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 at 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.
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. 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 ready 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… 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). The number of reasons increases with toddler sleep too! Too cold, too warm, sick, and so on. The above reasons are 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. Of course, when your baby is miserable due to illness, make sure that 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.
75 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why Your Baby is Night Waking and Won’t Sleep”
Hi, my 5 month old was doing well with waking only once at night and would sleep in until 6:30-7am. He is now waking up at least twice per night and wakes up for the day between 5:15 and 5:45. It’s way too early for us and he always seems very tired. We are able to put him back down to sleep a little longer some mornings but it usually takes a long time and he isn’t asleep for long. He doesn’t seem to be very hungry when he wakes as a lot of times my husband will put him to sleep without feeding him, however I am usually unable to because he knows I have the food (he is exclusively breastfed at this point). He goes to bed around 8:30 and he isn’t a very good napper and never has been. I am about to start back to work and the extra waking per night and the super early mornings have me exhausted. Any ideas??
Thank you for visiting us! I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with these night wakings and this new early morning issue! Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons you could be seeing these symptoms: a scheduling issue, the 4 month sleep regression, some kind of sleep association, etc. To get to the bottom of the issue, especially since you’re already worn down, I would really recommend a consultation with a sleep consultant. She could look at your baby’s schedule and whole sleep, and make suggestions for improvement. You can read more about consultations here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/
Please hang in there!
Hello, my son is 13 weeks but was born 5 weeks early, so adjusted age he’s around 8-9 weeks old. He was nursing every 2 hours around the clock up until about 1-2 weeks ago. He started giving me about a 3-4 hour sleep window early in the night when he first went to sleep, even going 5-6 hours on occasion. This last week he has been progressively going backwards and waking up more frequently. He’s even waking every 2 again to nurse. I exclusively breastfeed, and he also has terrible reflux and seems to have colic as well. I thought we were on the up side since he was starting to sleep more but now it’s back to how it used to be and I’m sure why or what to do about it. Any advice or recommendations would be great!
Hi @Danielle -Thanks for writing, and congrats on your new arrival! Sorry to hear that sleep is not going well however! To start, please check out these recommended schedules by the week, to be sure that bedtime and naps are at good times for him, and that he’s getting the right amount of sleep at the right times: https://www.babysleepsite.com/newborns/newborn-sleep-schedules-by-week/
This article should really help too:
If things do not smooth out, and you find that you’d like more help, please contact us or check out our offerings here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/
My 9 month use to sleep till 6-7am, not wakes up at 3 am and cries. If I give him some formula, he will go back to sleep. This has been going on for 2-3 weeks? Is he really hungry or this becoming a habit I have to break
Thank you for visiting us! In general, if your baby is going back to sleep for a long stretch after a feed, he is likely hungry. If he’s waking again within an hour or two after a feed, then it is more likely a sleep crutch. Most babies at 9 months can get through the night without feeding, so it may be that you’ve bumped into a temporary growth spurt, or that you need to look at his daytime schedule to make sure he’s getting enough calories during the day, so that he can get through the night without feeling hungry. I hope this helps!
I have a 5month old who is constantly waking throughout the night (5-6 times) and really difficult to resettle. I don’t know what to do, he was only waking twice and now is up constantly over the last 2-3weeks. He has good sleep associations (white noise, solid predictable routine, consistent nap and sleep times, sleeping bag). He falls asleep by himself
In his cot at the start of naps and at the start of the night but he won’t resettle if he wakes at night. If we try and pat him back to sleep it takes ages with him screaming and he often wakes again 30 mins later. I’m having to feed him several times to get him back down and this is not working well either. We are exhausted. I have started solids in the last 2 days to see if this helps, and as GP suggested this may help him to keep his milk down better (he vomits a lot) I was thinking hunger could be the cause but have seen no change since introducing solids. He has a heater in his room and I’m sure he’s not cold. We just can’t work out why he’s so difficult to keep asleep. He is our 3rd child and non of our others have been so hard to get back to sleep at night.
Hi @Amanda – Thank you for writing to us, and so sorry to hear that sleep has become so rough with your baby! The four month mark can be a difficult one for many babies especially since their sleep is becoming more like adult’s sleep, so this can lead to more frequent wake ups. That may be what has changed in the last 2-3 weeks. Check out this article for help and info:
I hope that this helps to get your son on the road to better sleep, but if you find that it is not helping enough, please consider our VIP Member’s Area. For families with young babies, our biggest bang for the buck is our Members Area – since it can grow with your child through the months and the years.
