Sleep can be such a puzzle when it comes to our babies. One night (or several nights), you may have experienced a gradual move to longer night stretches. You think you’re finally in the clear for a good night’s sleep! Then suddenly, one night, your baby wakes every hour. And your good night’s sleep seems like it was just a dream.
You hope that perhaps it was just a bad night. Maybe it was due to hunger or illness. But then you slowly see that your “off” night has become a new normal of hourly wake-ups. What could it be? And what can you do to make it stop?
What To Do When Baby Wakes Every Hour
The best way to find the answer is to ask yourself these key questions to help you get to your longer night stretches:
Is my child hungry?
This might be the first question. While it isn’t usually the typical culprit, it’s an excellent factor to eliminate. Work with your pediatrician and your lactation consultant to determine the proper feeding goals for your child. Ensure that they are getting the correct number of calories and feeds for your child’s age and weight goals.
Is my child overtired?
It might sound counterintuitive, but a child who is overtired or has an overabundance of sleep pressure can cause night wakings. When a child is awake for too long, they begin to produce cortisol and adrenaline, making it more difficult for them to stay asleep, fall asleep, and consolidate their night sleep. Reviewing your child’s nap schedule to ensure they get ample sleep during the day can help with these nightly wake-ups.
Is my child tired?
Maybe you checked your child’s schedule, and they are taking good naps. Not just good naps, but really, really solid naps. Perhaps they are just too good? Start with an audit of your child’s sleep.
Use the American Academy of Pediatric guidelines to determine if your child is getting too much day sleep. Too much day sleep can shift the balance of total sleep, making it very hard for your child to stay asleep at night. Next, look at your nap schedule to understand if you may be ready to cap some naps or drop a nap.
Is there something in their environment causing them to wake at each cycle?
While this isn’t always a common reason, it is valid! Our children’s sleep cycles are around 60 minutes. At the end of the 60-minute cycle, they fall into a light phase of sleep that allows them to be easily awoken. Is the environment too hot or too cold? Are there any other environmental disturbances like sound? The best tip is to keep the room nice and cool (between 68-71 degrees) with a sound machine to block out other household noises.
Is your child able to fall back asleep on their own?
Another good question related to this is whether your child’s environment when they fall asleep is the same as when they wake in the middle of the night? What does this have to do with nightly wake-ups? If all other pieces above have been addressed, children frequently wake at night because they notice their environment around them has changed.
Imagine if you were snuggled up with someone, fell asleep, and felt that something around you had changed in your light phase of sleep. You opened your eyes and were in a different room, and your ‘snuggle’ was gone. This is probably enough to have you wake up and feel many emotions. This is where independent sleep can help decrease night wakings.
Helping your child feel safe to fall asleep on their own, with all the tools they need to fall asleep independently, allows them to fall back asleep with little surprise during their lightest phases of sleep. Why? They wake up in the same environment and circumstance they fell asleep or last remembered. So, instead of wondering what happened, your child happily realizes nothing has changed and falls back asleep. Sleep training for independent sleep, no matter what approach you decide to use, has shown to be effective in decreasing night wakings.
Is your child learning something new?
It is common to see fragmented sleep during major sleep regressions at four months, eight months, and 12 months. The best tools to help your child navigate these are related to the questions above and the new skills they are learning to master. Maybe your child is already independently falling asleep, and you are still experiencing these hourly night wakings. If you are confident in your child’s schedule, you can consider this a minor detour in your sleep routine.
The best way to navigate through regressions during this significant milestone is to determine what skill(s) your child may be trying to master . . . and help them master it! Sometimes the novelty of trying to learn something new can be a significant reason your baby wakes every hour. Work on this newfound skill during the day, help them to their goals, stay consistent at bedtime and your routine, and you will find things are back to normal within a few weeks.
When your baby wakes every hour, it can be exhausting for parents. But stick to these troubleshooting steps to help you navigate through it all. Then, find a suitable sleep training method or sleep routine, get the support you need, and know a good night’s sleep can be just around the corner!