We explain how to settle your baby back into a sleep routine if they've suddenly started waking in the night.
If you've settled your baby into a sleep routine and have got used to almost uninterrupted sleep it can be incredibly frustrating if your baby starts to wake up in the middle of the night again. This is, however, incredibly common and most infants will go through at least one 'night waking' phase after they've learned to sleep through.
Babies, just like adults experience sleep cycles each night whereby different phases of sleep are punctuated by short periods of being awake. When you taught your baby to sleep through the night they learnt how to move from one sleep cycle to the next without waking themselves fully. In all likelihood there will have been some sort of trigger that will have broken this habit and caused your baby's spell of night waking. So, the key to help your baby sleep through the night once again is it to identify the trigger and remind them how to settle back to sleep without your help.
Why is my baby night waking?
There are a huge number of reasons why your baby might have started waking up during the night but here are the most common:
How to help your baby sleep through
- Illness - Its very common for babies to start waking up at night if they're feeling poorly or are just recovering from an illness, especially if they have gotten used to being taken into bed with you or have you soothe them back to sleep during the night.
- Teething - The discomfort of teething may be causing your baby to wake at night. Check your baby's top and bottom gums to look for signs they're cutting their first tooth.
- Development - Infants often start waking as they learn new developmental skills, it's almost as if they want to practice their new ability as much as they can.
- Comfort - Something about your baby's sleeping environment may be causing them to wake fully in the night. Check whether their room is a comfortable temperature, whether they have on the right amount of clothes and bedding, whether there is a change in the amount of light shining into their room or whether there is a specific night time noise that is causing them to wake.
- Growth spurt - Your baby's waking may simply be down to a growth spurt when, typically, baby's feel more hungry than usual. If you have already stopped night time feeds you could try giving them a little more milk in their bedtime feed, increase the amount of solids they're consuming slightly or even consider weaning if they're past six months and not on solids yet.
- Change - Night waking could be your baby's way of processing a change in their environment whether you've moved their cot, been on holiday or something else entirely.
If there is something obvious that's waking your baby in the night then you should try and modify this as best you can to help them return to uninterrupted sleep (i.e. if their room is to cold use an extra blanket or it it's light from outside that's disturbing them fit blackout blinds to their window). However, if you can't find anything that has obviously triggered their relapse to night wakings then the best approach to take is to revert back to the methods that you used to teach them to sleep through the first time around.
It can be a good idea to:
- Keep a consistent bedtime routing - It can be tempting to put your baby to bed later in the hope this will help them to sleep through the night but this can actually have the opposite effect as sleep deprivation is likely to make your baby wake up even more. If anything it can be a good idea to settle your baby to sleep a little earlier and see how they respond as being overtired may be what's causing them to wake. Also, a soothing bath, book and bedtime routine (or whatever works for you and your baby) will help your baby relax and wind down for a good nights sleep.
- Maintain a daytime nap schedule - Young infants work well to routines and a consistent daytime nap schedule will help prevent your baby from becoming overtired and will ensure that when it comes to bedtime your baby is ready for sleep.
- Reinforce the idea that night is for sleeping - You will need to help your baby relearn that night time is not the right time to play, chat and be awake. You can do this by keeping bright lights, noise and contact to a minimum. Unless your baby is feeling poorly avoid picking them up or taking them out of their cot as this will only reinforce the idea that you'll come and give them attention whenever they call even if it's the middle of the night. Similarly you should also try avoid unnecessary feeds and changes if you've stopped night time feeding. Music, mobiles or other toys should also be avoided or your baby is likely to depend on them as cues for sleep and need them every time they wake.
Although night waking can be a very stressful phase to deal with again reassure yourself that as your baby learned to sleep through the night before, they'll be able to do it again and while it may take a couple of weeks to get them back in the habit, they will relearn this skill and you will be able to enjoy a peaceful night's sleep once again.
Whether you have experience, advice or concerns about your baby night waking or anything else, why not visit the AskBaby forums and chat to other parents who understand what you're going through.