Mom Question: Why is my 9 month old suddenly waking every hour through the night? Before that she was waking every 3-4 hours.
There are several reasons why a baby may suddenly start waking more often at night. Sometimes in the case of Developmental milestones, teething and illness, there maybe things we can do to help the phase pass sooner. However, depending on the cause a behavioural intervention may be needed before you see improvement.
6 Possible reasons for sleep disturbances:
1. Developmental milestones
Children will often wake and practice emerging sleep skills in the night. This is very common especially with rolling, crawling, standing and walking. We also see babies singing or practicing new words in the night. Sometimes the child may still be in a light phase of sleep.
If your child is not calling for your attention, it may not be necessary to go in and offer assistance. If she needs you she will likely call out or cry to signal she needs your assistance and then you can go in and intervene. Many parents will be frustrated with these wakenings and lay awake themselves knowing that their baby is not sleeping. Giving these disturbances too much attention can reinforce the waking. She may soon learn that when she is in a wakeful state that if she calls out Mommy or Daddy will come and entertain her.
What to do?
You can help your baby work on these emerging skills during the day so that she masters is sooner and is less likely to need to practice during the night. For a younger baby, encouraging tummy time can help develop the core muscle strength and skills needed to competently roll, crawl and later walk.
Teething is something that parents often wonder about when it comes to night wakings. Experts say that teething is blamed for sleep problems more than it should be. Usually with teething we see acute symptoms such as drooling, crabbiness, red cheeks and gnawing on everything in sight lasting for about 3 days at a time. Then we either see a tooth erupting or the symptoms go away and come back later. As a general rule, if your child is not showing teething signs in the day then she is likely not teething that night. If your baby is experiencing teething pain in the night it is fine to pick her up and treat it as you would during the daytime.
Sickness can also be the culprit. From spending over 10,000 hours in the bedrooms of babies I have noticed that signs of emerging illnesses can often show up at night before they are noticed in the daytime. I have often mentioned to the parent that the baby coughed or sneezed once or twice in the night a few days before any obvious signs of illness show up. There is not much you can do about a possibly developing illness. If there is anything to be concerned about usually symptoms will become more noticeable over a few days and you will have clearer idea of whether treatment is needed.
Being Overtired from the day or from going to bed too late can also cause sleep disruptions. This is a key factor for optimal sleep. If a child (or adult) is awake too long it often causes them to get overtired releasing cortisol and adrenaline which make it more difficult to fall asleep and fragment sleep cycles making it more challenging to stay asleep also. In the first year of life we often find that children can only be awake for 1-3 hours before we see them showing signs of being overtired. Getting overtired in the day can cause wakings in the middle of the night as well as early morning waking.
5. Changing Sleep Locations
Changes in Baby’s Environment can also play a role in night wakings. If your baby falls asleep at the beginning of the night and the conditions change, during a light sleep phase your baby can become more alert and may be unable to fall asleep without the original conditions. For example if baby falls asleep in Mom or Dad’s arms and is transferred into a crib, this can be startling in the night. Imagine falling asleep in your bed and waking up on the floor. We can also see a similar effect if other things have changed in the environment such as the music, white noise or light has turned off after baby has fallen asleep. Try to keep your environmental elements consistent so that when baby falls asleep it is the same through the night. If you are having trouble putting baby down in her bed without fussing, you may want to consider sleep coaching.
6. Bedtime Support
Helping your baby fall asleep or get to a drowsy state at bedtime is a common behavioral cause of night waking. If your baby needs you to do something for her or to her in order to fall asleep or to get into a drowsy state, she will need you to come back and assist her in the night when she gets into a light sleep cycle. Common support that parents offer to babies in falling asleep include nursing/feeding, rocking and comforting the baby to sleep.
If your baby needs help at the beginning of the night to fall asleep, she will need help in the middle of the night. And since you have taught her to fall asleep this way, it is only fair that you go back in and offer the same support in the night. Some families are fine supporting their children to sleep and back to sleep, however we see many families getting to a point where they want to make a change. Sleep habits can be learned at any age, however there are times when it is easier, such between 6 months and 18 months of age. If you are ready to help your baby learn long term sleep skills make sure you have a good sleep plan that suits your parenting style and make sure you start the learning process at bedtime when it is easier for babies to learn.
What can you do about night wakings
These last two possible causes for night waking can be resolved with sleep coaching when you and your child are ready. I would suggest making sure that you have a good gentle sleep coaching plan before starting that will encompass all the components you need for success. At KinderSleep, this is our specialty. We work with families up to 6 years old to evaluate sleep and temperament and create sleep coaching plans that are gentle and responsive and then we support you through the process.
Article by Andrea Strang