Top 15 Reasons Why Your Baby or Toddler Wakes At Night

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Top 15 Reasons for Night Waking

We love providing free resources for our readers – just take a look at the ‘FREE’ tab above, on our main menu bar! :) And so, in the spirit of offering free help, we have designed this checklist, to help you understand why your baby is waking at night.

Is it hunger? Discomfort? Something else? Use our checklist so figure it out!

Top 15 Reasons Why Your Baby Wakes At Night

  1. Hunger: Newborns need to eat around the clock, but even older babies need one (or possibly two) feedings at night. We generally recommend an attempt to night wean around 9 months, although we consider it normal for a baby to need one night feeding up to 12 months of age in some cases.
  2. Wet/Leaky/Dirty Diaper: There’s really no way to prevent wet or dirty diapers from waking your baby. But you can do something about leaky diapers that disturb your baby or toddler’s sleep – read this article for details.
  3. Sleep Associations: Rocking or feeding your baby to sleep isn’t necessarily a problem – that is, until your baby needs you to re-create her sleep associations in order to fall asleep when she wakes between sleep cycles. For details about what sleep associations are, and how they form, browse through this article.
  4. Too hot/too cold: Your baby will obviously be uncomfortable if she’s too cold. But avoid the impulse to overdress your little one, too; babies and toddlers (and adults!) tend to sleep restlessly when too warm. It’s best to keep your baby’s room at an optimum temperature for sleep. Want to know what babies and toddlers wear to bed? Read through this article.
  5. Sleep regression: Your child will go through about 4 or 5 sleep regressions in the first 2 years of life. Want to know when the regressions happen and how the affect sleep? Check out this page.
  6. Teething: Growing a mouthful of teeth is hard (and sometimes painful!) work for a baby. Read this article for tips about how to handle teething and its effects on sleep.
  7. Illness: Despite your best preventative measures, your baby or toddler will sometimes get sick. During an illness, be prepared for your baby or toddler to wake often, and provide all the comfort you can.
  8. Napping too much: Long daytime naps are a good thing – until they interfere with night sleep. That’s when you know your baby is napping too much. Remember, your baby or toddler’s overall daily sleep amounts tend to stay the same, but your little one will shift sleep from nighttime to daytime. So consistent long naps will mean less sleep at night. Check out this article for details on how many naps your baby or toddler needs, and how long they should be.
  9. Overtiredness at bedtime: While it may seem sensible to keep your baby up later at bedtime, in the hopes that she’ll sleep all night, the reverse is actually true. Babies who go to bed late tend to be overtired at bedtime, and sleep worse than babies who go to bed early. Try shifting bedtime a bit earlier, to help with night waking that stems from overtiredness.
  10. Discomfort: Big things, like vaccinations, can cause discomfort; so can small things, like an itchy shirt tag. If your baby seems to be in pain, or highly agitated, see if you can pinpoint a source of discomfort.
  11. Digestive issues (like gas or reflux): Gas and reflux can be very painful for a baby, and will obviously disrupt sleep. Food allergies may be to blame; if that’s the case, try a change in diet. For more help with digestive problems, see your baby’s healthcare provider.
  12. Food allergies or sensitivities: Food allergies and sensitivities cause a whole host of problems for your baby or toddler – including sleep issues. For details, read this past article. For more information about starting your baby on solid foods, check out our sister site, Your Baby’s Start to Solid Food.
  13. Nightmares or Night terrors (12+ months): This won’t apply to younger babies, but if your little one is 12 months or older, nightmares (or night terrors) may begin to disrupt nighttime sleep.
  14. Room is too bright: Our brains associate light with being awake; that’s why it can be a good idea to let your newborn nap in a bright room, in order to sort out day/night confusion. But once your newborn has days and nights sorted out, it’s best to keep your baby or toddler’s room dark during sleep.
  15. Room is too noisy: Despite conventional wisdom, you can’t teach a baby to sleep through noise. Some babies and toddlers are just light sleepers – every little sound wakes them up! For these little ones, white noise machines and apps are crucial for good sleep.

Any of these reasons look familiar? What are some of the most common reasons for your baby’s night waking?

If your baby or toddler is waking frequently at night, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. Or, join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

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11 Responses to Top 15 Reasons Why Your Baby or Toddler Wakes At Night

  1. Heather says:

    I think my 6 m/o has been waking at night because he’s overtired. I switched him to 2 naps / day recently because he was so resistant to the 3rd nap. But then his nights (which have never been good) just fell apart. So I put the 3rd nap back in the schedule. He’s doing better at night, but still up 2-4 times, at totally unpredictable intervals. I don’t think there’s anything else on this list that’s causing problems… Very frustrating!

