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Why isn't my baby sleeping through the night?

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Cara Dumaplin

Mom kissing baby's head as baby looks at the camera and Mom is wondering why isn't my baby sleeping through the night?

Wait, before we talk about why, what does “sleeping through the night” actually mean? 

You may have read that a 5-7 hour stretch of sleep is “sleeping through the night.” While that is a developmentally appropriate and even amazing stretch of sleep at some ages, that’s not my definition of a full night of rest! When I refer to “sleeping through the night,” I’m referring to 10-12 hours of sleep with no need for parental intervention! (This may need to include a feeding for some babies until 5-9 months.)

If your little one isn’t sleeping through the night yet OR your previously great sleeper has started waking frequently, here are ten important factors that all play into “sleeping through the night”:

1. Your baby’s age

Although newborns may sleep 16-18 hours a day, their sleep patterns aren’t like adults. Young babies will need to awaken in the night to eat. This is normal and developmentally appropriate! (Small tummies need more frequent feedings.) BUT — even though your newborn will be waking, you can still begin laying a foundation for good sleep and work towards getting longer and longer stretches.

My no-cry newborn class, Will I Ever Sleep Again?, is full of tips and strategies to help your baby (birth-12 weeks) begin to learn the healthy sleep habits necessary for long, full-night stretches in the future! If your baby is at the later end of that age range (10-12 weeks), it’s not too late! This class is still a great resource for you to start laying a healthy sleep foundation.

2. Wake windows

The term wake windows refers to the amount of time your little one spends awake between naps. 

A wake window starts when you pick your baby up out of her crib and ends when you lay her back down in her crib.

Your baby’s awake time during the day can affect the quality and length of her sleep at night. Wake windows that are too short or too long can both cause night wakings. Ensuring your wake window is within the age-appropriate range helps sets your nights up for success. Each month, we want to gradually add a bit more awake time to set your baby up for restorative naps and successful nights. Be sure to check out these sample daily schedules for babies 5-25 months old.  

3. Active awake time

How does your baby spend his awake time? Babies are just like us — stimulating our brains and moving our bodies helps us all to sleep better.

Try to fill your baby’s awake time with fun and engaging activities: Play with different toys, get outside, go for a walk, allow floor time for rolling, sitting, crawling, or pulling up. It doesn’t have to be complicated! 

4. Developmental strides

Each age comes with a whole new set of skills and abilities. It’s such an exciting time and one to celebrate! But as your baby’s brain is learning these new skills, her sleep can be impacted. When this happens, she is experiencing a temporary “sleep regression.” Don’t panic! If you have a plan to follow, this is temporary; it will pass!

Struggling with a regression? Please know, if sleep is a disaster, you don’t have to wait for this developmental stride or leap to be over before working on your baby’s sleep. My classes meet your baby where she is developmentally — which means you can start a class today to begin improving your little one’s nights and naps! Your class will also give you a plan to follow any time sleep is derailed due to developmental strides or regressions. 

For many families, the regression occurring at 3-4 months old is the hardest. It’s at this time that little ones are developing more adult-like sleep cycles. If your baby is at this critical age and sleep has been a struggle, my Navigating Months 3 & 4 ebook will give you the tools you need to navigate this tricky stage. 

5. Bedtime routine

Starting around 8-weeks-old, a calming bedtime routine will help your baby wind down for the night. When practiced consistently, it will tell your baby’s brain that it’s time for sleep.

Your routine does not have to be complicated! It can be simple and effective. A bedtime routine may include activities like bath time, putting on jammies, bedtime feeding, and reading stories. Find what works best for YOU!

6. Comfort

Don’t we all sleep best when we wear our comfiest jammies? Your baby is the same! He wants comfortable jammies as well. 

We also need to make sure that your baby is a comfortable temperature. Guidelines will tell you that your thermostat should be set at 68-72 degrees, but those are just that — guidelines. We know all homes have varying temperatures, so my real-life mantra when it comes to room temperature is this: Assess, don’t obsess!

