Never Wake a Sleeping Baby?

Sleeping baby in crib
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

I’m convinced whoever came up with the phrase “never wake a sleeping baby” must’ve been blessed with a unicorn baby. You know…those magical infants that rarely cry, sleep through the night early on and put themselves to sleep without a peep?

While this advice might work for those few lucky ones…it can cause some serious sleep struggles for the rest of us!

So, what’s the real deal? Is there any truth to this advice? Or is it totally a myth? When should we wake babies and when should we let them sleep?

5 Good Reasons to Wake a Sleeping Baby (and a couple of reasons not to!)

As a Child Sleep Consultant, I’m going to break down why, for the most part, “never wake a sleeping baby” is a total myth. So let’s dive into some good reasons to wake a sleeping baby and a couple of instances when we can let them SLEEP!

Reason #1: To Feed a Newborn

In the first weeks of a baby’s life, they sleep a lot, but they also need to wake up a lot to eat since their stomachs are so tiny. It is sometimes vital to wake them to ensure they are receiving adequate caloric intake.

In those early days, it’s very important that they are gaining back their birth weight and gaining weight appropriately. Seek your pediatrician’s guidance on how often your newborn should be fed; when they can begin stretching out their feedings; and you can stop waking your baby to eat.

Reason #2: To Help Sort Out Day/Night Confusion

During the first 8-12 weeks of life, many newborns have their days and nights completely mixed up.   Babies are much more alert during the night and sleep more often during the day. In fact, our internal sleep clock (circadian rhythms) is not fully developed until between 5 and 6 months of age.

Yes, this makes getting some shut-eye very challenging for Mom and Dad! The good news? It’s temporary and your baby should begin sleeping longer stretches around 6-8 weeks.

In the meantime, what can we do to help our newborns? This a biological process that cannot be rushed, but there are some things we can do to promote healthy sleep:

  • When your baby wakes to feed at night, keep the lights very low and be as boring as possible.
  • Don’t be surprised if your newborn wants to party for 45 minutes after their feed before they drift back into dreamland. This is normal.
  • During the day, we never want to keep a baby awake longer than they should be, as this would cause an overtired state. For newborns, their maximum wake time is between 45 – 60 minutes.
  • Gently wake your newborn every 2.5 hours during the day to feed. We want to make sure that your little one is meeting their nutritional needs during the day so they don’t need to eat more frequently at night.
  • Keeping your days fairly bright and active can also help your newborn gradually adjust to this life outside of the womb!

Reason #3: To Preserve the Sleep Schedule 

After the 4-month sleep regression, babies start to have a fairly established sleep schedule.  And to preserve this lovely new rhythm and healthy routine, sometimes it becomes necessary to wake them – whether that’s in the morning or from a nap.

For example, waking your baby  (4+ months) by 7:00 am will ensure they start their day off right! Toddlers who are on a one-nap schedule can probably snooze until 7:30 am.

This is especially important if you are putting off a nap transition. For instance, most babies start the 2-to-1 nap transition around 15 – 18 months. So say your 14-month-old is still holding strong with two naps.  You will likely need to cap the morning nap at 60 minutes so that they are able to settle for nap #2 at a reasonable time.

Reason #4:  If Too Much Daytime Sleep is Cutting into Nightime Sleep  

Healthy, restorative naps (at least 60 minutes) are extremely important for many reasons. There comes a point when too much day sleep can begin to jeopardize nighttime sleep. When babies sleep too long during the day, this can cause dreaded night wakings and/or early morning wakings (5:30 am or earlier).

Now, TRUST ME, I know it’s not easy to cut your alone time short, but it’s worth it. If your child is truly sleeping an excessive amount of time during the day, capping their nap(s) can literally be your ticket to a FULL night of sleep for everyone!

Reason #5: If It’s Getting Too Close Bedtime

When the nap runs too late into the afternoon, it can make it very difficult for your little one to fall asleep at an age-appropriate bedtime. A healthy bedtime can range anywhere from 6:00 pm – 7:15 pm, depending on your child’s age. If their “sleep pressure” hasn’t had adequate time to build, it can be near impossible for your child to settle at a reasonable hour.

Don’t Worry About Waking Your Child If…

You Have a Unicorn Baby

So, you have an 18-month old that consistently takes a 3+ hour nap without it interfering with bedtime or nighttime sleep? Awesome, you scored the mama lottery. Congrats!

In all seriousness, if what you are doing is working for you and your family, and your baby is well-rested and flexible, there’s no reason to change anything… “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Am I right?

You Have a Sick Baby

If your child is sick or recovering from an illness – LET THEM SLEEP!

Think about our own natural urge to lie down when feeling sick. Our bodies require a great deal of restorative sleep to heal itself. While we sleep, our bodies are able to effectively target infection and inflammation, allowing us to recover as quickly as possible. Likewise NOT getting adequate sleep compromises our immune system.

So if your little nugget is sickly, let them snooze away…they may very well just wake up on their own feeling significantly better!

Have You Have Been Reading This Thinking…

“This lady is crazy if she thinks I am waking my baby when it took me so long to get him to sleep!” (been there!)

If so, maybe it’s time to teach your little one healthy sleep habits?!

If you need help, I’d be happy to help your family to be well-rested! The first step is to book a free 15-minute intro call so I can learn more about your family and I can answer any questions you have about working with a sleep coach!  Also, connect with me on Instagram – @bellalunabri.

P.S. Want to stay connected?

Sign up to receive our monthly "Scoop" email newsletter!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We hate spam too. See our privacy policy.

Related Posts

picture of a mom leaning over a bassinet with her baby boy looking up at her

Crib Transition Guide: When and How to Move Your Baby from Bassinet to Crib

asian parents holding up their baby daughter in the air in an orchard

Expert Advice On Optimizing Your Baby’s Sleep Environment For Spring & Summer

Sarah Walton, Sleep Consultant with Bella Luna Family and her twins and daughter

From Sleep Deprived Twin Mom to Sleep Consultant: Sarah’s Journey