Should I ever wake my sleeping baby?

You often hear the phrase ‘never wake a sleeping baby’ thrown around – but is there any truth to this?

The short answer is ‘no’ – but the actual answer is a bit more complicated. Firstly, I want to reassure you that you don’t need to wake your baby ‘just because’, or to stick to a really strict schedule. But there are a few reasons why you might want to consider waking your little one….

6 reasons why you might wake your baby

1) Waking them in the morning to anchor their day

One of the easiest ways to improve a babies sleep, and make their routine more consistent is waking them up each morning at the same time. It helps to anchor their day, and regulate their circadian rhythm (which is one of the major forces behind their sleep). In other words – it helps their bodies know when they are supposed to be asleep, and when they are supposed to be awake!

It also helps to avoid them ‘sleeping in’ after a bad night (particularly one where they were awake for a long period of time). It may seem logical that they need to ‘catch up’, but in fact it can create a vicious cycle that reinforces the bad nights.

2) Your newborn is getting days & nights confused

Babies are born without an innate circadian rhythm – and so, have no way to tell the difference between night and day. This is why it’s really common for newborns to spend the night partying, and sleep through the day.

To help reverse this confusion it can help to wake your newborn in the morning, and at regular intervals throughout the day. In fact, I recommend only letting them sleep maximum 2 hours at a time, then encouraging a short (45-60minute) period of awake time before they sleep again. This will help to cement their body clock, and understand that daytime is awake time, and night time is for sleeping.

3) Your baby is sleeping through they daytime feeds

Another reason to wake your baby if they have been sleeping longer than 2 hours is to make sure they are having regular milk feeds. This is important because we want to ensure appropriate weight gain – but also, if they miss out on those calories in the day, they will wake up for them overnight.

4) Your babies daytime sleep is causing problems overnight

A lot of sleep advice focuses on increasing daytime sleep, or avoiding overtiredness. But did you know that UNDERtiredness can have an equally detrimental effect on overnight sleep?

All children have unique sleep needs, and will only ever need a certain amount of hours sleep in a 24 hour period. If they sleep too much during the day, this will eat into the amount of sleep they need overnight – and can cause waking, split nights and early rising. For example, you have an 8 month old who needs around 14 hours sleep in 24 hours. They sleep 3h30 hours in the day, and you aim for a 7-7 routine – but problem is, they are only capable of 10h30 hours overnight. This is going to result in them either being awake for an hour during the night, or up at 5:30am every day. Capping sleep at 2h30, and nudging bedtime a little later would help to rebalance their sleep and encourage a better nights sleep.

5) You are having difficulties with naps

During the day, babies’ naps are driven by homeostatic sleep pressure. If you imagine this as a ‘sleep tank’ – the longer a baby is awake, the more this sleep tank drains and the more tired they become. However, long naps fill up their sleep tanks. This can mean that sometimes, if a baby has a long nap in the morning, their sleep tank remains too full to properly nap for the rest of the day. In these situations, it may make sense to cap their morning nap to protect their second (or third) nap (and help ensure their overnight sleep is supported!)

6) You are getting late bedtimes or bedtime battles

Some babies just LOVE their daytime sleep – and would happily sleep for hours and hours. The only time this becomes a problem, is when you get to bedtime! For example, you may have a 9 month old baby, who wakes at 7am, sleeps 2 hours in the morning, and 1.5 hours in the afternoon. Problem is, their awake windows are naturally around 3.5-4 hours – and so bedtime is falling around 9pm. If the parents trying putting them down any earlier, it’s an absolute fight!

Capping the naps (whilst sticking to their natural awake windows) will help keep bedtime at a more reasonable time – and reduce those battles.

If you need more help with understanding your baby and their sleep, check out my range of age specific sleep guides!