You can read more about the Member’s area here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/become-a-member/
Good luck, and hang in there Amanda!
Hello! I have a 9 months and a half old son and he used to wake up two or three times during the night, and sometimes it was hard for him to fall asleep even with some props like breast feeding and pacifier. Sometimes it took him like an hour or more to fall asleep before I applied Tracy Hogg method but he still wakes up early just a few times he sleeps a little more depending on the night. My husband and I are so exhausted and I am worried because my baby is very tired almost all day long, besides the naps he takes are not consistent they last from 30 minutes to an hour and a half and sometimes he takes just one nap. I applied that method 11 days ago and he cried so much the first 2 nights because I didn’t breastfeed him but we made a mistake to calm he down he continued using the pacifier and now he wakes the same amount of times what I do is to pat or touch his back or chest to make him fall asleep again but it is very hard. What can I do? Should I start again but without pacifier?
Thanks for your help
Thanks you so much for visiting The Baby Sleep Site. I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve been having so much trouble with your baby waking at night and not sleeping! I’m unfortunately not familiar with Tracy Hogg, but no sleep coaching method works for all babies, so it may be that her method is just not a good fit for your family. Assuming your son is healthy, we e do recommend doing some sleep coaching to help him start to learn to sleep independently, and re-settle himself when waking at night. Learning to settle himself would also help him lengthen his naps. I’d recommend checking out our sleep training series, which takes you step-by-step on how to set up for sleep coaching, select a good method for your family and baby, and make a plan. The first article in that series is here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-training-from-no-cry-to-cry-series-part-1/
We do also offer the DIY Express Sleep Plan or the personalized consultations with a baby sleep expert if you need more support through the process, especially if your overwhelmed or have lots of questions about the process: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/
I hope this helps! Please let us know if you have any questions!
Thanks Danielle! I read the free guide about 5 ways to help our child to sleep. I don’t breastfeed my almost 10 months old son at night since 22 days ago until 4:30 or 5am. Since I stopped breastfeeding him he is waking up more times from 3 to 6 times and sometimes he takes an hour to fall asleep. We are so exhausted and he gets cranky during the day. He doesn’t sleep on his own he needs the pacifier to calm down. I read in the article about breaking sleep associations but I didn’t find how. I can’t imagine a night without the pacifier but I don’t know if he will learn how to sleep with it. Sometimes he even wakes up with the pacifier in his mouth. How can I help him to break the association? And I would like to know if I have to manage it first at night or also in naps at the same time. Thanks for your help.
@Andrea – Thank you for your reply! The “sucking” association can be a huge one to break since it’s one of those that just comes so naturally when babies are so small. It sounds as though you may benefit more from connecting with one of our sleep consultants instead of out here on the blog. One of our lovely ladies will be able to guide you through all of the answers to your questions. You can read more about them here:https://www.babysleepsite.com/about Hang in there!
Thanks Danielle! My almost 10 months old son is waking up from 3 to 6 times during night since I stopped breastfeeding him during night. I feed him from 4: 30 to 5:00 depends on the time he wakes up. My husband and I are exhausted especially because in one waking he takes more than an hour falling asleep and gets cranky almost all day long. I read the free guide and about the sleep associations but I don’t know if he can learn to fall asleep on his own with the pacifier. I didn’t find in the guide how to break this sleep association. He uses the pacifier when sleeping at night and in the naps and I can’t imagine him going to sleep without it. So how can I help him break this sleep association? And should I start just at night or even in the naps at the same time?
Helloo! I love you site and always read all your articles!
I have a question:
My baby is 8 months now and has been sleeping since day 1 in his own room all alone and we never had problems in sleep training. As soon as he turned 3 months he just stopped waking up at night and slept all the way through the morning.
…. I guess its all because of your awesome sleep routine tips …
Somehow its been 2 weeks that every night after our smooth sleep routine he wakes up at 2 am!! as if he is a set alarm! and all he wants is to sleep in our room!
how can we avoid this cycle!? coz it seems we are stuck every night with a 2 am situation where we end up getting him into our bed to magically fall back asleep in seconds once hes next to us!!
Awaiting you reply!
Thank you 🙂 🙂
Hi @Sarah Makhlouf, thanks for writing to us. I’m so glad to hear our site has been so helpful to you, but I’m sorry you’re suddenly getting a wake up each night. That is frustrating! Have you tried feeding him? Even though he was previously sleeping through the night, some babies do still need 1 feeding at this age to keep them going in the middle of the night. If you take into account all of his activity compared to when he was 3 months old, I’m sure it’s significantly increased, so he may just need a little more to get him through. If the problem persists, let us know! You can contact us directly anytime at [email protected] and we can help you more from there.
