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5 Reasons Why Your Baby is Night Waking and Won’t Sleep

5 Reasons Your Baby Is Waking At Night

A baby night waking is one of the most common issues that bring tired parents to The Baby Sleep Site. But, why exactly do babies wake at night? Why won’t your baby sleep? This article will discuss the 5 primary reasons for baby night waking.


1. Sleep Prop

The official name is “sleep association” but these are more widely known as “sleep props” or “crutches.” This is something your baby “needs” (using that term loosely) in order to sleep. For most babies, in my experience, this will be a pacifier, bottle, or breastfeeding (so a nipple of some sort because sucking is so soothing to them). For many others this might be movement such as rocking, bouncing, walking, the car, etc. Still fewer, some babies will wake for much less. It might be a hand on their back, just a little reassurance, picking them up for a minute, a snuggle with mom. For high-needs babies, they may need more than one (e.g. bouncing with a pacifier). This varies based on your baby’s temperament.

The bigger the sleep prop, the easier to change, for most babies. Some babies’ sucking reflex is much stronger, though, that can be difficult to change depending on your baby’s age. Sometimes you need to avert their sucking to something besides a pacifier that is harder to find at night, for example. By far, I believe the “small” reasons for waking are much harder to change. Who wants to deny your baby a one-minute hug if he seems to need it, even though it’s exhausting to be woken up EVERY night at 4 a.m.? It becomes an issue of attempting to teach them that there is a right and wrong time for certain things such as 2 p.m. IS an appropriate time to play peek-a-boo, but 2 a.m.? Not so much. It is probably your fault your baby won’t sleep and that’s okay!

2. Developmental Milestones

When your baby is learning how to roll, crawl, pull up, cruise, walk, talk, etc. this can disrupt their night sleep (and your baby’s naps, too!). This might not be too surprising to you, since you know all too well when you have a lot on your mind, you might have trouble sleeping, too. This is particularly true during the 8, 9, or 10 month old sleep regression.

One key here is to keep your expectations in check, because even when it doesn’t seem like your baby is learning something new doesn’t mean he isn’t. There is a lot to learn and you will be amazed just how much they change in a short amount of time. When your baby can learn how to go back to sleep on his own, this night waking can be a lot less disruptive for everyone. It doesn’t mean it will necessarily be perfect, but you hearing him wake once a night is a lot different than five times! Even better when he can go back to sleep on his own without a tear or your input whatsoever. Just because a baby wakes at night doesn’t mean he needs to “need” something.

3. Teething

Gah! Teething. It feels like babies teethe for what feels like a constant two years! Many people will throw in that they can teethe for a long time before a tooth even pops through, too. This makes you feel powerless, because you have to constantly wonder if teeth are trying to pop through or not. Is he in pain? Is this why my baby is waking all night? Then there is the “other” side who say teething does not disrupt sleep at all. Yeah…right. Because all babies are the same, right? I can tell you there are plenty of babies who are great sleepers, but wake for a week (or so) due to teething and then go back to sleeping well, so I know teething does affect some babies.

Having a “teething plan” is of utmost importance. I tried to be sensitive to my sons during teething, but also had to keep sleep at the top of priorities for everyone’s sakes. My second son had a much rougher time with teething than his older brother (who inspired this site) who had more sleep problems, ironically! Finding a healthy balance of helping them through teething without creating a bunch of sleep props is the key to getting through the two years (or more) of teething. I think part of what got me through was what toddlers can teach you about sleep training.


This one might seem obvious, but there are some people who are surprised when a 5 month old breastfed baby is still waking at night for a feeding or two, especially if their doctor has told them their baby should not need to eat at night. Keep in mind that to go all night without eating means going 12-13 hours without a feeding, since babies need a lot of sleep. Make sure you read about night feedings and when to night wean.

5. Being Human

This one seems to surprise people. A lot of new parents seem to be confused as to why their baby does not sleep the same every day. This is just a friendly reminder that our babies are not robots. I, too, wondered why my baby woke up at a different time every day or a different time at night for his feeding or took a different length nap every day. Not only did I wonder, but it drove me crazy!! I look back and wondered why I expected him to be the same every day. Perhaps it was the books I was reading. I honestly don’t know. There are some babies who you can set a clock by and then there are those like my son who’s different every. single. day. Without fail! Most of it is his temperament and the fact that not all babies are regular. I look at myself and realize that I am not 100% consistent every day, either. Sometimes I’m starving when I wake up and other days I’m not. Some days I’m starving for lunch by 11 a.m. and other days I wait until 1 p.m. to eat. Why did I expect my baby to be the same every day when I’m not? I’ll never figure that one out, but I can share my wisdom with you that our babies will have good days and bad days just like we do.

There are many reasons a baby is waking at night (or any person for that matter) and the number of reasons increases with toddler sleep. Too cold, too warm, sick, and so on. The above reasons are just the five that seem to come up most frequently in sleep consultations. You may want to read about the ideal temperature for your baby to sleep and, of course, when your baby is miserable due to illness, make sure you comfort and tend to them so they can get better. As with any temporary sleep disruption, though, try to limit things that can become long-term habits.

How To Help Your Baby Wake Less Often (And Possibly Sleep Through The Night!)

Short or non-existent baby naps can be so frustrating – but you don’t have to suffer through them! You can teach your baby a new way to nap – and we can help. We have helped thousands of families around the world with their babies’ nap trouble, and we can help you, too! Take a look at our consultation packages, and see which one looks like a good fit for you.

