What Causes Night Waking?
Waking in the night is normal – it’s going back to sleep that’s the trick!
When we sleep, we cycle through four different sleep stages. These stages have different qualities and purposes (see The Science of Sleep). Adults’ cycles are roughly 90 minutes long, while babies’ sleep cycles are only 30 – 50 minutes long. It’s normal to have light wakings as we transition between cycles. It’s during these transitions when adults will change a sleeping position or adjust blankets. Usually we transition seamlessly without really waking. Babies tend to have more trouble because they haven’t yet learned to do it.
Very often when babies transition through cycles, they wake and cry for help because they lack the self-soothing skills necessary to fall back to sleep.
For the first 4 months of a baby’s life, it’s appropriate to comfort your baby back to sleep with nursing, bottle feeds, rocking, patting, shushing, etc. (see Newborn Sleep Tips)
At around 4 months of age, a baby’s circadian rhythm has developed enough to organize night and day, to cycle through regular sleep stages, and to have long, consolidated night sleep. Our babies often become dependent on our comfort methods to fall asleep. In order to foster independent sleep, we want to give them opportunities to learn self-soothing skills. It’s possible to do that even while keeping some night feeding. (see Understanding Sleep Associations)
Other factors in waking
Certain conditions like asthma, eczema, and sleep apnea, among others, can impact sleep and should be treated by a doctor.
Newborns’ Moro reflex can cause many wakings. Swaddling can help, but ultimately they grow out of it.
When babies are overtired or when they have inappropriate schedules, their sleep can be more restless. (see Is My Child Overtired?)
Another factor in night waking is the sleep environment. We all sleep best in a cool, dark and quiet room.
Check out my SERVICES for help in fostering self-soothing skills for your child.