Baby sleep is one of motherhood’s biggest mysteries – and biggest woes. We try and discover what might be causing unrest in your little one to help him switch to snoozing
Ahh, the newborn days. When you’d crawl into bed (for the third time) at 2am, knowing only too well your baby would have you up again in, ooh, a matter of minutes.
The only thing that kept you going was knowing it was normal. Fast-forward three months, and your little one is able to go for longer periods without waking.
By six months, he may be sleeping for (whoop!) 10 hours straight and napping for an average of four hours during the day. Better still, many babies now don’t need a night feed at all.
So, why then is yours still continuing to wake up and cry out? After illness, feeding is one of the biggest causes of night waking, according to a landmark study by Marsha Weinraub, professor of psychology at Temple University in the US and an expert in baby sleep patterns.
But it’s nothing to do with the milk, it’s the habits you get into. Yep, the very reason your baby’s so reluctant to get his Zzzzs could be down to what you’re doing.
Seven reasons for your baby waking at 3am:
1. Too much help to sleep
How your child drops off makes a huge difference to how long he stays down, according to a study in the journal Sleep. For example, if you often feed or rock him to sleep, he’ll start expecting it every time you want him to snooze.
Baby sleep solution: ‘Put your baby down when he’s still awake, and don’t allow him to fall asleep while feeding,’ says Dieter Wolke, professor of psychology at Warwick University and an expert in infant sleep. ‘Ideally, leave the room before he drops off.’
Also, wait five minutes before going to check on him. ‘If there’s no reason why he is still up, wait to see if he’ll go down on his own,’ adds Marsha.
2. There’s no bedtime routine
Having a night-time pattern has been shown to improve infant slumber. It sets up the expectation of going to bed, so he’s more willing to wind down, as well as providing an atmosphere of security.
Baby sleep solution: Try bathing your baby, then reading quietly, making sure to put the lights out within 30 minutes of bath time. Sleep expert Andrea Grace also suggests that just one parent puts your baby to bed. ‘Both of you being hands-on is too stimulating,’ she says.
Having a night-time pattern has been shown to improve infant slumber
3. Over stimulated baby
A colourful room can cause issues, so look at your baby’s environment. Is there a light carousel on the ceiling? Bright colours on the walls? ‘That’s like going to bed in a nightclub,’ says Dieter.
Baby sleep solution: While some babies adore mobiles, if yours is likely to be over-stimulated, forget them for now. Put your child to sleep in a dark room, and try blackout blinds if he’s light-sensitive. ‘A white noise app can also be useful, as it’ll mask any external noises,’ says Andrea.
4. Baby wants to sleep with you
Around 35% of parents regularly co-sleep with their children for at least part of the night.
‘Often, this starts with your toddler coming into your bed just before morning for a cuddle, then falling back to sleep for an hour. But, because they’re are creatures of habit, many will wake repeatedly, wondering if it’s time to be transferred,’ says Andrea.
Baby sleep solution: ‘Ensure that, at the start of the night, he settles in his own bed and is aware that you’re not with him,’ says Andrea. Toddlers who need to learn to sleep in their own bed, they can be helped by a sleep training clock, which uses a star system to show when it’s time to get up.
5. Is baby sleeping too much?
‘Excessive daytime napping can cause problems with settling down, night-time waking and early morning starts,’ says sleep therapist Juliet Newson.
Baby sleep solution: Know how much sleep your child needs. At 16 months, most babies are down to a single nap of around two hours, decreasing to one hour between the ages of two and three.
6. Stress in babies
Research shows anxiety can be a cause of night waking. This may be developmental (two year olds often become afraid of the dark) or situational. A fraught bedtime, the arrival of a new baby, your return to work or any relationship troubles can all increase your child’s stress levels.
Baby sleep solution: ‘Stick to a predictable build-up at bedtime, so he knows what to expect,’ says Andrea. And try to understand his fears. Worries about monsters? ‘Get rid of them with some imaginary monster spray,’ she adds.
7. Overtired baby on your hands
Levels of the stress hormone cortisol decline during sleep, but they creep up if a child gets less than he needs. The result? He’ll struggle to relax at bedtime.
Baby sleep solution: ‘Don’t cut out daytime naps in the hope of lengthening night-time sleep,’ says Juliet. ‘A toddler who is overtired will just find it harder to settle at night, and wake more frequently.’
As for young babies, it’s all in the timing. ‘They need around 80 minutes of awake time before falling asleep again,’ says childcare expert Rachel Waddilove, author of Sleep Solutions: Quiet Nights For You and Your Child.