Baby Sleep – Frequent waking – why does my baby wake so often?

We know that frequent waking is one of the major issues parents have around baby sleep, so here is our summary of why babies wake up so much, and how to minimise your effort when they do wake during the night.

Babies sleep cycle – shorter than adults

Babies in the first 6 months have a sleep cycle of only 45 minutes, whereas adults sleep in phases of approximately 90 minutes. This means they become alert more often than we do throughout the night. Babies begin with about 20 minutes of REM, and during this stage, they can be easily woken.

They then have about 20 minutes of non-REM or quiet sleep. During this time they are in a deeper sleep and less able to be woken up. If nothing alerts them they then may pass into another sleep cycle. However, they frequently do wake up and call out for us.

Why does my baby wake up?

The shorter sleep cycles mean there are a lot more chances your baby will wake up between their sleep cycles than you will. If they are hungry, cold, wet, or going through a developmental stage and needing more comfort they will need your help passing into the next stage of sleep.

This is an evolutionary protective factor, babies’ primitive brains are ensuring that any perceived danger is responded to. We also know that frequent waking is a protective factor against SIDS.

I feel so groggy when my baby wakes me

There is a chance you’ll be in a deep sleep when your baby wakes up. The sleep stage you are in when woken may impact you and your ability to deal with what’s going on.

For example, if you are woken during your REM sleep phase, you may still be in a dreamlike state and in the middle of processing some of your own stresses and anxieties from your day. It may leave you struggling to put your baby’s needs into perspective.

If woken in the late stage of deep sleep, you may feel shaky and confused, and find it hard to work out what your baby needs.

Tips for minimising your effort when baby wakes

  • Have nappies and wipes ready to go on the change table or in a convenient place near the bed.
  • Have a change of clothes for you and baby handy in case of sickness, or milk spillage.
  • Have a clear plan with your partner about who is going to do what in the night, will they take over after an agreed time if baby not settled? Tell your partner what you might need them to do in the night and ensure you both know where things are.
  • Practice and learn how to feed lying down in the day so you can do this at night. (follow safe bed sharing advice).
  • Be kind to yourself and your partner, you’re in it together.
  • Breathe and relax. This will pass.
  • Remember your baby isn’t waking to annoy you, they need something and you have everything they need.
  • Don’t try and implement any changes to routines or new ways of doing things in the middle of the night, save this for the day or evening when you can think a bit better.

If you want to know more about what is normal for baby sleep, how to encourage good sleep and how to support yourself and family during times of great tiredness come to our next Sleep Support Seminar to learn more. Email us for more details or book on!

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