Before we get to the good stuff, we want to note that sleep support is only intended for full-term healthy babies. Medical diagnoses or prematurity can greatly impact sleep and change what you can reasonably expect from your little one. Sleep is a highly individual process, and we encourage you to reach out to your pediatric provider or a sleep professional for support as needed.
The cliche is, “let sleeping dogs lie,” but it could just as easily be applied to babies. No matter how sweet your little bundle of joy is, once Baby goes down for a nap, letting them sleep can feel like as important of a priority as breathing oxygen, or managing to squeeze in time for a shower now and then.
Are there situations where the best option is actually to wake the baby though?
The short answer is yes.
If you have a baby who sleeps for long stretches during the day and at night and their sleep seems to work out well with your schedule — there’s no need to wake them up and change things! But for many parents, waking a sleeping baby is necessary to be able to get on a reasonable schedule.
Here are some situations that may make it necessary to wake up your little one.
If your child is having a difficult time getting back up to their birth weight after delivery, or if your child’s pediatrician has expressed concern about their weight gain, it may be necessary to wake them to feed so you can make sure they’re getting enough calories during the day (and through the night too). Check in with your child’s provider if you’re not sure how frequently you should be waking them up to feed.
Newborns are typically born with their days and nights mixed up. During pregnancy when you were up during the day and moving around or at work, the constant movement often would lull your baby to sleep. Then, when you were able to kick your feet up at night, you may have noticed your baby woke up and got more active! Many babies are born with their days and nights still reversed like this. Usually infants will sort out their days and nights on their own by about 8 weeks. But there are some things you can do to help make that transition happen faster!
- Don’t let any single nap go over 2 hours in length
- Try to keep your baby up for at least 60 minutes in between naps
- Make sure the baby is napping in the brightest room of the house and don’t try to keep things quiet. At night, do the opposite and make sure they sleep in a dark, cool and quiet environment.
Infants that are 3 months old or younger need about 14 – 17 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. That means they also need between 7 – 10 hours of wake time. If most of those 7-10 hours are happening during the night, it may be best to start waking them up a bit early from naps. By doing this, you can start to shift their schedule so that more of those hours of sleep take place during the night instead of during the day!
Increased number/length of wake-ups at night
Too much sleep during the day will usually result in an infant that wakes up more at night (same with adults). While we expect infants to wake up at night for feedings, sometimes they’ll wake up at night simply because they are no longer tired! If you’ve gone in to feed your little one and they are disinterested, or they only eat a small amount but seem wide awake, it may be that they are getting too much daytime sleep.
Between 4-12 months of age, an infant’s sleep needs drop a bit and they need about 12 – 15 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. So, 9-12 hours of their 24 hour day will be spent awake. If left up to baby, those wake time hours may not happen when you want them to. Capping daytime sleep can help make sure that your little one is up enough during the day and sleep as much as possible at night. Out of those 12 – 15 hours of needed sleep, plan on 9 -10 of them taking place at night and the rest of those hours being spread out over naps.
Length of naps matters too! If an infant/toddler is under 12 months of age, then it’s usually best to keep naps to no more than 2 hours in length. Naps that go over 2 hours will often start to cause more nighttime wakings.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “Sleep and newborns.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, December 2016.
- “Techniques on Waking a Sleeping Baby.” AskDrSears. AskDrSears.com. Web.
- “Waking Up Is (Sometimes) Hard To Do.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.