What to Do When Your Baby Wakes Up Every Hour
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Does this sound familiar? It’s 2am. You’re just sliding into sleep when a faint squeak from the bassinet jerks you awake. You think to yourself, “Oh, please…please…just another few minutes, sweetie!” After all, you were just up with your baby an hour or so ago. But now you’re awake again…and so is Baby, and slumberland is quickly disappearing in your rearview mirror. It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting. And it’s confusing. Here’s help figuring out what’s to be expected with Baby night wakings, and how everyone can get a better night’s rest.
Why is my newborn waking up so much?
Your baby’s sleep cycle (the full circuit from light to deep to light NREM sleep…plus a bit of REM) lasts less than 60 minutes. So that means, about every 45 minutes to an hour your baby will enter a light, easily disturbed sleep—or even briefly wake up—and wiggle, squirm, and make a short moan, squawk, or cry.
At the same time, your newborn’s natural day-night circadian rhythms haven’t yet developed. Plus, their tummies are still very small, so they get hungry a lot...and that includes throughout the night. In fact, breastfed newborns wake to feed about every two three hours and formula-fed babies do the same every three to four hours.
Why is my older baby waking up so much?
While babies’ brains are mature enough to sleep for at least a six-hour stretch without needing to be fed by 3 or 4 months old, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t wake throughout the night. Many babies experience a 3- to 4-month sleep regression where they suddenly start to wake up every few hours like a newborn. Other reasons for frequent night-waking include:
Your baby could be hungry depending on how much they ate during the day and before bedtime.
Your little one might be teething.
Your baby might have begun rolling, so they are adjusting to sleep out of the swaddle.
Your baby may still be learning to self-soothe.
How to Prevent Frequent Night Wakings
There are several strategies for tackling numerous wakings throughout the night. Such as…
Implement the 5 S’s: Beyond being well-fed and cared for, the keys to better baby sleep lie with the 5 S’s for soothing babies: Swaddle your baby for all sleeps—until they are able to roll. Play white noise (Shush) during their bedtime routine and throughout the night. Rock your baby (Swing). Hold your little one in the Stomach or Side position when looking to calm them. Finally, introduce a pacifier (Sucking) at sleepytime. (If nursing, it’s recommended that you do so after breastfeeding is well established.) All of these actions work to activate Baby’s innate calming reflex, which is nature’s “off switch” for crying and “on switch” for sleep.
Establish a calming bedtime routine. Most babies are very receptive to a bedtime routine around 6 to 8 weeks old. Starting a soothing routine about 20 to 30 minutes before night-night will help calm your little one and ease them into a good night’s rest. Learn how to get your baby’s bedtime routine on track.
Allow your baby time to self-soothe. Unless your baby is wailing, give your little friend a few moments to soothe themselves back to sleep. If you’ve swaddled your bub and you’re playing a rough and rumbly white noise—two key pieces of the 5 S’s for calming babies—your baby may very well settle within 30 seconds. Remember, Baby sleep cycles are short (under an hour), so they frequently wiggle, squawk, and even cry simply because they are transitioning to another sleep cycle. (If your baby is in SNOO, the bassinet’s responsive sound and motion—and built-in safe swaddle—will help soothe your baby through these sleep bumps.)
Add a dream feed to your routine. Hands down, most babies number one middle-of-the-night, snooze-shattering disturbance is…hunger. To help, offer your baby a dream feed before you go to bed, between roughly 10pm and midnight. Research shows that this can reduce night wakings and help babies stay asleep until a more reasonable time. (Here, a step-by-step on how to dream feed.)
Tune into wake windows. Quite simply, overtired babies don’t sleep as well as rested babies. Being overtired triggers your baby’s fight-or-flight response, which unleashes cortisol, a hormone that keeps your baby alert and waking at night. To stave off feeling overtired, it’s important to keep an eye on your baby’s wake windows and learn to put them down for naps and night sleep before they get to the point of overtiring. If you’re unsure what your baby’s wake windows are, we’ve got a guide to help you out.
Increase daytime feeds. If your baby is waking every hour, it’s time to increase daytime feedings. Think about it like this: In the womb, your little one was literally fed every single second. So, it’s no surprise that your baby needs frequent feeds to sustain their fast-paced growth. In fact, mothers in some cultures nurse their babies 50 to 100 times a day! Don’t worry, I’m not recommending you do that! But know that breastfed newborns do need at least 10 to 12 feedings a day and bottle-fed babies need to eat six to eight times daily.
Is it possible to manage all those feedings and still get more than two hours of sleep in a row? Yes! The key: During the first few months, feed your little one every 1.5 to 2 hours during the day. (If your newborn is sleeping, consider waking them after two hours.) That should help you get a couple of back-to-back longer chunks of sleep (three, four, or even five hours) at night, and eventually more. (Learn when most babies finally sleep through the night.)
Consider moving Baby’s bedtime. When a baby wakes up in the middle of the night, it’s a sign that their bedtime may be too early. Other clues your baby’s bedtime is too early: Your little one fights falling asleep for 30 to 60 minutes and/or shows no sign of fatigue at bedtime. If you think your little one’s bedtime may be too early, try pushing your whole night-night routine 15 minutes later every two to three nights to land on your baby’s ideal bedtime.
Be boring. When you need to go to your baby for a feed or diaper change, be sure to keep it dim, quiet (besides the white noise), and boring, boring, boring! You don’t want to make night-wakings entertaining or something Baby looks forward to.
Look into SNOO. I designed SNOO Smart Bassinet not only to help babies get more rest safely—but for parents to get more rest, too. SNOO offers babies three out of the 5 S’s that work like magic at soothing. SNOO features a snug, womb-like swaddle that keeps babies safely on their back until they graduate to the crib. SNOO is also a responsive bassinet, delivering all-night white noise and rocking that adjusts when baby fusses. And all of this helps babies learn to self-soothe and to only wake in the middle of the night when they truly need you.
For more tips and advice on calming your baby and getting them to sleep longer, check out my bestselling book The Happiest Baby on the Block and learn more about SNOO—Happiest Baby’s smart baby bassinet that automatically calms fussing.
Have questions about a Happiest Baby product? Our consultants would be happy to help! Submit your questions here.
Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.