Why is my child waking up at night?
How come my baby can sleep 2 hours uninterrupted some nights? And 5 hours the next?
I have seen her sleep better than she is!!! Why isn’t she doing this every night?
Pretty much the million dollar questions, I know! And ones I am still answering daily, even after I have started working with a family, and we are problem solving to find out what exactly makes their baby “tick”.
The truth of the matter is, babies do not sleep like adults.
As adults we sleep in 3 – 4 hour stretches at nighttime. Typically we connect two sleep cycles such as these and form our 6 – 8 hour night. Sometimes this is with little to no disruption. Other nights, we are wide awake middle of the night and wondering if we should get up and be productive!
All of us wake up at night. Me. You. The nextdoor neighbour. The guy who walks the dog. Yes! We all wake up at night. We might nudge our spouse over. We might wake up to pee (one can only hope..). Or we might get a glass of water.
Babies also wake up at night. However, their sleep cycles are much shorter than adults. These range from 30 – 45 minutes during the day, and are more like 90 minutes to 4 hours at night.
Since we know that the transition from “awake to asleep” is a vulnerable change of state for most humans, with infants being no exception – it is natural and normal that a baby might need some assistance to connect from one sleep cycle to the next.
Inconvenient for us. Yes.
Inconvenient for baby. Probably much less so.
Of course there are other factors at play beyond a baby’s sleep cycle being shorter on average than an adults, that can contribute to night wakings.
What time you are putting your child to bed, and what their daily rhythm looks like will play a part in this process.
I certainly do see children have more trouble sleeping when they are put to bed for the night overtired. I also see them struggle to sleep when their day has been super busy, or full of events that are out of the norm.
When we get behind the child’s eye, and think through what a busy day might mean for that child.. some of their night waking behaviour sometimes becomes more clear.
For example; baby is taken to a large family dinner.
These are all hypothetical, and by no means am I saying you shouldn’t take your baby out to a family dinner once in a while. Your baby will certainly benefit from going out to a large family dinner once in a while!
But, I am using this as an example of how the repercussions of this might actually present themselves in your child’s sleep.
- Baby’s nap is cut short so that the family can ensure they are on time for the start of supper.
- Baby’s post-nap snack of fruit, veggie, and dairy is cut, and a granola bar is offered in the car instead.
- Baby spends time in arms at the gathering; going from person to person who oodles at their cuteness.
- Baby does not spend any time on the ground crawling around, because the family has a large dog, and parents are nervous about this.
- Baby spends very little time crawling, furniture cruising, and maximising energy output.
- Baby is fed a food item for dinner that they have never had before.
- Mom is nervous about breastfeeding babe in front of her cousin, and therefore skips a regular feeding time without even noticing this.
- Baby falls asleep for a minute or two in the car seat on the way home, and then has difficulty transferring to the crib.
- Baby wakes frequently overnight as a result of x, y, z.
When our days follow a regular rhythm and predictability, baby does get used to this. And it also makes it easier to troubleshoot on those difficult nights what exactly might have gone wrong, if anything.
Night wakings are for many reasons. We know this.
Thirst. Hunger. Milk. Extra touch-time. Cuddles. Comfort. Checking you are still there.. just to name a few!
Now what I will say is this;
Many babies do seek to recreate the way they fell asleep at bedtime, to transition from one sleep cycle to the next.
There is nothing wrong with this. It is natural. It is normal.
But, if the “thing” you are finding your child “needs” in the middle of the night is the same thing they required to fall asleep at bedtime, you may want to help them learn to fall asleep in a few different ways, and see what comes of this exploration?!
And as always, I am here if you prefer to make the line a little straighter, and journey to sleep in a way that is a little more concrete.