Never Wake a Sleeping Baby?
“Ok, so my baby is finally sleeping and you want me to what?!” I know…what I’m asking of you is crazy talk, but hear me out. If your baby is having multiple night wakings and is taking short naps, this may be an answer to your problem. In order to help preserve the next sleep period (e.g., nap or bedtime), there are certain situations where waking a baby is highly recommended. Letting your baby sleep for as long as their heart (or your heart’s) desire, can prevent them from sleeping at their biologically appropriate sleep times and will ultimately throw their entire schedule off. So, before you turn me away, read below for a few examples of when it is necessary to wake your baby.
1. If your baby is newborn.
You mean newborns don’t come out of the womb knowing that nighttime is for sleeping? Drats! Why is he up so much during the night? The good news is that you’re definitely not alone. Most newborns mix up their days and nights due to the fact that they’re just biologically too immature to have organized sleep.
For example, we know that light helps set and drive our internal clocks. However, a newborn has generally been kept “in the dark” while being in the mother’s womb. During pregnancy, a baby relies solely on the mothers’ cues about day and night, particularly movement and the sleepy hormone, melatonin. When mom is active during the day, her movement naturally rocks the baby to sleep. This is in contrast to when mom is sleeping at night and baby is ready to party (hence all the kicking). Once baby is born, he now independently has to figure this all out—relying on his own internal clocks (which have yet to develop) and melatonin production. It’s quite the task isn’t it?
I know it’s hard, but try not to think that your newborn is purposefully trying to drive you crazy or that you’re doing something wrong as a parent. With some time, the baby will naturally settle into their own sleep patterns and will sleep for longer stretches both day and night. By waking your newborn every 3 hours for a feeding during the day helps to ensure that they’re getting enough calories, and also helps set and drive their internal clocks by exposing them to light.
2. When too much day sleep impacts night sleep.
As we know, sleep is super important for our mental and physical health, and this is even more true for our little ones. Yes, naps are a piece of that puzzle, however, night sleep is far superior than day sleep and should be protected at all costs. Having too much sleep during the day can lead to an overall lower average of night sleep. If you are blessed with a baby that takes stellar naps but is clocking much less than 11 hours a night, you may want to consider capping their naps during the day to help preserve their night sleep.
See our chart on when Day Sleep Impacts Night Sleep
3. Nap transitions.
I’m not even going to try to sugar coat this one. If you’re one of the lucky ones that had smooth nap transitions, kudos to you! But, if you were like me who had a baby that was fighting his naps and was exhausted by late afternoon or early evening, you have my sympathy! (If you read my bio, you’ll know this was when I became obsessed with sleep!) Nap transitions can be a difficult time since they ultimately lead to a storm of overtiredness, early bedtimes and early wake-ups…yay! So, I offer this advice wholeheartedly as I have lived in the eye of the hurricane (or is it tornado?) and barely got out.
We want to make sure that our babies are developmentally ready for dropping a nap. Transitioning too early can negatively affect both day and night sleep, and ultimately leads to a very fussy baby…who wants that? So, what can we do? We can wake baby in the morning and/or from naps in order to keep their current nap schedule for as long as we can and until they’re developmentally ready. So, let’s go through an example together.
To help preserve our 7 month old’s 3 nap schedule, we may have to wake her up at 7am to fit all three in before 5:00pm (naps that occur any later will impede on night sleep…I’ll get to this point below). We might also have to shorten her 2nd nap by waking her up by 2:00pm so that we can fit in her 3rd nap from 4:30-5:00pm. Similarly, to help preserve our 17 month old’s 2 nap schedule, we might also have to wake her up at 7am, and shorten her morning nap to an hour so that we can fit her 2nd nap from 3:00-4:00pm.
Most babies aren’t ready to transition from 3 to 2 naps until they’re around 8 months and from 2 to 1 naps until closer to 18 months. It can take some time to figure out the secret sauce that works for your baby (and this is where a sleep consultant can help you), but once you find it, you won’t regret it! Nap transitions don’t happen overnight and can take a while to settle, so we have to be patient with the process and allow our child the time to adapt to their new sleep needs.
4. Past 7:30am.
A biological appropriate wake-up time is considered to be between 5:30-7:00am. So, if your child wakes within this time frame, it’s considered fair game. I know, not what you want to hear. But, if a baby wakes any earlier than 5:30am, it can cause them to lose out on restorative night time sleep. On the other hand, as stated in the previous point above, sleeping past 7:30am can throw the day’s schedule off and can lead to either inappropriate naptimes and/or bedtimes.
Let’s take a 10 month old who takes two naps. The most restorative naptimes for this age group is a morning nap at 9am and an afternoon nap at 1pm. In order to come close to these naptimes and provide the baby with enough wake time to play, eat and work off some energy to get tired and nap, we need to wake them up at 7:30am at the very latest (7am is actually better, but why would I ask you to do that?). So, the same rules apply as above—to help preserve our schedule and provide our little ones with the most restorative sleep, we will need to wake them up by 7:30am.
5. Last nap is too late.
You can probably piece together why I would say this one by now. If not, say this mantra with me, “night sleep trumps day sleep”. It offers the most restorative benefits for our children, and thus, we need to protect it like it’s the Iron Throne. If you have plans to have a party with your child at 2am, then by all means, this won’t bother you.
Naps that run too late in the day cause a domino effect of a too late bedtime, nightwakings, sleep cries, and early wake-ups. So, if you’re like me and want to sleep through the night, then for babies who are 3-8 months old, naps should finish by 5:00pm, and babies who are 8 months and older, should finish their naps by 4:00pm. For those children who are on one nap and need 5 hours of wake time before going to bed, then we may need to wake them even earlier, possibly 3:00pm in order to get them to bed at a decent hour. Letting children sleep past these recommended times will not provide them with the 11-12 hours of night sleep that they need to feel well-rested.