When to wake a sleeping baby
You might be so relieved to get them off to sleep that you’re loathe to wake sleeping babies, but there are a few times when it’s a good strategy, writes sleep expert Lucy Wolfe
You may have heard it said on many occasions that you should never wake a sleeping baby, and on the whole I would tend to agree that if you have managed to get your child to sleep, then let them be. However, there are a few exceptions that I will always suggest:
1. In the morning
I always recommend that you wake your child no later than 7.30am, to press start on the day. Even if you have all had very little sleep overnight, waking your baby at this time has a superb regulating impact on your child's biological clock and this awakening can help to anchor the day for feeds and for subsequent naps and bedtime.
Somehow, waking even just a little after 7.30am doesn't have the same positive impact on your child's sleeping pattern. Although it can be difficult, especially if you are all exhausted, the sleep gains are immeasurable. This regular wake time can really help establish better overall sleep and should not be underestimated.
Another point to note is that when you wake your baby, then get up and start the day by exposing your child to bright natural light and commencing your feeds for the day.
2. For your first nap
Typically I suggest that you limit the first nap of the day to no longer than 1.5 hours, and would advise that you wake your baby then also. Many of you can only dream of a nap longer than 45 minutes, and that can be unfortunate, but if your child is inclined to sleep long on the first nap, snip it at 90 minutes in order to preserve the balance of the rest of the day's sleep, especially if you are having sleep difficulties.
There is routinely a power play between the first and the second nap, and I would place more emphasis on the second sleep, as that has the function of helping to ensure that your child is not overtired before bedtime, which will leave you less vulnerable to night-time activity. I would even limit the first nap further if the second nap tends to be less than an hour and I would do this in an effort to promote nap two to a greater position of strength, bearing in mind that when your child eventually transitions to just one nap, it is the second nap that remains. If your child is older than 12 months, then it may be necessary to wake your child after one hour on the first sleep to create this balance.
3. To Keep Your Day Feeds
Although many children will require night-time feeds for some time from birth, it will be necessary to ensure that your child is getting enough to eat and drink during the day as you move towards a time when night feeds will not be biologically required. I would encourage that you wake your baby if they are due a daytime feed and be sure not to miss a feed time in preference to sleep. If your baby is going to do a big, long stretch, you will want that ideally to be overnight and they won't be able to achieve this if they are missing daytime calories. So, here I would wake to keep your due feeds in place.
4. At the end of the day
It can be a good idea to ensure that your 4 to 8-month-old doesn't sleep past 4.30-5pm and that your 8 to 18-month-old does not sleep beyond 3.30pm, and from 18 months+ the daytime sleep might be finished by 3pm. I would recommend that your baby is woken in these instances, not in an effort to limit daytime sleep, but to regulate it and to ensure that bedtime is a smooth operation. If your child, based on their age, requires up to two hours sleep at this time, then it will be necessary for you to ensure that the nap starts in time to more or less allow for it. Napping slightly too late can have pernicious implications for your child's ability to go to sleep with ease. In the younger age range, even 10 minutes after 5pm can make bedtime a stressful event, so there is a strong case for these waking suggestions. Napping too late in the day can sometimes have no impact on bedtime, but you may find that your child wakes frequently overnight as a result of being asleep during the day at the wrong time for their body. So whilst it is sleep, and it counts, the quality of the sleep may be impaired.
These suggestions are mostly helpful if your child is experiencing sleep difficulties that may be represented by challenging bedtimes and frequent night-time activity outside of necessary night-time feeds. If your baby sleeps well for you and you don't observe the above advice, then that is perfectly fine too, don't try to adjust your child's sleeping patterns if everything works and suits the family unit. However, if you find bedtime or daytime sleep is a challenge, then waking your sleeping baby as outlined can really help everyone get more sleep.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum-of-four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie, t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org