Hang in there!
I have an 11 month old who falls asleep fine on his own but wakes most nights crying around 2 am. Some nights he will fall back to sleep after crying for a few mins but some nights he wakes back up every hour till I get him out of his crib at 5:30-6am. His bedtime is 7:30 He is in his own crib but in my bedroom. I don’t pick him up and will tell him it’s ok if he doesn’t seem to be settling on his own. I have tried patting him on the back but it makes him more frustrated because he wants me to pick him up. We used to co sleep but transitioned to the crib a month ago.
Hi @Christine, thank you for writing to us. I’m so sorry to hear you are often having very unsettled nights with your 11 month old. We would love to help. Here is a link to a sample schedule for an 11 month old so you can check and make sure it’s not a scheduling thing (like if for instance he’s not getting enough sleep at night or something): https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/11-month-old-schedule/
You’ll see that at this age most babies can sleep through the night, however some babies do better having one feeding through about a year. Is there a possibility he just needs a little bit of breastmilk or formula (or even water)? My second son was like this, he took one feeding through 12 months. I did eventually have to force him to drop it, but I waited until I was sure he was getting all he needed during the day and was just being stubborn (which turns out is his personality). If you need more help with this, let us know! You can always contact us directly at [email protected] and we can point you in the direction of more resources.
I have a 8 month old baby boy that has slept in 8 different beds. Teddy was born with a congenital deformity to his foot that has required us to travel for medical treatment. When home we used the SNOO with success. On our travels however there was no logical replacement for the SNOO. Where possible we maintained the five S’s however the S for Swing was difficult to maintain without the SNOO. Unfortunately the S for swing was one of the most important calming mechanisms for Teddy. It was tough times for sleep while we were away but there was the hope of returning home to the SNOO. When we returned home from our travels however Teddy had outgrown the SNOO and had learned how to roll over. Neither able to swaddle or swing there were many sleepless nights until we found Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit to help him transition from the swaddle. We put him in his big boy crib but his periods of waking gradually increased to every 1-1.5 hours. Us-sleepless and he-suffering from an upper respiratory infection, we made the decision to let him sleep in his swing. There was an immediate improvement in his waking in the swing with occasional resetting of his pacifier. With the respiratory infection resolved, he is now too big for the swing and we are faced with transitioning him to the crib. Initially he hated the crib but with a long crying session using a type of Ferber method he is sleeping in his crib with his pacifier and a small lovey. Now however he is waking throughout the night sometime once but sometimes multiple times per night.
This is where I hope you may help. I am sure that we (mostly me) have set up some bad sleep habits including being overly attentive to his complaints at night as well as not being consistent with the “wake to sleep” method. In addition the consistency of his nap schedule is non-existent having two older siblings that have school and activities. I have tried to tease-out all of the issues that make it difficult for Teddy to sleep but to no success. Any suggestions from the sleep gurus would be appreciated.
Thank you for using The Baby Sleep Site as a resource, and for sharing your experience with us! It sounds like you’ve persisted through a ton of wide-ranging sleep issues, so congratulations for getting to where you are! I’m sorry you’re struggling with some night waking after having success in the crib. If Teddy was sleeping relatively well and the night waking is new, you may have bumped into the 8 month sleep regression, which causes some night waking and nap resistance for many babies. We have a great article with tips on getting through it here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-patterns/8-9-10-month-old-baby-sleep-regression/
If that doesn’t sound like the answer to you, please send us an email with a short description of Teddy’s daily sleep schedule to [email protected]. There are many issues that can cause night waking at this age, but the sleep regression and schedule are the most common. I hope this helps – good luck!
Hi, my nearly 8 month old daughter will go to sleep being patted but a soon as she wakes up will not settle unless being picked up and held to sleep. This means past 12pm she’s needs us every 1.5/2 hours. How can I get her to help soothe herself.
Thank you for visiting The Baby Sleep Site! I’m sorry you’re struggling with getting your daughter to stay asleep by herself. Based on your description, it sounds like she’s developed a sleep association to the rocking and holding, and she will need some help learning to fall and stay asleep with those motions. We have an article all about sleep associations here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-association/
And you might like our sleep training series, which covers the most popular sleep coaching methods, from no-cry on up, that you can use at home to wean the associations and help your baby sleep independently: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-training-from-no-cry-to-cry-series-part-1
I hope this helps!
Comments are closed.