Throughout your little one’s first few years of life, you’re going to experience multiple sleep disruptions. Sometimes it even ends up being as frequent as your baby waking up every hour.
One thing that is quite common is for parents to attribute these sleep disruptions to teething. That’s one possibility, but your baby’s sleep disruptions can be caused by lots of other things, too!
It could be perfectly normal, but what’s important is that you correctly identify the cause of your little one’s sleep disruption and respond appropriately. If you misidentify why your little one is waking regularly throughout the night and don’t address it in the best way, you might accidentally cause your baby to adopt a new sleep association, which turns a short-term sleep disruption into a long-term issue.
In this post you’ll learn the most common reasons for babies waking frequently throughout the night, and how you can identify each of them. Then you’ll learn what you can do to fix it quickly so you and your baby can get some rest.
When Teething is The Cause of Your Baby Waking Up Every Hour
Teething is one of the most common things parents attribute their baby’s frequent waking to.
But what might surprise you is that the painful part of teething only takes a few days, and mouthing and drooling is not an indication that your little one is teething. However, if teething is the cause of your little one’s sleep disruption, you’re going to notice two things:
- When they’re sleeping and waking up, their wake times are irregular. (Unless they’re waking up every 60 to 90 minutes in that second half of the night — then it’s unlikely to be teething, but might be because of a sleep association, which is when babies need certain cues or behaviors to fall asleep.)
- You’re going to notice a change in your little one’s behavior during the day. Common signs of teething can be:
- An unusual amount of fussiness and discomfort
- Swollen or red gums, or a blue/grey cyst on their gum line
- A visible, small white tooth just below the gum line
If your little one is happy during the day and you’re not noticing these things on their gum, then it’s highly unlikely that they are teething at this point and that teething is disrupting their sleep.
Illness Can Disrupt Your Baby’s Normal Sleep Patterns
Acute illnesses like an ear infection, a cold, the flu, or COVID can also cause your little one to wake more regularly than normal.
Generally, it’s fairly easy to tell if your little one is experiencing an acute illness because you’ll notice symptoms. A few common symptoms to keep an eye out for (though not an exhaustive list):
- Developing a runny nose
- A change their appetite (Could be in response to a sore throat)
- Pulling on their ear if they’ve got an ear infection
If you suspect illness is the cause of their disrupted sleep, always consult with your doctor for advice on the appropriate treatment. The good news is, if this is the cause, it’s very likely that your baby’s sleep will return to normal when they are well again.
Sleep Regression Causing Frequent Waking
Changes in your child’s sleep patterns can also occur when they’re going through a sleep regression. Sleep regressions are a completely normal part of development, and you’ll notice them because your baby starts to wake between sleep cycles.
Here’s a quick rundown of when they tend to occur:
- Between 3 to 5 months of age – This is when they’re going through what’s known as the four month sleep regression
- Between 7 to 10 months of age – Known as the eight-month sleep regression
- 18 months of age
- 2 years of age
I know this sounds like your little one will be constantly going through a sleep regression. But don’t worry, not all children experience a full sleep regression when they go through these stages.
What’s important to know is that sleep regressions generally coincide with a cognitive or developmental milestone achievement, and they can last anywhere from two to six weeks.
Generally, the length of time your little one will experience a sleep regression can depend on multiple factors, such as:
- The cause of the sleep regression
- The child’s skill
- Our response when they’re going through these sleep regressions
For example, when a little one is going through the four-month sleep regression, if they’re able to fall asleep independently and link sleep cycles, then that sleep regression is going to be significantly less, and will end much quicker than others.
But if they need your help falling and staying asleep, then that sleep regression is basically a long-term thing. It’s permanent because their sleep patterns have changed. And they’re now waking up between sleep cycles and need your help to get back to sleep.
Your Baby Might Need to Drop a Nap
Your baby’s sleep can also become disrupted if they have retained a nap, but they need to drop it because they no longer need it in their day. Typically babies follow a general age where they go through nap transitions, and they drop a nap.
The general ages when nap transitions occur are:
- 4-6 months; from 4 naps to 3 naps
- 6-9 months; from 3 naps to 2 naps
- 12-18 months; from 2 naps to 1 nap (usually around 15 months)
- 2.5-6 years; 1 nap to 0 naps
If your baby keeps waking up every hour, or less frequently but still more than they used to and they are within these ranges when babies typically drop a nap, that might be the cause. In this case, try removing one of their day naps and see if their sleep at night improves.
How to Get Your Baby’s Sleep Back to Normal
Now let’s talk about what you can do to help your child through these things as quickly as possible and put an end to your baby waking up every hour.
Address Illness or Teething Pain
If you know your little one is sick or teething, then you obviously want to address their pain and try and relieve it for them.
