Common Problems

Waking At Night

By the time your baby is six months old, it is reasonable to expect him or her to sleep through most nights. However, up to half of all children under five go through periods of night waking. Some will just go back to sleep on their own, others will cry or want company. If this happens to you, try to work out why your child is waking up and then decide what you want to do about it.

The Reasons for Night Waking

There could be a number of reasons your baby is waking in the night. Below are some typical reasons that are common in young babies and children:

Hunger - how long a baby will continue to wake for a feed in the night depends very much on the individual baby. Some babies between six and eight weeks sleep though, others between 10 and 12 weeks. Some may just take longer.

Breast fed babies are more likely to wake several times a night if they do not get enough to eat. Your baby may not be feeding enough during the day or at each feed. Giving a later feed in the evening or some cereal last thing at night might also help your baby to sleep through the night.

If your baby has been previously sleeping through and then starts waking it could be a growth spurt or sign your baby is ready for weaning if they are close to six months old.

Sleeping too much during day - even small babies need to be awake some of the time. Try and encourage your baby to stay awake for up to one and a half hours after daytime feeds. After six to eight weeks of age most babies are capable of staying awake for up to two hours.

Too hot or too cold? Older babies often wake several times at night because they have kicked their covers off and are cold, or they may have got their legs caught between the bars of the cot. Using a sleeping bag (choose the right tog for the time of year) will help them avoid becoming too hot or cold and will prevent them from getting their legs caught in the bars.

Babies under six weeks have a very strong Moro reflex and can wake themselves several times a night by a sudden startle and jerk. These babies may benefit from being swaddled in a lightweight stretch cotton sheet. However, it is important to understand that tight swaddling is considered to be bad for the development of babies' hips. Freedom for them to move their legs upwards and outwards is imperative for the recovery and prevention of hip development problems.

Afraid of the dark? If your child seems fearful of the dark, then it might help to use a nightlight. If your child is waking bad dreams, then he or she might be experiencing nightmares or night terrors. Most children have nightmares at some stage. They often begin between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Nightmares are not usually a sign of emotional disturbance but may occur if your child is anxious about something or has been frightened by a television programme or story. After a nightmare your child will need some comforting and reassuring, but should go back to sleep after waking.

Night terrors can begin under the age of one, but are common in three to four year olds. They usually start with the child giving a scream or thrashing about while still asleep. He or she may sit up and talk or look terrified while still sleeping. Night terrors normally have no importance and your child will eventually grow out of them. Don't wake your child during a terror but if they happen at the same time each night, try to break the pattern by gently waking your child up about 15 minutes beforehand. Keep your child awake for a few minutes before letting him or her fall back to sleep. They won't remember anything in the morning.

The wrong sleep associations - between two and three months your baby's sleep cycle changes and he will come into a light sleep several times a night. If your baby is used to being fed, rocked, given a dummy to get to sleep he will need the same assistance to resettle himself to sleep in the night after waking.

Illness - a stuffy nose, cough or infection can make your child uncomfortable and mean they wake up a few times at night. With most spells of illness, the discomfort passes within a few days. If your baby is still suffering after a few days you should seek help from a doctor.


After all your investigations, no cause is found and your child continues to wake and cry or wants company, here are some suggestions for coping:

  • Try to get to bed early yourself so that you can cope with the hours you are awake in the night.
  • Try and take turns in getting up with your baby, sharing the load with your partner.
  • Teach your child to fall back to sleep alone - your baby will continue to awaken several times a night for the rest of her life, as we all do. But until she learns how to fall back to sleep on her own, neither of you will be able to get a good night's sleep. There are a number of approaches you can follow to get your baby started on the road to sleeping independence.

Site Links

This internet site provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child, you should always consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.