The Baby Sleep Site® is dedicated to helping your baby sleep better, of course, but there are a few times it is a good strategy to wake your baby. I know it might feel crazy to wake your baby when you are working so hard on helping him sleep better, but in some cases, not waking your baby can actually lead to other sleep problems. There are probably several times you should wake your baby such as going on vacation and you have an early flight, but here are 4 times waking your baby can help with other sleep problems:
1. Naps are too long
Now that you’ve learned to avoid common baby nap mistakes and mastered your baby’s naps and schedule, believe it or not, naps can get too long. Many people who frequent this site may not have this issue (most are trying to lengthen naps), but sometimes this does come up in consultations. Except for newborns, your baby or toddler’s napping should not surpass 3 hours total for a day, on average. Of course, there will be exceptions, but many times if naps get too long during the day, it will impact night sleep, since the amount of total sleep in a day will remain relatively constant. If you feel bad waking your baby because she is sleeping horribly at night, but let her make up a lot of lost sleep during the day, it could reinforce the very sleep problems you are trying to resolve at night. It can become a chicken and egg problem. Instead, you should solve the night sleep problem and keep naps properly balanced. After all, night sleep is more restorative.
2. Sorting out day / night confusion
When your baby is a newborn, he may come out being confused about day and night. Since most people say “Never wake a sleeping baby.” many new parents will let their newborn sleep 8 hours straight during the day if they want to, but then wonder why he is up all night, sleeping on and off one hour here and there. Although I do agree with the adage to never wake a sleeping baby, there are exceptions to that rule, and this is one of them. In order to help your newborn sort out day and night, he needs to be awake during the day for his internal clock, or circadian rhythms, to adjust to life outside the womb. Therefore, it is best to limit any one nap to two hours and keep your baby up for at least 30 minutes to an hour to help “reset” his clock.
3. Long waking at night
If you have a toddler schedule that is being thrown off with a long night-waking, or insomnia, in the middle of the night, the worst thing you can do is let her sleep in the next morning. Now, I don’t mean one off day here or there. Of course, then, you’d let her sleep in. What I mean is if your toddler is staying awake for long periods night after night, you need to be proactive and help her sort out her schedule. Although there are a few exceptions, long waking at night is usually caused by a schedule problem, especially if she is sleeping enough, but in multiple fragments. When you let her sleep in, this only exacerbates the schedule problem.
4. Wake to manage naps before a nap transition
Along the same lines of naps getting too long, sometimes right before a nap transition, it is necessary to manage your baby or toddlers naps by waking him from one of his naps in order for there to be time for subsequent naps or to stop bedtime from being “too late.” Nap transitions can be tricky and difficult in that babies or toddlers who are over-tired at bedtime tend to have more difficulty falling asleep at bedtime and staying asleep all night. Most of the time, bedtimes should be between 6 and 8 p.m. for most babies older than 3-4 months old and young toddlers. There are exceptions and all families need to find what works for their specific dynamics, but most babies have a biological need/rhythm to go to sleep early and wake early (before 8 a.m.). Quite often, a baby waking too early is due to bedtime being too late.
BONUS REASON: Wake To Feed
There is one other time you need to consider waking your baby, but it only applies to the youngest of babies.
If your baby is just a few weeks old, you should wake him from sleep to feed if he is sleeping 4 hours or longer.
Sleeping longer than 4 hours is usually too long for newborns and you need to make sure you are feeding your baby so you won’t have slow weight gain issues. Once your baby is around 6 weeks old, your doctor will likely tell you that you can let your baby sleep in longer stretches of more than 5 hours, but until you get the approval from your doctor, you should wake your baby to feed him or her. Once your baby is doing well with weight-gain, you will no longer need to wake for a feeding.
Waking your baby from sleep should not need to be a long-term strategy, but more of a temporary one to fix a specific problem. There have been a few rare cases I’ve had a family who needed to wake their baby from their morning nap, long-term, in order to have time for a second at a young age, but it is not the norm. If you are finding you are waking your baby longer than a week, maybe two, to fix a specific sleep problem, there may be something else at work. On the other hand, if your baby or toddler has only had this specific sleep problem for a short time (less than 1-2 weeks), then it might be a phase and you should see if she self-corrects her schedule before you start taking action and waking her.