It’s the middle of the night, and you stagger back to bed after finally having gotten your newborn back to sleep for the who-knows-how-many time. Just as you are closing your eyes, you realize, “Wait. I don’t have a newborn anymore…. why, in the name of all that is good and pure, is my baby still waking throughout the night?!?!”
If this sounds like you, hang in there! There are many reasons why babies wake at night, such as overtiredness, hunger, inability to self-soothe, and out of habit. If your baby is younger than 4 months, then I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but waking every 2-4 hours to feed your newborn is just part of the gig. Fuel up on snacks, drinks, make sure your phone is always charged, and ride it out. This season won’t last forever, I promise!
If your baby is older than 4 months, and you have sleep trained, then you are going to want to grab a cup of coffee and read on to get your little one (and you!) sleeping through the night!
1. Prevent Overtiredness – Why Babies Often Do NOT Sleep Through the Night
Sound familiar? That’s because preventing overtiredness is truly the KEY to getting great sleep! When babies become overtired, their brains start producing chemicals that fight off sleep, causing a ‘second wind’ which results in party time, instead of bedtime.
In order to prevent overtiredness we need to watch the clock and watch for sleepy cues (not tired cues). Sleepy cues are the cues that come before the tired cues. They are usually a subtle yawn, reddish hue on their eyebrows and eyelids, or staring off into the distance. These are all warning signs that your baby is ready for bed.
If they become fussy, rubbing their eyes, and avoiding eye contact then you’ve likely missed the boat and getting that baby to sleep is going to be more difficult than just eating one Lay’s potato chip. You also want to follow age appropriate wake windows. Remember, every baby is different (hence why you also want to be watching for sleepy cues) however this chart is a good rule of thumb.
|Age||Awake time between naps
(Also called Wake Windows)
|Number of Naps per Day|
|Newborn||Totally varies and inconsistent||Again, inconsistent and varies, but somewhere in the ballpark of 4-7|
|4 to 5 months||90-120 minutes||4|
|5 to 7 months||2-2.5 hours||3|
|8 to 14 months||WW 1: 2 hours
WW 2: 3 hours
WW 3: 4 hours
|15 to 30 months||Doesn’t matter as much anymore||1 nap in the middle of the day|
Babies that are out of the newborn phase generally do a lot better with earlier bedtimes, so aim for bedtime between 6:30pm and 7:30pm with the plan that they will sleep until at least 6:00am. Closer to 7:00am if you won the baby sleep lottery, and closer to 5:30am if you usually hit all the red lights.
Once you have your sleep schedule buttoned up, and you are confident that your baby’s sleep tank is as full as that freezing cold cup of coffee you never seem to get to, you can start to actively drop night wakings.
2. The “I’m Only Moderately Sleep Deprived” Approach
If you are looking for a gradual approach to dropping night wakings that doesn’t involve a lot of protesting, then this option may be for you. The downside is that it will likely take longer – about 3-6 weeks. Every family is different, so you do what works best for you.
First, let’s remember that if your baby is less than 9 months old, then it is normal for them to still wake in the night hungry (typically only once or twice for babies 4-9 months old). Also, you are going to want to make sure that your baby isn’t having any tummy troubles or feeding concerns that may cause them to not get full feedings during the day. As always, talk to your pediatrician, and my 4-24 month guide pack has very thorough and detailed information on reflux and other tummy troubles.
Once you are confident that your baby is just waking up for a feed out of habit, you can proceed.
One option is giving your baby a few minutes to fuss when they wake in the night, to ensure they fully wake up. We definitely don’t want to intervene if they happen to fuss for 5 minutes and then put themselves back to sleep! If they seem like they are awake and expecting their feed, go in and do whatever it takes to soothe them, without doing more than needed.
Think of it like helping a child to read. You would start with prompting them to sound out the word, look for clues in the pictures for what the word might be, or maybe give them the first sound and see if they can figure out the rest of the word. But if you come in hot with “B-E-D-T-I-M-E, bedtime!” then they will expect you to just tell them what the word is every time. So start with small interventions such as some back rubs, or bum pats first, before moving to picking up and then rocking back to sleep. If you do pick them up, soothe them upright, so they are not rooting around, trying to nurse.
Another option is to try weaning them off the feeds. Think of it like your tube of toothpaste. In the beginning, you’re loading it on without a care in the world, there’s no such thing as ‘too much’. But as you realize the tube is running low, the ‘pea size portion’ shrinks day by day, until you’ve rolled out the last morsel of paste using your baking rolling pin. You reduce the amount of milk in the bottle, or time you spend nursing, the same way as that tube of toothpaste that’s coming to the end of its line; slowly over the course of a few days/weeks.
For more details on these approaches, my Sleep Training Essentials Course outlines in detail how to successfully sleep train your little one, including Phase 4 which is ‘dropping night wakings’ using several different methods such as my “No-Cry” method.
3. The “I Need To Be Sleeping By Yesterday” Approach
This is a much faster way to drop night awakenings (about 1-2 weeks) and is an option as long as your baby is sleep trained. Also, just like the more gradual approach above, you want to make sure your baby is waking for their feed out of habit (they don’t actually need the food) and that they are not waking because they are in pain.
For this approach, you will drop night wakings one at a time instead of all together. I recommend choosing the middle of the night awakenings first, then the awakenings that happen around the time you go to bed, and lastly the dawn awakening (as it is the most difficult to drop).
Once your baby has dropped a feeding successfully, you can move on to the next awakening. My 4-24 Month Course and Guide Pack have everything you need to not only successfully sleep train, but drop these night wakings using the same sleep training method that you used to teach your baby to initiate sleep independently.
It’s so important that you pick a method that works for you and your baby, which is why I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. I outline several different sleep training methods in my course and walk you through step-by-step for how to implement each method, and every method includes the final phase of sleep training, which is ‘dropping night awakenings’.
Recap of Getting Baby to Sleep Through the Night
You SO deserve to get the sleep you need, and helping your little one get great sleep is a GIFT that will last their entire life.
Once your little one is sleep trained, then dropping the night awakenings will be a breeze. Or, at most, a moderately strong wind.
And if you have already sleep trained, don’t forget that you can grab a quick 30-60 minute consultation with one of our amazing sleep consultants to answer any questions and help you fine tune your plan. Let’s get you back to sleeping through the night!