I’m sure all of us have heard the expression “never wake a sleeping baby”. It gets thrown around a lot. However, it’s not always true. Sure there are times when you don’t want to wake a sleeping baby, but there are definitely times and multiple reasons that you should indeed wake a sleeping baby.
Here’s a look at some reasons when you should and should not wake a sleeping baby
When to wake a sleeping baby
The first reasons are health related and may be recommended by your pediatrician
Waking baby to eat
If you baby is not gaining weight well, or for other reasons, you may need to wake your baby to feed them during the night. This is usually advised but your pediatrician. If your pediatrician says to wake your baby, do it!
Tongue or Lip Exercises
Often if your baby has had a tongue or lip tie revisions there are certain exercises that need to be done on a regular basis to ensure things don’t reattach. Definitely wake your baby up to do the appropriate exercises!
To eat during the day
Calories and feeding are the priority for young babies. So when your baby needs to eat every 2.5-4 hours, make sure you are waking them up from naps in order to feed them. This allows baby to get the calories they need during the day and helps them eventually transition their full calorie intake to the daytime.
To preserve bedtime
After about 4 months, having bedtime at a consistent time each day is very helpful in babies overall sleep. Having babies go to bed at a time aligned with their natural body clock (their circadian rhythm) will help them transition to sleep. To make it even easier for babies to drift off to sleep, we want to make sure baby has enough, but not too much, sleep pressure. Sleep pressure is based off of the time they are awake between sleep periods. This is why following wake windows in younger babies is very helpful. They have enough sleep pressure to get to sleep and stay asleep but they aren’t overtired.
Here is a chart to guide you as to how long your baby should be awake before bedtime. Take bedtime which is typically between 6:30 and 7:30 for babies 4 months to about 18 months and the amount of time they should have awake between bed to calculate what time you should wake them from their last nap.
To manage total daytime sleep to optimize nighttime sleep
When kids are between 3 to 5 years old, they typically drop all daytime sleep. Before this age, it is necessary to get some sleep during the day to help their brains’ process and store memories and information they have taken in. However, too much night sleep can lead to split nights, early wake ups when kids have met their total sleep need for the day, or taking a long time to fall asleep at bedtime.
The amount of daytime sleep per age typically falls in these ranges:
- Newborn – 3 months: Variable
- 3 – 5 months: 3 to 4 hours
- 5 – 8 months: 3 to 3.5 hours
- 8 – 12 months: 2.5 to 3 hours
- 12 – 18 months: 2 to 3 hours
- 18 months to 3 years: 1 to 2.5 hours
- 3 + years: 0 to 1 hour
You have to look at the total time asleep during a 24 hour period to determine your child’s average sleep need. Tracking sleep for a week or so will help you understand your child’s individual daytime sleep need.
Wake a sleeping baby to appropriately time sleep throughout the day
Waking up your baby to help them get the sleep they need at the appropriate times is often called capping naps. Capping naps helps avoid overtiredness caused by inconsistent and wonky sleep schedules. I recommend capping naps between 1.5 and 2 hours unless your child is on one nap. Then you can let your child sleep up to 3 hours typically.
When determining when to cap naps, look at how long your child typically sleeps for naps on an average day and how their schedule works out on those days. If things go well on those days, capping naps at that average time works well. If not you want to calculate how many total daytime sleep hours your baby needs and how many times they nap.
Some babies will take a long first nap and shorter second (and third) naps. Other babies will take two naps that are about the same length and one cat nap. Some babies have their second nap as their longest nap. Tracking your baby’s sleep over a week or so will help you understand their average timing so you can cap naps when needed to keep their schedule on track.
Now let’s touch on the reasons why you would not want to wake a sleeping baby
When NOT to wake a sleeping baby
After baby has gotten back to their birth weight and is gaining weight well, on their curve, most pediatricians recommend not waking your sleeping baby at night. You can wait for them to wake for a feed when they are hungry or for very young babies it may make sense to offer a dream feed.
For a dreamfeed to go well, you never wake your baby, they sleep through it but because feeding is such an important aspect of life for babies, they are often able to eat well even when they are still asleep.
When they are sick
When babies are sick, they may need extra sleep, in these cases, let your baby take longer naps or sleep later in the mornings. Let their bodies dictate the sleep they need to heal and recover.
Still not sure what to do?
This stuff can be tricky and it can be hard to know what to do and when. If you are struggling with your little one’s sleep, schedule or just have some questions that you want an expert opinion on, you can schedule a 30-minute sleep support consultation so we can dig in and get you the answers you need and action plan to get your little one sleeping well.
I also coach families one-on-one using proven sleep strategies to get their little ones sleeping independently and well for nights and naps. Our work leaves families feeling confident managing sleep and schedules long term. You can schedule your free evaluation call to learn more.
Cheers to healthy, happy sleep,