Picture this: You’re roused awake (again…) to the sound of your baby crying, because these days your baby wakes up multiple times in the night…
Or perhaps your baby wakes up crying hysterically and you don’t know how to help your baby grow out of night waking.
You feel mildly annoyed that your beauty sleep has come to a halt and you can tell that you desperately need some more sleep in order to avoid looking like a zombie (yet again…) in the morning.
But you also feel sad and bad for your poor baby who just can’t figure out nighttime sleep.
What goes through your head?
Have you ever thought: “Ugh! Why is my baby waking up at night AGAIN?! If I could just figure out WHY, maybe this would get easier…”
If so, keep reading to learn 16 of the most common reasons babies wake up overnight and how to help your baby sleep better ASAP.
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16 Reasons Causing Your Baby’s Night Waking
It is natural for your baby to wake up.
Believe it or not, it’s actually natural and normal for your baby to wake up overnight.
From a biological standpoint, your baby is designed to wake often in order to signal his needs to you. This prevents him from sleeping too hard (which slows down breathing and increases the odds of SIDS) or sleeping too long (which spreads out feedings too long and negatively impacts growth).
Your baby depends on you for all of his needs and it’s actually a good thing that your baby wakes up and signals these needs to you so that you can respond to them.
Your baby is at the end of a sleep cycle.
Every night, we all go through several periods of harder and lighter sleep. For adults, we can typically move from one cycle to the next without fully waking unless we need something (like a drink of water, a trip to the restroom, more blankets, etc).
However, with babies, it’s much more common for them to fully awake as they transition from heavy sleeping to light sleeping and they often cry out and need you in order to help make this transition.
Although this can be challenging, if you support your child and offer gentle guidance, your baby WILL learn to stay sleeping during these transitions and only fully wake up if he needs something (like a drink, a diaper change, more blankets, etc.)
Bedtime timing is off.
No baby is exactly the same and no baby has the same naptime and bedtime schedule, but if your baby’s sleep schedule is off, it can cause extra wakings overnight.
Have you ever accidentally taken a 2 hour nap after work before?
Odds are, you woke up (and couldn’t remember what year it was…), spent a little time on your evening routine, and then tried to fall asleep at your normal bedtime.
But no matter how hard you try, you can’t fall asleep and you’re restless for most of the night because your sleep schedule is off. You had too long of a nap and too short of a wake window, and now bedtime sleep is going to be harder than normal.
Our babies are just like this!
Keep an eye on your baby’s wake and sleep signals to figure out the best sleep schedule for your little one.
Your baby is hungry.
Tons of posts online make big claims like: “Once your baby is 5 months old, she doesn’t need to eat anymore and you can start night weaning/sleep training.”
I just don’t buy it.
As an adult, there are still random nights every once in awhile where I wake up starving and I have to eat a quick snack to fall back asleep.
And I’m not going through nearly as many growth spurts as our babies…
Sometimes your baby might wake up because he’s hungry, especially when going through a growth spurt or if he didn’t eat as much during the day. And that’s totally normal.
Your baby is sick.
It’s common knowledge that when your baby is sick or isn’t feeling well, it’s probably going to negatively impact sleep at night.
The challenge is that we can’t always tell when they feel a little under the weather, so sometimes it’s hard to be empathetic and understand that baby just isn’t feeling the best.
Some of the most common illnesses that affect your baby’s sleep are:
Ear Infections: These buggers are the worst! Extra fluid builds up in your baby’s ear. All of the pressure causes intense pain for your baby and it gets worse when your baby lays down. So it only makes sense that your baby won’t sleep as well when she’s fighting an ear infection.
Acid Reflux: Babies have underdeveloped stomachs and esophagi and unfortunately are really prone to acid reflux. When they lay down, their food pushes up against the top of their stomach and moves into the esophagus, which causes lots of pain for your little one (and again, understandably makes it harder to sleep at night).
Colds and Coughs: When your baby has a runny nose or a cough, sleep can be impacted BIG TIME. All of that extra mucus in your baby’s nose clogs his airway and makes it hard to breathe. And lots of extra coughing means extra night time waking.
Stomach Bug: Unfortunately, your baby isn’t immune to a bad flu bug, and if your baby has cramping, fevers, nausea, or diarrhea, odds are sleep will be impacted for a few days until she’s feeling better.
Your baby misses you and wants more one-on-one time.
A really common reason why your baby is waking up at night is because she misses you. When she switches sleep cycles and rouses awake, she realizes that you aren’t there and she wants to cuddle.