This might mean you need to talk to their doctor about ways to relieve or get rid of their infection or help them with their teething pain.
Keep Their Room Cool and Dark
The second thing you want to do is keep your baby’s room cool, dark, and quiet, as this promotes optimal sleep.
This is especially important if your little one is learning a new motor skill. Because if their room is bright and they can look around, then they’re going to want to practice that new motor skill whenever possible. This means they’ll try to do things like sitting up to look around their room and explore things they’ve never done before.
A dark room is also really helpful when your baby is learning to link sleep cycles. That’s because when they wake up between sleep cycles and the room is dull and boring, they’re more likely to fall back to sleep.
Avoid bringing them into your bed
If your little one’s discomfort during these stages means that you do want to temporarily sleep in the same room with them, then I would recommend that you start to sleep in their room instead of bringing them into your bed.
It’s going to be easier for you to get their sleep back on track if you keep their sleeping environment consistent. This is so they know to sleep in their cot for all naps rather than in mom and dad’s bed.
Follow Age-Appropriate Naps and Wake Times
You also want to make sure that your little one is following age-appropriate naps, wake times, and total expected sleep during their day.
When you have unrealistic sleep expectations, it can actually make your baby’s sleep disruption significantly worse. Because if you’re putting them to bed before they’re tired and they’re sick or teething, then they’re going to find it difficult to fall asleep because they’re in pain.
Or if your little one is learning a new motor skill and they’re not yet tired, then they’re going to use this time to practice that new motor skill. This means they may be getting into a new position (like sitting up), but they can’t get out of it. So they yell out to you to lie them back down and get them comfortable again.
This can get you into the habit of constantly going back into their room to help them fall back to sleep.
If you’d like to know the age-appropriate sleep times for your little one, then make sure you download the free sleep guide. This is a really handy quick-reference guide that shows you how many naps your little one should be having, the wake windows they generally have, as well as their total amount of sleep in the 24-hour period.
Keep the Bedtime and Nap Routine Consistent
The next thing you want to do is try and keep your bedtime and nap time routine consistent.
Continue to use the same nap and bedtime routine you were using if your baby was previously falling asleep independently before they started waking more regularly to give them the opportunity to fall asleep.
This means you would go through your usual routine of putting them down to sleep. And if they don’t go to sleep, then you would go back through your same sleep routine, which might be getting them up and singing them a song, and then putting them back in their cot before leaving.
If they continue to stay awake, then you would come back into the room and try and help them fall asleep with a different comforting technique. So initially, I try starting with shushing, then patting, and then gradually moving to pick them up if needed.
But you want to try and avoid making them reliant on you to fall asleep, because that reliance will persist even after the cause of their disrupted sleep subsides.
Keep Track of When Your Baby Wakes at Night
You also want to keep track of when your little one is waking up at night.
So if they’re waking when it’s a usual feed time, then you would obviously feed them. But if they’re waking when it’s not a usual feed time, what you want to do first is just wait.
So you might just wait five minutes and see if they go back to sleep. If they do not go back to sleep, then obviously, you would go to them.
And if they’re sick or have a fever, then you would give them some pain relief if needed and recommended by their doctor. And then, you would help them go back to sleep by doing their usual sleep routine, which may be putting them back into their cot and leaving the room.
And if they don’t go back to sleep, then you would come back in and try and comfort them to go back to sleep.
But essentially, you want to use other techniques like shushing and patting before picking them up and feeding them. Because if they become reliant on that feed to get to sleep or on you holding them to get to sleep, it’s really difficult to drop that sleep association when they become well or move past a sleep regression.
We want to try and prevent ourselves from falling into that trap because it’s going to be so much harder to return to normal sleep patterns if we do.
Help Your Baby Practice Motor Skills During the Day
If your little one’s sleep disruption is happening because they are learning or have learned a new motor skill like rolling, sitting up, standing, cruising, or walking, then you want to give them the opportunity to practice that skill during the day.
This is going to ensure they have lots of opportunities to practice and master that skill.
And once your child has mastered that skill, the novelty of doing it tends to wear off, and it can only cause a few days or maybe a week of disruption rather than a long-term change in their sleep patterns.
If you’re struggling with your baby waking up every hour (or you’re simply experiencing a sudden change in their sleep), the first step is to identify the cause. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Instead, use the steps outlined in this post to figure out the cause before you do anything else. Once you’ve identified why your baby’s sleep is disrupted, you can take the appropriate steps based on the cause.
This will help you avoid possibly doing something that causes a long-term change in their sleep that will be much harder to fix.
And if you’re still unsure what to expect from your little one in terms of sleep at their specific age, make sure to download our free sleep guide for new parents looking to get their little one down.