8 Reasons Why your Child May Not be Sleeping Through the Night
Having your child sleep through the night is often a much desired dream and goal for sleep deprived parents. Even if your child isn’t sleeping through the night, it can make a big difference when night sleep is consistent and predictable. Now… sleep can be complex. So there can be a number of different reasons as to why your child is waking at night. Let’s go through my top 8 reasons and see if any of these resonate with you and what you’re currently experiencing at night with your child. If anything, I hope you can cross some of these off your list and start to play detective to try and troubleshoot what may be going on.
Overtiredness/Daytime Schedule Needs to be Adjusted. When our children are overtired, it’s harder for them to fall asleep and then get back to sleep when they wake between sleep cycles. Pay attention to early sleepy cues to time naps and bedtime - rubbing eyes, yawning, redness around eyes, a general lull. If we can get our babies to sleep during the day when they show these early sleepy cues, it’s more likely that they won’t build up overtiredness by bedtime. For more on optimizing your child’s schedule, check out my blog post here.
Age & Hunger. Particularly for babies under 6 months of age, it’s understandable that your baby still needs to feed at night due to hunger. We do want to make sure that your baby is getting nice full feeds during the day, so that you can hopefully get some longer stretches at night. Make sure you’re feeding your baby at least every 3 hours during the day and keeping them awake when feeding. After 4-6 months, we do want to be cognizant of not feeding to sleep and developing a feed-to-sleep association. We can provide a feed/milk before sleep but try to make sure it’s not the last thing in the routine and that your baby is not falling asleep when feeding.
Sleep Environment. We want to make sure that our child’s sleep environment is conducive for sleep. One important factor is that the room is really dark - darkness helps to stimulate the release of melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep) and also reduces distractions. If you can easily see your hand in front of your face, then try and make it darker. If early morning light is creeping into the room, that may be just enough to trigger their brains to wake for the day. Other factors that can help to make the sleep environment conducive to sleep are calming and consistent white noise and a comfortably cool temperature (aim for 68-70 degrees).
Discomfort. Younger babies may experience discomfort from gas and/constipation causing them to wake (and often cry). Make sure you’re burping your baby well after feeding, and try other body movements like bicycle legs when awake. Some baby massage techniques can also be really helpful to relieve discomfort from gas. Other ways your child may be uncomfortable is a super wet diaper( make sure you’re using night diapers and try to size up) or a room temperature that’s too hot or cold (aim for 68-70 degrees where possible).
Developmental Stage. When our children are going through major developmental stages and milestones, their brain is literally more active. They are more likely to have more active light sleep which can cause more night wakings. There’s also a lot on their little minds! Make sure you help them to practice new physical skills as much as possible during the day so that when it’s time to sleep, there’s less need for them to practice in their crib. For more on developmental milestones and their impact on sleep, click here.
Reinforced Behavior. Consider how you are reacting when your child wakes and if your response is creating a habit to wake. If your baby is awake but content, try to give him/her space to get back to sleep without intervention. Try to also not feed more than once every three hours. If a younger baby wakes under three hours, try to soothe back to sleep by rocking, swinging, shushing versus feeding right away.
Independent Sleep Skills. When your child can fall asleep independently at bedtime, it’s more likely that he/she can soothe themself back to sleep when they arouse between sleep cycles. This is only something we can start to work on after our babies are four months old (based on their due date). Babies younger than four months of age just aren’t developmentally ready to be able to learn how to soothe themselves and get comfortable for sleep without support from a caregiver.
Lack of Routine. Bedtime routines are really helpful to cue your child on what is to come - it’s a series of events that are predictable and familiar. It can be a time of the day to put the phone down, stop rushing and just connect with your child. Consistency leading up to bedtime and naps can help to prepare your child and reduce some protest that may arise.
As I said earlier, sleep is complex. If you are still struggling with your child’s sleep after going through my list, let’s connect. I would love to understand more about your child and family to develop a plan and reach your goals around sleep. If you’d prefer to go through more of my sleep education and guidance on your own time, my online video series is the perfect place to start! It’s everything I wish I knew to set a healthy sleep foundation and get sleep on track early on.