First, I think it’s important to know that everyone wakes at night. This is why the concept of “linking sleep cycles” exists (even though I don’t believe this is something that can be ‘fixed’ or ‘taught’). Sleep is our most vulnerable state and we are biologically designed to wake periodically to assess the safety of our environment.
When we wake, we will go immediately back to sleep if we do not have a need to be met. However, if there is something we need to attend to (for adults, this could be a trip to the bathroom or a drink of water, for example), then we will get up an attend to it.
For babies and young children, they need help attending to these needs.
Below are 6 common things that can lead to night wakings; once you’ve identified what going on with your baby, you can get on the road to solving them.
They may be hungry: Despite advice you may have heard, there is no specific age where night feeds are no longer needed. If your baby wakes, feeds, and then immediately goes back to sleep, it’s a good sign they are not yet ready to drop night feeds.
They may be overtired: As our body prepares for sleep, it produces melatonin, the hormone we need to fall asleep. If we do not get to sleep when melatonin peaks, we experience a cortisol spike that signals to our body a necessity to stay awake (at the most basic level, this happens as a safety mechanism, in the event that it is not safe to sleep). Even once we do go to bed, this spike in cortisol can interfere with the ability to stay asleep for long periods of time. With babies and young kids, this often results in false starts.
They may be experiencing discomfort: Discomfort ranging from muscle tension, to tummy troubles, to illness, and even airway health issues can often be the culprit of frequent night wakes. This is especially true if the wakes seem to have no pattern at all that can be explained by the sleep schedule or wake windows.
They may need more connection time: Comfort is a valid need, both day and night. If you’ve been spending more time apart from your child; if your child is more highly sensitive; if they are going through a sleep progression or developmental leap; or if there are major life changes taking place, your child may wake more frequently at night seeking connection and/or reassurance from their primary caregiver.
They may be undertired: We commonly hear that an early bedtime is the solution to every sleep ailment. ‘Sleep begets sleep’, right? Well, this isn’t always the case. If your child is going through a nap transition; if they are a lower sleep needs person; or if they are not getting enough physical activity/sensory input, you may be getting to bedtime with a child who is just not ready. If they haven’t built up enough sleep pressure, they are likely to wake more frequently, in particular throughout the first stretch of the night.
They may be iron deficient: Iron deficiency is one of the world’s most common nutrient deficiencies, and yet, it’s often overlooked as a cause of sleep challenges in babies. If your baby has low ferritin levels (we’re looking specifically at the body’s iron stores), they may be presenting with very restless, very interrupted nighttime sleep.
Struggling to find sleep solutions to meet your family’s needs? Let’s chat!