Take a look at what you’re wearing to sleep. Are you comfortable? Great! Dress baby similarly, then assess him! Does his chest and back feel warm, but not hot? Perfect! Too cold or too hot? Add or remove a layer of clothing, and then reassess.

7. Sleep environment

Environment can play a huge role in baby sleep. Think about it, you probably wouldn’t get a full night of rest if you were in a bright and noisy environment. 

Here are a few tips to set the perfect environment for sleep:

  • Make it dark: I mean, really dark. Turn off those night lights, and cover the windows (use code Cara for 10% off). Light can actually stimulate a baby’s brain, and tell him that it’s time to be awake! 

  • Make it cool: But not cold! Science shows that as nighttime approaches, our bodies naturally cool down. With a cool environment, you’re reinforcing your baby’s natural instinct to sleep.

  • Use a sound machine: Silence is actually unusual to your baby. While growing in the womb, your baby was soothed by the constant “WHOOSH” sound of blood rushing through the placenta. A sound machine creates that familiar and comforting sound, while also blocking out extraneous noise

8. Independently falling asleep

If you’re struggling with night wakings, let me ask you something: is your baby falling asleep independently at bedtime? Falling asleep independently is a huge part of achieving consolidated night sleep.

Here’s why: We all wake up multiple times throughout the night as we transition through sleep cycles. We wake up, check our surroundings, and without even knowing we are awake, we go back to sleep if all seems well. But, imagine this scenario: you fell asleep in your bed and woke up a few hours later in your neighbor’s bed — YIKES! You probably wouldn’t simply roll over and fall back to sleep, because waking in a different place than where you fell asleep is alarming. We expect our surroundings to be unchanged when we awaken in the night. It is the same for your baby.

So, if your little one was initially rocked to sleep in your arms and then placed into her bed, she will likely need you to repeat that pattern multiple times during the night. When she wakes in a different place than where she initially fell asleep, guess what she’ll need to go back to sleep? That same rocking that put her to sleep at bedtime! 

If your baby is struggling with falling asleep or night wakings, The ABCs of Sleep class will help you teach your baby to fall asleep independently and consolidate night sleep. (Think 10-12 hours of unassisted sleep!) 

9. Feedings

When your little one is waking through the night, you probably want the quickest and easiest way to get back to sleep. For many, the “go-to” solution is night feeding. A quick bottle or breastfeeding seems to do the trick for a while. However, over time more night feedings can lead to a baby that simply isn’t as hungry during the day. This is called “reverse cycling.” Babies learn to snack during the day and rely on their full meals to come through the night. Your baby will continue waking through the night because those caloric needs are not being met during the daytime hours. 

The key to ending reverse cycling is to help your baby get most, if not all, of his needed calories during the daytime. In my classes, I’ll teach you how to do just that: be responsive to hunger cues, get needed calories during the daytime, and gently shift feedings from the night in a developmentally appropriate way.

10. Consistency

Consistency is KEY! A consistent approach to your bedtime routine and night wakings will help you in building a healthy sleep foundation for your little one. On the flip side, inconsistency can inadvertently reinforce being awake in the night. 

If your baby’s sleep is a mess and you aren’t sure where to start, The 5–24 Month Collection will give you a holistic, fully customizable, step-by-step plan to follow that will help you establish consolidated sleep. It will cover bedtime, night wakings, night weaning, early morning wakings, and naps too. Sometimes, just having it all laid out for you by an expert you can trust is exactly what you need. If you aren’t ready to invest but need a place to start, I’ve created a free resource for you with 5 Daytime Tips for Better Nights (and Naps!).

Finally, I know it’s hard when your little one isn’t sleeping through the night. Please know that you don’t have to walk this journey alone. I have classes to help you each step along the way. Remember: there’s no better mama or daddy for your baby than you!

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