  2. Joanne says:

    I followed “on becoming babywise “for both my children and was so grateful I found that book. It emphasizes routine routine routine, and east play sleep during the day, then eat sleep when it’s bedtime. And both were sleeping through the night at 13 weeks.
    However my oldest who will be 3 in November wakes up almost every night. When she doesn’t both my husband and I are thrilled!! I think it began when we took her soother away after she turned 2, or maybe when we transitioned her from the byrery to the big room. Who knows. We have a sounds screen in the hallway to take away the little noises here and there. But I truly feel for you and hope there will be a good night sleep soon for you and your little guy.
    I used the CIO method and all it took was one night. That’s it. It’s sooooo hard, but I knew my daughter was ok, (I have a video monitor. ) she just wanted mom. And I thought just a few more minutes….I think it lasted 15-20. And it wasn’t a whaling scream, just a whiny mama maama cry. Which made me want to get her but thought no ill just do this once and see. Boy am I glad I did because it didn’t happen again. When she wakes up now my husband goes in tells her she’s ok and that it’s night night time still. Sometimes he lays down on the floor. He’s so good! :)
    I wish you luck, and there will be one day youll miss those night cuddles :)

  3. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Heather — could very well be overtiredness. Have you checked out our sample 6 month schedule? It may give you some insights: http://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/6-month-old-baby-schedule/

    Do you think sleep associations could be coming into play here, too? Do you have to put him to sleep, or is he able to fall asleep on his own? If you suspect that he may need to learn to fall asleep on his own (since that’s one of the keys to getting a baby to sleep through the night), you could download our free sleep training guide: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-through-night-free-ebook/

    Hope this helps, Heather! Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions via the comments, if you have them.

    @ Joanne — thanks for reaching out to Heather! Very kind of you :)

  4. Heather says:

    Joanne, Thanks for the encouragement. I’ve used CIO successfully when my other babies were ready to sleep all night without nursing, but I don’t do that until about 9 months or so.

    Emily, I put him down wide awake for all sleep times. Only exception is that my husband will sometimes rock him back to sleep if he wakes in the middle of the night and is not hungry. Could that affect things?

  5. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Heather – it could, possibly. If the rocking is a fairly regular thing, then when he wakes during the night, he could be expecting to be helped back to sleep, via being rocked or fed. Is this something that happens most evening? Or is it a rare thing for your hubby to rock him to sleep?

  6. Heather says:

    My husband rocks him back to sleep probably 4 or 5 times / week. And I tend to nurse him a lot when I probably shouldn’t, just because I know he’ll go back to sleep quickly. Ugh. I guess I need to be doing some middle-of-the-night sleep training, huh?

  7. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Heather — between the rocking and the nursing to sleep, it’s likely your son has at least a slight sleep association with these things. And yes, that means you may need to wean him away from depending on rocking/nursing to fall back to sleep at night. But not to worry — we have resources for that!

    Have you downloaded our sleep-through-the-night free guide yet? If not, you can access it here: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-through-night-free-ebook/ That’s a good place to start.

    Hang in there, Heather – you can do it! Keep us posted on your progress, and don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions via the comments section, or by e-mailing them to contact (at) babysleepsite (dot) com.

    Thanks for commenting, Heather! :)

  8. Kate says:

    My 16 month old still wakes up 2-3 times a night, I do (breast)feed him back to sleep which prob isn’t ideal but I’m too tired to do anything else as it takes so long and he screams if I don’t feed him – if I do he is asleep again in 20 mins. It is hard to get a good routine as I’m on my own and work shifts, thing so some evenings we have a great routine and he is on bed at 8pm, when I work late he only gets dropped home around 9 so doesn’t go to bed til 9.30 ish….help, I would do anything for more than 3 hrs sleep at a time!!

  9. Emily DeJeu says:

    @ Kate — this sounds tough! Nothing about being a single mom is easy, but it can make sleep coaching especially tough, since you don’t have a partner to fall back on when you’re at the end of your rope. It IS doable, of course, but (as you point out), it’s tough when you’re so tired, and you know that just nursing the little guy back to sleep would be faster and easier for everyone!

    If you’re looking for ideas on how to start the sleep training process, you can check out our free guide here: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-through-night-free-ebook/ That’s a good place to start.

    As for weaning him away from his night feedings (which it’s safe to do at this point — babies don’t need night feedings after 12 months), you can check out this recent article: http://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/baby-night-wean-3-signs/

    Hope these resources are helpful to you, Kate! Hang in there, and best of luck to you as you begin the sleep coaching process with your little guy. You can do it! :)

  10. Cae says:

    My son is a little over 4 months old now and is a big, healthy boy- 17+ lbs and is EB, nursing while I am with him and drinking from a bottle during the day while I am at work. He is sleepy early, sometimes by 6 p.m., always by 7 p.m. and I am not usually home from work until 5:30, so our time together in the evening is short. We have an established bedtime routine (warm washcloth wipedown, jammies and diaper, nursing and story, song and sleep) and for several weeks, he was sleeping 6 hours straight his first time down after a peaceful bedtime ritual, then waking every 1.5 – 2 hours after that. Now, he is fussing at bedtime (only wants to nurse to sleep and refusing the paci), waking 3- 4 hours after being put down and every hour or so after- he wants to nurse all night! I am getting no sleep and have a demanding job and a long commute. I end up taking him into bed, because it’s easier. I can’t figure out what’s different. I am pretty sure that being in bed with me is making it worse. I try to offer soothing and the paci when he wakes at night and only resort to nursing if they don’t work- now they never work! Any suggestions would be great. Please help!

  11. Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site says:

    Hi Cae – This age can be a difficult one for many babies! There is a very common sleep regression at this age, which would explain the new sleeping habits. Here is a link with more info: http://www.babysleepsite.com/how-we-sleep/4-month-old-sleep-regression/
    While it is common for a baby this age to still need to eat 1-3 times per night,it is a good idea to work towards feeding your baby at night but not feeding completely back to sleep, and to begin working on teaching him to fall asleep without nursing, so that he can self soothe himself and sleep in longer stretches.
    This series of articles should help you get started teaching better habits:
    http://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-training-from-no-cry-to-cry-series-part-1/
    Good luck and thank you for your comment!!