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6 Reasons Why Your Baby Wakes Up in the Middle of the Night

When my little guy was waking up several times a night (prior to sleep training, of course!), I would give stink eyes to anyone who looked like they had gotten a good night’s sleep.  I was a pretty happy person when I got sleep, but watch out if it had been a bad night!

Let’s face it, overtiredness makes a person grumpy. And slightly crazy! Especially when something you used to have (sleep) is now GONE!  And then with the grumpiness comes despair. Things will NEVER change [insert whiny voice]. Yup, I was the depressive drama queen way back when. Maybe you can relate…

BUT, what if you knew WHY your little one was waking up in the middle of the night so you could remedy the situation?

Welcome back, happy person!

I’m a huge believer that knowledge is power, and in this case, knowing what is causing your baby to wake up is the key to changing the behavior. So here I’ve compiled the top 6 reasons why babies will continually wake up at night:

 #1 Sleep Props
If your baby needs you to do something to get her to sleep (feed her to sleep, rock her to sleep, shhh until you’re feeling light-headed), that’s a sleep prop.  Most parents who are relying on sleep props find that the stars have to align perfectly for baby to fall asleep AND stay asleep once baby is put into the crib. You may even have a ritual…wait exactly 4.5 minutes after baby falls asleep, slowly walk from chair to crib, gently lower baby into the crib like a slow moving elevator, take one hand out and place on baby’s tummy, take other hand out…and DROP to the floor and army crawl out. Sound familiar? I promise I don’t have a secret camera in your nursery, but these scenarios are pretty common!

If this is the reason your child is waking up, my best advice is to put baby in the crib awake.

#2 Overtiredness
Have you ever been so tired that you couldn’t actually fall asleep? You snuggle into bed, the kiddos are all asleep…but your mind and your body won’t settle down? When that happens, overtiredness is likely the culprit.  When babies get overtired, they can’t fall asleep either, but because they can’t talk, you may assume they’re hungry or uncomfortable.

The best way to conquer the overtiredness problem is to prevent it! Make sure your little one isn’t staying awake too long in between sleeps.

#3 Hunger
This one can be tricky. There are pediatricians who look at weight and growth to determine when baby will be able to go all night without a feeding, and others go by age. That’s something you need to discuss with your doctor. I will say that a baby over 5-6 months, who was not premature and is a healthy weight, can sleep through the night as long as you ensure he’s getting enough to eat during the day. Truth be told, I’ve seen babies much younger sleep through too, but it all comes down to weight, age and health as well as his breastmilk and/or formula intake during the day.

One way to determine if hunger is the primary reason is to look whether your baby is having a full feed for the night wakeups. If your child is only having a couple of ounces for each night feed, he’s snacking and needing that bottle to get him back to drowsy (or sleep). If it’s a full feed and he’s getting enough ounces during the day, but he’s a healthy weight and age, it is likely a habit.

Another thing to look at is the timing of the night wakeups. Is your baby waking once, eating and then sleeping the rest of the night? Then your little one is needing that bottle. If he’s waking up at different times during the night or the duration of the wakeups vary, then he’s likely waking because it’s a sleep prop and not for the nutrition.

#4 Temperature
I get to meet lots of families and often visit their homes for the consultation and nursery assessment. One thing that I look at is the temperature of the nursery with the door shut and what the baby will be wearing to sleep. If a baby is wearing too many layers or very heavy layers, he can become overheated which will (and should!) wake him up.  Besides interrupting consolidated sleep, being too warm at night is also related to SIDS.  A good way to check if your baby is too warm is to feel the back of his neck, which is often a better indicator than feet and hands. If he’s sweaty on his neck, remove a layer.

You’ll have to assess what the right temperature is for your nursery, taking into account the second layer of a sleep sack (cotton or fleece), swaddle and/or a blanket.  Cooler temperatures are better for sleep and in general, 68-70° is a great temperature for sleeping.

#5 Sound
Does your neighbor let out the dog at 10pm every night for one last bathroom break and forget he’s out there? Does your child wake up easily with thunder storms? Do you get up for work early and have loud plumbing or creaky floors?

If you find a correlation with the sounds and wakeups (for example, the garbage truck at 5am on Mondays), then investing in a white noise machine will be helpful. Of course if your child is waking up at 5am every day (and the garbage truck is only on your street on Mondays), then you’ll have to look at other reasons from this list.

#6 Diaper Issues
Does your baby often leak through her pajamas or have dirty diapers shortly after bedtime? Babies who are getting several night time bottles or will naturally be wetter (more in, more out!), but there are some things you can do.

Make sure you’re using high quality, overnight diapers. You may also want to look at those nifty baby products called diaper doublers (no doubt invented by a mom) to increase the capacity of the diaper. These come in both disposable and cloth versions. You can also look at the timing of the last feed to see if that is affecting when your little one is in need of a new diaper.

The great news is that once the night feed(s) are eliminated, the soaking wet diapers often go away too!


These 6 reasons are the ones I see most often with my client families when a baby is consistently waking up each night. Of course an underlying medical issue can cause babies to wake up regularly as well. If you have concerns that the night wakings may have a medical component, it’s best to make an appointment with your pediatrician!

Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s post with reasons why your child is waking up now even though he’s been sleeping through the night for a while!

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