Help! My baby won’t sleep through the night

Now that Baby has passed that magic 6-month mark, you may have heard that they're ready to start sleeping through the night. And while every child develops at a different pace, it’s true that babies start to be able to sleep through the night by month 6.

Keep in mind that for many babies “sleeping through” is a stretch of about 8 hours, and that more than half of all babies aren’t sleeping through even at 9-12 months. It’s normal to be ready for more solid sleep, but it’s also normal to be managing an under one who is still a frequent overnight waker. 

Why the lack of shut-eye?

Confusingly, at exactly the age when some medical experts say Baby may be ready to safely start sleeping through the night without waking up to feed or cuddle, some babies who have been great sleepers start waking more often, or struggling to get back to sleep. This is because Baby is growing in more ways than one. Plus, a few other things to that keep them wakeful start to kick in, like exciting developmental milestones, teething, and separation anxiety.

When Baby learns to do something fun and exciting, like crawl, pull up, or even just roll over, they can grow excited enough about this new skill that they would rather stay up and master it. The best way to handle this challenge is actually  during the day! Give Baby all the floor time and practice you can for their new skill. They will feel like they have stretched their new muscles, both in body and mind.

Generally, it’s a good idea to make sure that sleeping spaces are free and clear of distractions, to keep their room dark and quiet, and (if you’re soothing to sleep) to try to make yourself as boring as possible (it’ll be a struggle) so Baby doesn’t want to get up again and play with you quite so badly.

Teething can be challenging because it’s a short but frequent occurrence in the first year. Those bulging gums may not bother some kiddos, but they can cause pain and distress for others. Of course a teething baby needs comfort overnight, but it can be exhausting! Offering a frozen teether while you read stories and at wake-ups, or discuss pain relief with their pediatric provider. Just be sure not to leave anything in their crib overnight. 

Separation anxiety is another tricky one, because it’s not like you can blame Baby for missing you, and for worrying about your absence the way you would worry about theirs if you woke up during the night and they weren&;t where you expected them to be. Baby wearing can help to help Baby feel connected enough during the day to sleep well overnight. 

In their waking hours, there are ways to establish when you disappear, you always come back. The two of you can start to work on this with fun games like peek-a-boo, or hiding one of their toys under a blanket and then revealing it again. These kinds of games may have been fun before Baby‘s brush with separation anxiety. Now though, they’re useful because they help to teach Baby that things (and people!) can still be close-by, even if they’re out of view. Another way to work on that understanding is to talk to Baby from out of view when you leave the room.

Game changers

If Baby hasn’t started sleeping through the night yet, they could just need some small adjustments that add up over time. The bedtime routine that has worked in the past isn’t always the bedtime routine that will work in the future. And now that Baby is about ready to graduate into a more mature sleeping style, their bedtime routine might be able to use a few adjustments to match.

  • Switch it up: If Baby is a habitual co-sleeper who hasn’t quite managed to sleep through till morning beside you, it’s possible that they are just ready to try sleeping somewhere that they can stretch out in a little more. But if Baby has been sleeping in their room alone like a champ from day one, they could just be missing you, and could be better at calming themself down all on their own if you’re in sight when they wake up during the night.
  • Early to bed, late to rise: It sounds counterintuitive, but getting Baby to bed just a little bit earlier could be the key to a bit more uninterrupted sleep. It’s strange, but it’s true, the better rested babies are, the easier it is for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. Finding a sweet spot can take time, so try a new bedtime for at least two weeks.
  • Consider the daytime routine: Being overtired can impact bedtime, but it can also cause more wake-ups overnight. Checking in on whether Baby is napping too much or too little during the day can even help with overnight sleep.
  • All safe and secure: It’s still too early to safely put Baby to bed with a soft toy, blankie, or other comfort object, but you can help to keep them from feeling too lonely in their own room by leaving a shirt you’ve worn, or something else with you scent on it, in the room with them. It might feel like a little bit of a stretch, but Baby‘s nose is pretty sensitive, and feeling like you or your partner is close might reassure them at night. Familiar sounds on their sound machine can also be helpful.
  • Take a chance on Baby: If Baby isn’t feeding at night anymore, and you suspect they're not due for a diaper change yet when they wake up in the night, there’s a good chance they will be able to put themself back to sleep without too much fuss. This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘crying it out,’ it just means taking a little bit slower of a walk to get to them to see if they put themself back to sleep before you arrive.
  • Expect differences: Babies aren’t just different in terms of the rate they develop at, but also in the way that they develop. Maybe Baby wakes up with the sun because they hasn’t quite worked out the trick to sleeping for longer than 6 hours at a time. But if you’ve tried everything, and you still can’t get them to sleep past the crack of dawn, it could just be time to admit that Baby is an early bird, and leave it at that. On the other hand, Baby could just as easily be a night owl completely independently of any outside factor, just like countless adults are. These differences may not be great for your schedule, but if they look like they’re not going anywhere, it may be easiest to find ways to live with them instead of finding a magical fix.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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