When to Wake a Sleeping Baby

Posted on Jul 12, 2015 |

“Never wake a sleeping baby!” Always true? Not a bit.

Newborns and infants sleep a lot. Unfortunately, as most of us have found, not always at the right times. In the first 6-8 weeks of life, infants spend most of their days sleeping and many of their nights awake.

Fortunately, there’s a reason to all of the confusion. Studies agree that, in addition to growing quickly and needing to be fed frequently, newborns spend those first weeks adjusting their circadian rhythms to life outside the womb – working out the differences between brighter, more sociable daytime hours and darker, quieter nighttime hours.

The good news: parents can begin to help their child develop those rhythms in the first few weeks of life. Here’s how:

From a sleep training perspective, I always look at the amount of sleep a child gets in 24-hours. According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns need as much as 17-18 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. If most of that sleep occurs during the day, they are less likely to sleep well at night.

Consider waking your little one after 2 ½ hours. After waking, offer your baby a feeding. Once the feeding is finished, try some gentle interaction by rubbing their cheeks with a finger, playing with hands and feet or blowing softly on their tummies.

By limiting daytime sleep periods to 2 ½ hours at a time, parents are still waking their baby to feed at healthy intervals (every 2-3 hours), but not extending daytime sleep so much that it cuts into nighttime. Newborns won’t be able to stay awake long, but try for 30 minutes from waking (which includes feeding) until the next sleep period.

At night, if your pediatrician agrees, your baby may be able to sleep for longer stretches. Playtime will not follow feedings, however. Your job is to cue your baby to understand that nighttime is not time to be social.

It will still take time for your baby to fully understand the differences between night and day, but keeping sleep intervals in mind is an easy way to get started on the path of developing healthy sleep habits.

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