When it comes to getting your little one to sleep, well, like a baby, but without the bits that means they are waking up every hour or refusing to re-settle or wanting to be fed or rocked to sleep, it can be soooo exhausting and challenging.
As a gentle holistic infant sleep coach, I talk to so many mamas who tell me they feel like they are doing something wrong, as though they are failing as a mother. This breaks my heart. Let me start by saying mama, you are not doing anything wrong. I believe you’re doing the best you can and that itself is an amazing job!
I’m going to outline some possible wake causes between settling your little one at bedtime and midnight as this is a super common issue. These are simple guidelines to help you think about what your little one could be waking for, therefore knowing how to help them sleep better.
More sleep for them means more sleep for YOU mama! Woo-hoo. Now let’s dive in…
Waking between 7.30pm - 12.00am
So you’ve got them off to sleep. Phew! You’re starting to unwind a bit. You’re thinking you should get some kip yourself, you know, sleep when they sleep. But oh, the draw of Instagram is strong, the pull to Facebook is intense. Oh, and there you go, you’ve fallen into the social media rabbit hole (don’t worry, I’m not judging, we’ve all been there). Then just while you think you’ve got these precious few ‘me time’ hours for scrolling away before your bedtime, they wake up. Oh dear. So let’s look at potential causes during the first 4-5 hours of night time sleep…
1. Environmental. Babies can be easily disturbed by things as they transition from one sleep cycle to the next. They’ll briefly wake then usually re-settle but if there’s something making them too distracted or too hot or too cold then this could be what’s waking them. Baby socks are a great idea in the winter to help regulate their core temperature. Think thin layers of night clothes rather than a thick single layer which they may get too hot in. Be careful swaddling a small baby too tightly as they can overheat, especially when the heating is on during the cold winter months. Get a room thermometer to check; it should ideally be between 16 - 20 degrees. White noise for babies up to six months and pink noise for babies over six months can be helpful when played quietly all night to minimise disruptive noises.
2. Nap too late in the day or too much day time sleep. Try to ensure you balance the sleeps of your baby well, with their longest nap in the middle of the day. Keeping to a consistent routine is so important, especially including a 20 minute wind down bedtime routine that has the same rituals in the same order every single night. It doesn’t need to be complicated! A feed, bath, change, story, cuddle, lullaby can be all that is needed. The trick is to be consistent. This can really help them know what’s coming and prepa.re them for bedtime sleep. You might also find it useful to complete a sleep diary for a few days to a week to see if there are any patterns and work out how much sleep they are actually getting in the day and night. If naps are a struggle, remember that it’s timing over technique so a nap when out and about in the car, sling or pram are all fine too.
3. Overtired. This is a biggie! Sometimes parents think that minimising day time sleep will often help their little ones to sleep better at night. This is a myth and not true! What actually happens is your baby will be producing the ‘awake’ hormone 3cortisol and have a harder time to settle at night and then fall into a lighter sleep with frequent wakings, usually within the first few hours of their bedtime. Also keep an eye out for how long it takes them to fall asleep. If it is almost instant as soon as their head hits the sheets or takes more than 20 minutes, either way, this can be a clear sign that your little one is overtired. Try to catch their sleep cues (yawns, rubbing eyes, looking away etc) before it’s too late. In this case, perhaps think about bringing their bedtime forward. Sometimes their optimal ‘sleep windows’ can be small so even a 15 minute shift can make a difference.
4. Hunger. Depending on your baby’s age and developmental stage, they may still need a night feed. That’s perfectly normal of course. Often there’s a grey area of when they are genuinely hungry or simply seeking comfort. To answer this, a good first step is to look at how your little one is settling to sleep at night. If they are being fed to sleep then I’d suggest feeding them at the beginning of their bedtime routine, away from their sleeping environment so they are feeding close to sleep time but not associating a feed to sleep need. If you have no concerns about their health and weight and they are still waking for a feed, then let’s look at their diet. Foods rich in tryptophan (an amino acid that helps the body produce melatonin, the sleepy hormone) are great to offer as a last meal of the day. Think turkey, salmon, almonds, chickpeas, tofu, chicken, pork chops, cheese, eggs, milk, bananas. Also low iron levels can affect your baby’s sleep. At around six months of age, their natural iron store they are born with will begin to deplete. Think red meat, spinach, broccoli and figs.
5. Night Terrors. These can be quite distressing, although usually for the parents more than the child as research shows your little one will not have any recollection of a night terror. They occur mostly in older toddlers and pre-schoolers but they can happen to babies too. Your little one may seem very upset, scream, kick, shout strange words, look wide eyed or vacant. They usually pass quickly and the three key things to bear in mind here are that if they are potty training but not yet dry at night, take them gently and quickly to the toilet. Often a night terror can be triggered by the need for the potty. Second of all, don’t try to rouse them out of one, just let it be, ensuring they are safe and you are nearby. Thirdly, a common trigger can be over-tiredness so do keep this in mind if your little one has more than the odd episode.
I hope these points can help reassure you and shed some light onto those pesky early night wakings. So next time you have some ‘me time’, you can relax, perhaps a little more deeply. Mama, you got this!
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