Baby Keeps Waking Up At Night? Here’s Why!

baby asleep with arms up. Bella Luna Family blog post about baby keeps waking all night long
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

It can feel like your baby keeps waking up every 10 minutes at night when their sleep (and yours) is so broken! When my twins were babies, I was SO confused about why they were having frequent night wakings.

So today, I’m going to share with you the top 10 reasons babies wake at night in no particular order! Plus I’m adding what you can do to help alleviate the night wakings or how to handle them.

Top 10 Reasons Babies Wake At Night

Reason #1: Sleep Associations

A sleep association, also known as a sleep crutch or sleep prop, is anything your baby or toddler has learned that they need YOU to do to help them fall asleep.

In order to have healthy sleep habits, your little one has to learn that THEY have the skills they need to put themselves to sleep, without any assistance from you.

The most common sleep associations

  • Eating to sleep
  • Rocking and bouncing to sleep
  • Holding to / for sleep
  • Movement sleep – relying on the car, stroller, swing or Snoo,
  • Replacing the pacifier
  • Reactive co-sleeping – bringing your little one into bed with you

What Can You Do?

To move away from relying on sleep associations, you can:

  • Gradually pull back until you can put your baby down wide awake
  • Substitute your baby’s favorite sleep association for another method that works and then slowly pull back from that
  • Sleep training. We can help with this!

Want to learn more about sleep associations? Check out this article.

Reason #2: Light

Light tells our body it is time to be awake. Darkness tells our body it is time to sleep.

Think back to the last Fall time change…were you ready for bed at 5:30 pm the day after the change? I was!

That’s because the sun starts setting earlier, telling our body it is time to sleep. Our body then begins producing our sleepy hormone, melatonin, which makes it easier to fall asleep. If you love science, I explain it at a deeper level in this article.

So if your baby’s room is too light – it can make it more difficult for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep. I recommend my sleep consulting clients make their child’s room a 9 or a 10 out of 10 on a darkness scale!

What Can You Do?

Make your child’s room PITCH black! Find out how to do it…

Reason #3: Temperature

If your child’s room is too hot or too cold, it can cause night wakings. Think about how well you sleep when it is too hot or cold…

The temperature in your child’s room should be between 68-72F (20-22C).

For adults, we can add additional blankets or remove blankets, plus adjust the thermostat ourselves. Our little ones can’t do that. We need to set the temperature in the ideal range and dress our children in the appropriate pajamas and sleep sack to keep them safe and comfy while sleeping.

Babies sleeping in a room that is too hot is a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Learn all about safe sleep here.

What Can You Do?

  • Monitor the temperature in your child’s room to keep it in the ideal range of 68-72F (20-22C)
  • Determine your baby’s ideal temperature and pajamas/ sleep sack combo for ideal comfort

Reason #4: Developmental Milestones

Whenever our children are going through anything developmentally, it can definitely affect sleep!

So if your baby has been sleeping well and then begins to wake frequently at night or begin to fight naps or refuse them, chances are your baby may have hit a sleep regression.  They can last a short while (a few days to a couple of weeks). Although your baby may never fully go back to their previous habits, especially if they have sleep associations! If you want to learn more about sleep regressions, check out our sleep regression series.

What Can You Do?

  • Be patient! As I mentioned above, the regression can last a few days to a couple of weeks.
  • Try not to add in any new sleep associations or go back to old sleep associations that you’ve dropped
  • If things haven’t gotten back on track within a couple of weeks, reach out to us for help. We can get you back on track

Reason #5: Sound

Is your little one sleeping in a silent environment? Or falling asleep with lullabies?

Both of these things can cause night wakings and problems with naps.

Here’s the thing…

It was pretty loud in utero so if you are trying to have your baby sleep in a silent environment, it is going to feel weird for them. Plus, a silent environment ensures that every time the Amazon guy drops off a package, your dog is going to bark and wake the baby!

Also, steer clear of lullabies or variable sounds. These can keep the brain more active and make it difficult for your baby to get into deep sleep. Spending the entire night in light sleep can definitely cause more night wakings, which will affect sleep quality!

Learn all about white noise here.

What Can You Do?

  • Invest in a sound machine and tune it to the white noise option for all sleep. Our favorites can be found here.
  • Keep the sound machine 6 feet from the crib and position it in the room, closest to wherever the loudest sounds come from
  • Ensure the decibel level doesn’t go above 55 inside the crib – you can get a free decibel meter in your phone’s app store

Reason #6: Hunger

Before I mention anything about hunger – I want to make sure that you reach out to your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your baby’s nutrition needs or frequency! The insight below is based on my experience, but I am not a medical professional and your pediatrician is your best guide for feeding questions.