Unfortunately, there are many sources out there that claim this is a bad thing.”As long as your baby is fed, dry, and warm, all of her needs are met and she never needs to cuddle with you overnight.” But I really don’t believe this.
There are some days that your baby just needs a few extra cuddles, and by snuggling, bonding, and meeting her emotional needs, you are telling her that you are there for her and respond to her emotional needs too. (Trust me, this will be a really good thing for your communication as she gets older.)
Your baby is too excited to sleep.
I find this reason for overnight waking to be one of the cutest, even if it is challenging to know how to respond when your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to play.
Just like adults, sometimes babies get excited, and by golly, it is hard to sleep when you’re super excited!
Your baby is stressed.
On the flip side, sometimes your baby can’t sleep because he’s feeling stressed or sensing that you are stressed.
Babies pick up on a lot more than we might expect and very naturally pick up on cues we give off to show that we’re happy, mad, stressed, or worried.
If you’re stressed about a bad day, moving to a new home, or returning to work, your baby will likely pick up on these cues and feel more stressed as well.
Likewise, if you’re stressed and anxious at bedtime or during overnight wakings, your baby is more likely to show signs of stress and struggle more with overnight wakings as well.
Your child is teething.
Teething can also cause your child to wake up at night, because it hurts!
Some experts claim that teething hurts more when your baby is laying down, which is why your child may wake up more often while popping out new teeth.
I distinctly remember when my wisdom teeth popped through, and trust me, teething hurts!
Your baby has an undiagnosed tongue tie or other breathing issues.
If your baby is waking hourly, it may be a sign of a medical concern.
Perhaps he has an undiagnosed tongue tie. When this happens, your baby has to work really, really hard to nurse efficiently and will often eat much more frequently day and night.
Or they could have sleep apnea or other breathing issues which are jostling them awake frequently throughout the night.
If your baby is sleeping with his mouth open or tongue down, often snores at night, or wakes hourly most nights, it’s worth mentioning this to your medical provider to see if there might be an underlying medical condition.
Your baby is overtired.
When your baby becomes overtired, it can lead to challenges falling asleep, more overnight wakings, earlier morning waking and all sorts of sleep challenges.
You might need to spend a few days figuring out your baby’s ideal wake window and supporting your baby break the cycle of overtiredness.
Your baby is going through a developmental milestone or behavioral change.
One of my favorite baby-sleep advocates, Lauren from Isla-Grace, talks about sleep “progressions” instead of sleep regressions. When your baby is going through these periods of increased sleep challenges, it’s often because your baby is busy learning new skills and milestones.
We actually have a running joke at our house that our baby is “leveling up” during these sleep progressions because he always comes out with a brand new skill after a handful of nights with more overnight waking.
Your baby is hot or cold.
Just like adults, a common reason for babies to wake up overnight is that they are too hot or too cold.
But unlike adults, they don’t recognize this yet and can’t do anything about it. So they cry and call out to you for help.
Your baby is uncomfortable.
On a similar note, sometimes your baby will wake up during the night and cry because he’s uncomfortable.
If your baby is super uncomfortable, it’s hard to sleep!
Some of the most common causes of overnight discomfort are teething and digestion or gas challenges. Check for new teeth and look for signs of reflux or baby gas if you think this is causing your baby’s overnight wakings.
Your baby is woken up by loud noises or bright lights.
Depending on how heavily your baby is sleeping and what phase of sleep she’s in, lights and loud noises can also cause your baby to wake up overnight.
Try to keep your baby’s room completely dark – you want to pass the “hand test” which means that when you stick your hand out in front of your face, you can’t see it.
Also, consider adding in a sound machine (like this one) or a fan to help mask other noises and soothe your baby to sleep.
Your baby is thirsty.
Sometimes our babies (just like adults) wake up and they’re just plain thirsty. They need a quick drink before settling back to bed.
Although society likes to make moms feel bad for nursing or giving their baby a bottle before sleep or during overnight wakings, this might be exactly what your baby is asking for and a quick drink will help to quench their thirst and then go back to sleep.
Your baby is sleeping like a baby.
When it all comes down to it, it’s super important for parents to remember that babies are supposed to wake up during the night.
I’m not really sure when society started to put so much pressure on new parents to get their babies to sleep through the night, but your baby is waking up because this is completely biologically normal for her to do so.
Absolutely try to find out what works best for you and your baby to find out what is causing night wakings and fix it where you can, but sometimes you just need to lean in for cuddles and know that this phase really will pass before you know it.
I’d love to know what you think!
Has your baby even woken up for any of these reasons? Have you noticed any other reasons for nighttime waking that I should add to the list?
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