Should You Wake A Sleeping Baby?

Should You Wake A Sleeping Baby

“Never wake a sleeping baby.” Even people who are not parents have heard the old adage. That one phrase perfectly describes how elusive baby sleep can be for exhausted parents. It almost feels superstitious in a way, as if by waking a sleeping baby, you may never get another moment’s rest again. So if your baby is sleeping peacefully, why would you ever want to wake them, especially if you’ve worked so hard to get them to sleep in the first place?

While this rule is generally true, believe it or not, there are a few times when waking your baby can be solutions to other sleep problems. Not sure when you should let your baby sleep, or wake them up? Keeping reading for four situations where you might want to consider waking your baby.

Should You Wake A Sleeping Baby? In These 4 Situations…Yes!

  1. Long night-waking
  2. Do you have a child whose schedule is being thrown off with a long night-waking, or insomnia, in the middle of the night? If so, letting him make up for that lost sleep by sleeping in the next morning can exacerbate the schedule problem. We’re not talking about the one off day here or there – of course you’d let him sleep in for those situations. But if your baby or toddler is consistently waking for long periods night after night, you need to be proactive and help him sort out his schedule. Although there are a few exceptions, long waking at night is usually caused by a schedule problem, especially if he is sleeping enough, but in multiple fragments.

  3. Naps are too long
  4. Even if you’ve managed to avoid common baby nap mistakes and mastered your baby’s naps and schedule, sometimes naps can become too long. With the exception of newborn naps, your baby or toddler should not nap longer than 3 hours total for a day, on average. Of course, there will be exceptions, but often if a baby or toddler is napping too long during the day, it will impact their night sleep, since the amount of total sleep in a 24 hour period will remain relatively constant. It can become a bit of a chicken and egg problem, because allowing a baby to make up for lost sleep at night by napping too long during the day could reinforce the very sleep problems you’re trying to resolve at night. Instead, you should tackle the sleep problems that occur at night and keep naps properly balanced, because night sleep is more restorative.

  5. To manage naps before a nap transition
  6. This one is a close relative to naps getting too long. Sometimes, right before a nap transition, it may be 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 getting pushed back 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. For most babies older than 3-4 months old and for young toddlers, bedtimes should generally be between 6 and 8 p.m. While 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.

  7. Sorting out day / night confusion
  8. It’s not uncommon for newborn babies to come home being confused about day and night. Because many parents have been advised not to wake a sleeping baby, new parents will allow their newborn to sleep too long during the day (sometimes as much as 8 hours straight), but then become surprised when their baby is up all night, sleeping on and off for an hour or so. While in general, we do recommend letting napping babies sleep, sometimes this rule needs to be bent, and this is one of those times. In order for your newborn to sort out their days and nights, she will need to be awake during the day for her internal clock, or circadian rhythms, to adjust to life outside the constantly dark womb. For newborns, it’s 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 her clock.

So, Should You Wake A Sleeping Baby? Sometimes…But Not Often!

Occasionally, waking your sleeping baby can be a temporarily solution to fix a specific issue, but should not become a long-term strategy. If this specific sleep problem has been occurring for just a short period of time (less than 1-2 weeks), it may just be a phase that you can wait out to see if your baby can self-adjust her schedule before taking action to wake her. If you find that you need to wake your baby frequently (as in a week, maybe two), more than likely you either have a scheduling issue or  there may be something else at work. But luckily, we can help!

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What do you think? Should you wake a sleeping baby? Have you ever had to wake your baby from sleep? Leave a comment below, and let us know!

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14 thoughts on “Should You Wake A Sleeping Baby?”

  1. How do you manage naps when you have other children to care for? For example, my 4 month old wants to nap about two hours after his morning feeding. This is the time that I have to take my children to preschool. He sometimes will fall asleep before us having to leave or will fall asleep in the car. The school is 20 min one way. During spring break, his naps were completely uninterrupted and it made such a difference especially getting him down for bedtime. He wasn’t fighting sleep. I hate that their pick ups and drop off for preschool is negatively impacting his sleep schedule. Any suggestions?

