4-month sleep regression, the way you get your baby to sleep becomes very important. During this sleep regression, your baby will begin to wake up between sleep cycles just like we adults do.
Many babies who are rocked, fed, bounced, driven in the car, or walked in the stroller to get to sleep become dependent on it to get them back to sleep.
Imagine if you woke up in the middle of the night and your pillow was gone. You might feel dependent on your pillow to sleep, therefore, you would have trouble going back to sleep. This is what happens to your baby when they are rocked to sleep, for example. They need to be rocked over and over again to get back to sleep throughout the night.
When it comes to sleep associations or sleep props, some babies are mildly dependent while others are extremely dependent. And, of course, there are those in between. Just like adults, a baby’s temperament and personality will matter when it comes to responding to various things. More mild-mannered, easy-going babies who like sleep might adapt while more spirited, sensitive babies might need a lot of attention.
Babies get teeth on and off from just a few months old to two years old. Some babies will cut their first tooth as early as 4-5 months old while others might not until after a year old.
Typically, if teething is going to wake your baby at night, it will be when the tooth is cutting through the gum. Although parents worry a lot about whether their baby is waking up for teething, in my experience of 10+ years, I have found this is not as common a reason for a baby to wake at night for very long.
During the height of teething, your baby might wake excessively at night for 3-5 days or so and then go back to sleeping well. This is assuming they were already a good sleeper.
Of course, if your baby gets teeth in pairs, this could mean that your baby is waking at night for double the amount of time. And, some babies get tooth after tooth for a period of several weeks.
It’s hard to know for sure if your baby is waking from teething but, typically, you will notice your baby is also fussier during the day. I would advise being cautious about blaming your baby’s waking on teething if you don’t see a tooth about to pop through.
Just as some children and adults don’t like tags on their shirts and why we now have a lot of tagless t-shirts, some babies are more sensitive than others when it comes to a wet or dirty diaper.
Most babies will not need to have their wet diapers changed overnight beyond their first few months of life. However, this might not be the case if you’re using cloth diapers. Disposable diapers are so absorbent these days that you generally don’t have to worry about changing a wet diaper at night once they are eating twice a night or less, on average.
Dirty diapers, on the other hand, do need to be changed. Otherwise, your baby might get a diaper rash. Thankfully, humans stop pooping in their sleep, eventually. However, when your baby first starts solids, your baby’s body systems need to adapt and get on a new schedule. So, you might find your baby is waking at night due to a dirty diaper.
Lastly, sometimes diapers leak. This might be due to too much milk intake during the night, depending on your baby’s age. If your baby’s diaper is leaking, going up one size or using overnight diapers would be your best bet. Some parents have to add inserts in addition to that. If your baby is ready to eat less at night, that would be another step to consider.
Wrong Sleep Schedule
Lastly, one of the big reasons babies wake at night is having the wrong baby sleep schedule. Unfortunately, babies don’t always just fall asleep when they are tired. The primary problem with this is when your baby gets overtired, it’s harder to settle to sleep and harder to stay asleep.
Therefore, keeping your baby awake too long between sleep periods is one of the worst things for your baby’s sleep. It’s one of the biggest misconceptions that keeping your baby awake longer will make them sleep better at night. The contrary is true.
Help your baby sleep better during the day and they will sleep better at night.
There is such a thing as “too much” daytime sleep and that can also keep your baby awake at night. But, most people will not have this issue past the newborn stage. Babies tend to balance their day and night sleep fairly well.
Now that you know the 5 primary reasons babies wake at night, you can address them and get your baby sleeping through the night in no time!