If your baby is a newborn, they will be up around the clock eating, usually every 2-3 hours for the first 8 weeks! It is normal for your newborn baby to keep waking up all night long to eat.

But here’s the thing…

Once your baby is out of the newborn stage, they likely won’t need to eat as frequently at night. At 6 months old, I couldn’t believe that my twins weren’t waking all night long because they were starving wolves!

By the 2 month mark, most babies are able to go 4-6 hours for the first sleep after bedtime, before needing to eat. Then they need 1-2 night feeds from there.

By the 3 month mark, most babies are able to go 5-8 hours for the first sleep after bedtime, before needing to eat. Then they need 1-2 night feeds from there.

When Do Babies Stop Waking Up At Night To Eat?

For breastfed babies, many need one night feed until they are between 7-9 months old.

For formula fed babies, many are ready to drop all feeds between 5-6 months.

If your baby is waking more than your pediatrician recommends, it is likely that feeding is a sleep association.

What Can You Do?

  • Check in with your pediatrician to determine how much and often YOUR baby needs to eat at night.
  • If your baby is waking up more than that, come up with a plan on how to drop unnecessary night feeds. We can help with that!

Reason #7: Sickness

Kiddos getting sick in the middle of the night is so common! If your little one is having abnormal wake ups, sickness could definitely be to blame.

If your baby is sick, they may need some extra comfort and attention at bedtime and at night if they wake.

What Can You Do?

  • Abnormal night wakings always warrant a wellness check – do a quick check if you are concerned that your little one might not be feeling well or your parent instincts say that something isn’t right.
  • For more insight into maintaining healthy sleep habits and tending to your little one when sick, check out this article.

Reason #8: Teething

If your baby is uncomfortable during the day from teething and they start waking at night during that same time period, teething may be playing a part in the night waking. But this is ONLY if your baby normally has healthy sleep habits.

Here’s the thing…

Teething pain and symptoms associated with tooth eruption usually last around 24-72 hours. That’s right, three days at most!

So if the night wakings are continual, it likely isn’t teething.

Teething can be a convenient catch-all for our little one’s sleep problems! Teething was my go to when my twins weren’t sleeping! It feels safe to blame teething because that makes it feel normal, and temporary. It’s a really easy answer to concerns that might otherwise give us lots of anxiety.

Want to read all about teething and sleep? This article gives more detail.

What Can You Do?

  • If your baby is uncomfortable during the day and night, check in with your pediatrician about offering Baby Tylenol or Baby Motrin at bedtime to alleviate any discomfort.
  • If your sleep challenges aren’t teething, I’d look at sleep associations and coming up with a plan to teach your little one healthy sleep habits.

Reason #9: Wet Pajamas or Bedding

No one wants to sleep in a wet spot!

If your little one has an abnormal wake up, wet pajamas or bedding could definitely be the cause!

What Can You Do?

  • When checking in on your baby, rub the mattress and their pajamas to make sure they aren’t wet. If they are, a diaper and pajamas change is in order.
  • If wet pajamas are to blame and it is happening frequently, consider sizing up on diapers; using overnight diapers and for boy moms, definitely make sure your little guy’s penis is pointing down when putting on diapers. They also make these maxi pad-like diaper insert called a Sposie Pad that works really well for extra absorption.

Reason #10: Snoring or Mouth Breathing

If your child is waking up at night and snoring and/or mouth breathing, this could be a red flag. We ask every family that we work with if their child is doing one or the other when we start working with them.

The reason this is so important is that snoring or mouth breathing can make it difficult to stay asleep and it can affect the quality of your child’s sleep. It can also point to other conditions that are causing the snoring or mouth breathing, like:

  • Large or swollen tonsils or adenoids
  • Congestion, often caused by allergies or illness
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Anatomic characteristics – think structural differences in the face, jaw, nose, or palate
  • Contaminated air or exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Snoring and mouth breathing are also potential indicators for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which are incidents where the body stops breathing very briefly, which will cause the body to wake up enough to start breathing again.

What Can You Do?

  • If you notice your baby or child is snoring or breathing through their mouth while sleeping, consult with your pediatrician and ask for a referral to an ENT. A pediatric dentist may also be able to help and can be a good place to start if you are not able to get a referral.
  • Hold off on any sleep training until you are cleared by your pediatrician and/or the ENT.

Need sleep training help? We’ve got you!

If your baby keeps waking up at night and you need help coming up with a plan, we’d love to help you! Our team of certified sleep consultants are here to provide you with insight and a customized sleep plan, plus support if you need it!

Check out our list of consultation package options here.

If you are a DIYer, check out our online baby sleep course, Transform Your Baby’s Sleep.

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