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What are some of the reasons your baby is waking at night?


  1. Sara says

    This is a very timely article for me and my family. I have 6.5 month old twin daughters and am extrememly exhausted trying to figure out why they are back and forth on their night wakings and horrible cat-napping habits. I have read so much online and have read all the books and nothing is really working, short of just realizing this is my life now. They both went through (and are still going through) a long period of multiple night wakings around 4-6 months after having been able to sleep really well through the night. Now one of them wakes at 4:30 am every morning like clockwork and will not go back to sleep even after I watch her yawn for over an hour on the monitor. I’ve tried earlier bedtimes and it doesn’t really help us out. I’m so sleep deprived but am more concerned about their sleep and whether or not it’s sufficient since there is so much fragmented sleep happening for them. Any thoughts out there?

  2. Christie says

    My son will be 2 on April 6th and he still wakes in the middle of the night. Sometimes it is with a gut wrenching, blood curdling scream, just out of the blue. Other times it is just a stir, then he sings himself back off to sleep. This has been going on since the day I contacted this sleep site about night terrors. The night terrors have calmed down considerably but it still troubles me that my baby cannot get a good night sleep and as a mom I cannot fix it.

  3. Catherine says

    This too is a timely email. Our house has been up for the past week. My 6 month old daughter will wake up every half hour and when I go to check on her and put that darn soother back in her mouth she falls fast asleep. I know she isn’t hungry. Her and I are so sleep deprived its not even funny. I think that I have tried everything out there but will appreciate any suggestions.

  4. says

    My baby is six months old and her night sleep is just like naps. The only difference is that at night she will go to sleep again after being weaned. The problem is she doesn’t take pacifier and keeps on crying until I wean her and this happens the whole night.

  5. DR PRASHANT says

    we are also going through the same phase. our younger son 14months old doesn’t take sound sleep and often wakes up with shrill cry waking my elder son who is also about 30 months old. The only thing which makes the younger one sleep again is a little cuddling , waening and putting a corner of soft clean cotton clothe in his mouth for chewing! Is there any better way of making him sleep without interruptions or short bouts of sleep ?

  6. Kathy says

    For us, I think it was temperature. As it turns out, I have I been boiling my daughter at night!!!! oops. My girl is 16 months old and only recently (like the last few weeks) has she been sleeping wonderfully at night. Turns out, that coincides with a change in how I dress her and how many blankets I put on her. I would layer her up thinking she’d be getting cold in the middle of the night. Turns out that she NEEDS it cooler in her room. I even just read recently that babies need it around 5-7 degrees cooler at night than during the day. That’s really ringing true in my experience right now. I just have a difficult time with the fact that she doesn’t need a blanket. Many babies are just fine sleeping in snuggly pj’s and no blanket. I’m a blanket lover, so that didn’t compute. We’ve always dressed her in a sleep sack and that calms my mind about blankets. Even then, though, the room temp was too warm and/or I would put a blanket on TOP of the sleep sack. Duh.

    We’ve been through each of the other reasons Nicole mentions – teething, milestones, pacifier, nursing, etc. They were all legit reasons and did affect her sleep, but the only thing that was constant during all those times was that I was overheating her. I just couldn’t get it through my thick skull that she didn’t need as much on her as I was putting on her. Now that I have that figured out I hope we can get some “normal” sleep like some of those “other” parents enjoy!!! :) :)

  7. says

    This is very true! in fact, i tend to dismiss the other reasons and just go with HUMAN BEINGS. and i try so hard to respect that especially when am just too tired to even get out of bed to feed or lull her back to sleep.

  8. Debbye says

    @ Sara: It sounds as if the 4 month sleep regression still lingers in your house. Have you read this article?
    It is very worrisome to not know if your baby-or babies in your case-are getting enough sleep. Your daughters may need your help in learning how to get themselves back to sleep. Since you mentioned that you have researched and read like crazy, you may benefit form a more personalized approach to helping them sleep. We have a lot of experience working with families with multiple babies, and can work on helping both at once. I would recommend that you consider our Deluxe Email Consultation package. With this package you will receive a comprehensive personalized sleep plan plus three email consultation follow ups. I think this would provide you with amount of support needed to help teach your daughters how to learn to fall asleep on their own, to go back to sleep on their own. Best wishes!
    @ Christie: I am happy to hear that the night terrors have improved, and do realize how powerless we feel as parent’s when we can’t fix things for our little ones. Just know that things will improve, and hang in there! Your son otherwise seems to be doing good, if he is putting himslef back to sleep after some brief awakenings.
    @ Catherine: Sounds like you may need to consider weaning your daughter from the pacifier. This should improve those numerous night wakings. Here is a link to an article:
    Good luck!

  9. Debbye says

    @ Sanna: It sounds like your daughter needs some help in learning how to fall asleep and back to sleep by herself. Try comforting her without feeding, such as patting and “sshhing” to help her back to sleep. And here are links to a couple articles that should be useful in helping you decide if/how to sleep train.
    Good luck!
    @ Dr. Prashant: Many babes wake throughout the night, and it is not uncommon for them to cry out briefly and then fall back to sleep. Does he fall back to sleep quickly? Or does he “need” you to come in and help him? You may need to teach him to fall back to sleep on his own. If he has his soft cloth in bed with him, maybe he can learn to comfort himself in the night and not cry out for you to help him. The above articles should be useful for you too. For toddlers, consistency really counts!
    Best wishes!
    @ Kathy: So glad your sleeping better now!