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Night waking: what your baby might be telling you

Night waking: what your baby might be telling you

As sleep-deprived nights blur into bleary-eyed mornings, it's easy to wonder what your little one is trying to communicate in those nocturnal hours.

In this blog, we delve into the intricacies of night waking, decoding the subtle cues and messages that your baby may be sending you. Understanding the reasons behind those night awakenings can be the key to not only addressing immediate needs but also leaving you feeling more confident in managing night-time sleep.

Let's dive into understanding wake-ups!

The woken parent!

Being woken in the night is a pretty common experience for parents, and it is certainly never easy.

Before exploring what we can do to support your child, it’s also important to understand what’s going on with your sleep and how we can optimise it.

Possible cause:

Having disrupted sleep can feel challenging because you are being woken in the middle of your sleep cycle. Waking from that deep (Non-Rem 3) sleep can make you feel groggy and make getting up to attend that wake all the more difficult!


Whilst we can’t control when a little person wakes up, we can try to manage our own sleep to ensure we are getting as much as possible.

Try to avoid caffeine for the 6 hours before sleep and hop into bed with a book (not your phone!) 30 minutes earlier than you usually do. This can be all it takes to get you just a bit more sleep.

It’s important to keep yourself consistent for at least three weeks to allow the habit to become your new normal!

Fact: It is completely normal for babies to wake in the night for feeding, comfort and changing; in fact, only 6% of 6-month-olds sleep 6 hours solidly!

The waking child

Let’s look at some common waking patterns and consider what could be any potential causes, as well as some ideas for approaching these wakes ups

Waking shortly after falling asleep

You have noticed that your little one is waking 5 to 10 minutes after you put them to sleep.

Possible cause:

Sometimes, this can be caused by what is called a hypnic jerk; jerks can happen when transitioning between sleep states. Often, the body jolts, which can cause a child to startle awake. This may make them upset as they may have had a shock!


Overtiredness can make hypnic jerks more prominent, so ensuring that your little one is getting an appropriate amount of sleep in 24 hours is a good idea. Adding 15 to 30 minutes of extra day sleep may help to reduce these jerks.

The other thing you can do is support them to sleep with your hand. Placing their hands onto their tummy, you can gently hold them here whilst they drift off to sleep for five or so minutes. Once they are soundly asleep, you can remove your hand; this can help to prevent that startle reflex.

Babies under six months that aren’t yet rolling could also be swaddled or wrapped safely; this can be a soothing thing for young babies.

During the day, it is also important to allow babies lots of free space to play on the floor and experience their bodies; this way, they can integrate their systems and develop their motor control.

Waking before midnight

Perhaps your little one frequently wakes up before midnight, which is unrelated to a feeding need.

Possible cause:

When a little person is overtired, their body prioritises active Non-REM stage two and three sleep. This means it doesn’t move smoothly around the complete sleep cycle and can cause more frequent wakes and sleep disruption.


Try to make sure that your child is having sufficient day sleep through either well-timed longer naps or short cat naps throughout the day. This can help to avoid overtiredness at the end of the day, which can be a barrier to sleep and cause more wakes. You may like to try an earlier bedtime, with the aim that sleep latency is around 15-20 minutes.

Sleep latency is the time it takes to fall asleep once in bed, it is a good indicator of tiredness that we can use as a handy tool. Generally, 15 -20 minutes is the ideal time for a child to fall asleep; frequently taking longer than this can be problematic or might indicate under-tiredness. Less than 10 minutes can signal that a child is overtired.

Fact: Waking is not only common, but it is also protective against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). To learn more about SIDS check out The Lullaby Trust.

Waking up between 11pm-2am

Possible cause:

Maybe you have a little owl waking you between 11 a.m. and 2 a.m.; this could be caused by the changing stages between non-REM sleep and lighter REM sleep. Moving between sleep stages can be a little disruptive but it can also coincide with things like bad dreams. Changes to the environment, (like dropping temperature and external noises) can be prominent and cause awakenings.


It can be useful to implement a white noise machine in your baby’s sleep space to help block external noise.

Making sure to dress them appropriately for the coolest part of the night can help prevent waking up cold. I sometimes suggest socks can be a safe and useful layer to add in if your child seems to wake up and feel slightly cold to the touch.

Make sure to optimise sleep timings and ensure that sleep latency is good.

You might like to try stirring your child when you go to bed. This can reset their sleep cycle a little and manage that sleep disturbance short term.

Waking every hour after midnight

Possible cause:

For parents with babies waking after midnight again, it can be useful to first address the sleep environment. Consider what might be disruptive during those sleep state transitions. Is the heating kicking in and making a clang at a certain time? Are the light levels appropriate?


Using pink noise can help to muffle background noise and improve sleep.

As with all night waking, we must consider if overtiredness is a contributing factor and manage this appropriately.

Sometimes, wakes can become a habit, so consider if habitual awakening might work for your family. This involves stirring your little one 15 to 20 minutes before the usual wake-up, just to alter their sleep state. Depending on their arousal threshold, this might be placing a hand on them or giving them a kiss. You are looking for them to possibly alter their breathing, sign, murmur or shift a little. You are aiming for a system reboot of the sleep cycle!

It can be helpful to understand why night wakes can happen and some potential ways that you can provide support like comforting touch and creating a peaceful sleep environment.

Be mindful this guidance is a high-level look at what could be going on. It is important to remember that every child is unique, and the cause of your baby’s wake-ups might be something different. Allergies, attachment, potty training and even some foods can cause night waking.

Night wakes can be really draining as a parent, and you are definitely not alone!

For advice and support head to The Little Sleep Company website

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