    • Hi @Brittany, thank you for writing to us. I’m going to be in your situation very soon as my oldest will be starting kindergarten and I’ll have a 2 month old at that point, to be honest – I am totally dreading it! It can definitely be tricky navigating through this and may take some trial and error. Here is a link to a sample schedule for a 4 month old and what an ideal day would typically look like:
      I’d suggest seeing if you can make some tweaks to that schedule for him to make it work better with the school drop off/pick up, and if it’s a possibility see if there are other parents in your older child’s class that would be open to carpooling a few days a week (no clue if that would be a possibility, but just throwing it out there!). If you need more specific help with this, our sleep consultants are very use to helping families create a schedule that can work and evolve with their changing family needs. If you’re interested in that, please visit our website here to find out more information: services/
      Feel free to let us know if you have any more questions. Hang in there!

    • Hi Aida,

      Thank you for visiting The Baby Sleep Site! Generally, you can shorten the nap a little bit, but your baby may need to go to bed a little earlier that evening to make up the sleep. I hope this helps!

  2. Under #2 Naps are too long, it states that “baby should not nap longer than 3 hours total for a day…” does that mean not longer than 3 hours at once or for all naps combined? So if baby sleeps 1.5 hours, then 45 minutes, they should only take one more 45 minute nap to not exceed 3 hours? For instance, I have a 4-month old, he’s finally starting to take longer naps (like over 40 minutes), but he’s definitely starting to sleep more than 3 hours during the whole day in naps combined.

    • @Beth – Thank you for reading! This is definitely a more general guideline and all babies are quite different from each other and will vary in their day time sleep needs as they go through milestones and ages. 3 hours total generally refers to all day sleep combined vs total sleep for one particular nap. I hope this helps, Beth. Please keep reading!

  3. I usually have to wake my 6 month old from 2 of her 3 naps it’s she will nap longer then an 1 1/2 each nap and wake too much at night. Not sure if I should just let her take long naps or keep waking her, or is she trying to transition to 2 naps??

  4. My son is 9 months and can sleep over 12 hours straight. I’m just wondering if I should wake him up at the 12 hour mark or will he be getting too much sleep? He has two naps a day that usually total somewhere between 2-2.5 hours.

    • @Katie That is great to hear that your son is sleeping so well at night. If he is experiencing night wakings, or other sleep issues, then you may want to consider waking him to prevent too much nighttime sleep. However, if he is sleeping well, with no wakings or behavioral problems, then he may just be one of those children who needs a little extra sleep. You can use this chart as a generalization to help you determine how much sleep he should be getting at this age:

  5. I love this website because I had my dughter days and nights mixed up and I wanted to get her on the right sleep scedual. I didn’t know what to do till I found this website. Now my 6 month old she sleeps thought the night and she has her morning naps. Again I love this website.

    • @Samantha – I’m so glad you find our information useful! And congratulations on getting your daughter’s days and nights sorted out. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Is it okay to wake a baby at night to feed him/her?

    When my daughter was about 4 or 5 months old she started sleeping longer stretches through the night, eliminating a feeding. But at the same time, she also stopped gaining adequate weight, to the point where my lactation consultant became concerned and suggested I wake her up before I went to bed to get in another feeding. It worked!

    But now, at 8 months old, I’m wondering if I should still be waking her up. Any opinions?

    • @ Megan Smith – yes, it would absolutely be appropriate to wake a baby in this circumstance! It is ALWAYS best to listen to a healthcare provider or lactation consultant, and to follow that person’s advice. Sleeping long stretches is awesome at this age, but if it interferes with adequate weight gain, then it’s best to consult a medical expert (as you did) and then follow that advice.

      However by 8 months, most children are able to be on just one feeding each night (and possibly no feedings), so my guess would be that you can probably stop waking her. That said, though, if you have concerns about your milk supply, you’d do well to talk to your lactation consultant again.

      Hope that helps, Megan! Best of luck to you 🙂

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