Night waking is one of the most googled baby sleep issues. If you have found yourself searching for a solution to your over night wake ups read on...
Firstly, I want to normalise night waking as part of healthy human sleep. The modern world promotes the need for babies to sleep through the night from almost arriving home but we need to be realistic. Stick with me on this...
No-one truly sleeps through the night; both adults and children wake during sleep - think of it as a primitive survival technique protecting you from danger. Sleeping through the night is not possible without a wake up or 10! But successful sleepers do not call out or look for support. Instead, they have learnt to turn over and put themselves back to sleep. It is not the waking that is the issue - it is the level of support one needs to go back to sleep that exhausts most parents.
Please understand that Newborns have very small tummies and take milk little and often. No consultant should ever promise through the night on a young baby. Although possible earlier, it is developmentally realistic to expect your child to sleep through the night (without calling for you) from 6-12months of age.
Although normal, the disruption of waking through the night can be improved. Let's review the common causes of night waking
1. ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUE
Loud noises, temperature change, light entering the room are all potentially disruptive to your baby's sleep. To ensure this does not continue
Follow safe sleep guidelines (Australian guidelines can be found here)
Darken their room (so dark you could not read a book)
Use a constant white noise for every sleep, day and night
Monitor the room temperature. Room temperature is usually at the lowest between 3-5am. A sleeping bag is a great solution to keep baby comfortable.
Avoid fans/heaters directly facing baby. Aim to heat/cool the room not your baby.
Hunger is commonly blamed for night waking when often it is not the root cause of the wake up. Just because baby took the feed, doesn't always mean they needed it. Feeding your baby every time they wake, regardless of hunger/time between feeds could form a feed-to-sleep association. Babies with this association can be seen to wake 1-2 hourly overnight.
Think of feeding as a 24 hour job - if baby has adequate calories through the day they are less likely to wake at night. On the contrary, too many over night feeds could impact their day time feeding. Many parents find themselves in an undesirable feeding pattern favouring night feeds.
To ensure overnight waking is not related to hunger daytime feeds need to be full and well spaced. Short, insufficient feeds, aka snack feeding, commonly issue impact sleep. If your baby is 5+ months and can not go 2-4+ hours between feeds assess if your feed is FULL enough. Could you change a nappy, wind baby, then offer a "top up" from the remainder of the bottle or the other breast?
Regular night feeds could also lead to a full nappy requiring over night changes. Such disturbances can lead to a full wake up or an inability to resettle, especially in the early hours of the morning.
3. DAY SLEEP
Sleep breeds sleep. A child who is not getting enough day sleep, is more likely to wake over night. More often than not, night waking can be attributed to over tiredness.
A common complaint of my sleep clients is a cruel phenomenon of baby waking for prolonged periods (usually 1-3 hours) in the night. Seemingly wide awake and wanting to party, no settling efforts seem to work. This is all about incorrect science of sleep. Review your naps as they are usually to blame. Too much or too little daytime sleep reduces baby's pressure to sleep well at night. Ensure baby is following an age appropriate sleep schedule.
4. INABILITY TO SELF SETTLE
Anything your baby uses to assist them to sleep is known as a sleep association. Every time baby wakes they look for these habits to be repeated. If your baby fell asleep in your arms, on the breast, with a dummy they will look for that same pattern at every wake up. The key is to teach baby how to settle themselves; without the rocking, patting, feeding. If baby can put themselves back to sleep without needing you there longer stretches of sleep are possible.
5. TEETHING, ILLNESS AND MILESTONES
Teething can feel endless! Two years of teeth moving can make for significant sleep struggles. It is likely your child will be uncomfortable throughout the day and not just the night if we are to blame night waking on teeth. Expect 1-3 days where teeth may cause discomfort. Offer extra TLC and follow advice from your GP for treatment for teething. Although it is important to comfort a child clearly in pain, try to stay close to your normal sleep and settling routines. Less desirable sleep habits can form quickly and stick around long after the teething pain has ceased.
Milestones are an exciting part of your child's development. As baby learns a new skill (crawling, walking, talking, solids) you may see a shift in their sleep skills. Their little bodies work hard to consolidate these new skills during sleep. If you suddenly suffer a few disturbed nights a new skill may soon be on display. Offer plenty of opportunity to practice these new skills during their awake periods.
A child who snores is a red flag for sleep and should be discussed with your paediatrician.
It may surprise you to learn that worms can be a common cause in children waking through the night. Discuss your concerns and treatment options with your GP.
Night waking is a normal part of parenting. But exhaustion does not have to be your parenting journey. If your baby wakes frequently over night review these potential causes. Before assuming teeth or hunger are to blame consider first how baby falls asleep. A dependence on you for resettling could be the cause of your night wake ups. If you are ready to sleep longer Enhance Sleep can formulate a gentle sleep plan that works.
Sleep deprivation is torture. Tessa Gow is a midwife and certified sleep consultant working with families across the globe. She offers nurturing methods with lasting results. Let her be the support and guidance you need to get through this. On the other side of a consultation with Enhance Sleep is rested, functioning families. Take the first step towards healthy sleep by contacting me today.