You are watching a movie with your spouse, enjoying a beer and a bowl of popcorn. All of a sudden, your baby lets out a blood-curdling scream that makes you think you are watching a horror movie. You jump up and run to your child’s room. He is laying there, crying and awake.
This scene happens more frequently than you realize until you become a parent. Some babies wake up a multitude of times each night crying. You may be wondering what is happening, and how to stop it from happening each night.
The first thing that you should do is invest in a baby monitor. You can see and hear that your child. It also helps to give you peace of mind that they aren’t stuck or in pain until you reach them.
Waking Up is Normal
Most people, including you, wake up a few times in the middle of the night. As your baby gets older, they develop sleep cycles just like you. It is normal for children to wake up between sleep cycles.
After your baby turns four months old, they alternate between deep and light sleep stages. When he is in a deep sleep, your baby is experiencing REM – rapid eye movement – sleep. This sleep is when your child’s brain is growing, and their cognitive abilities are developing. Then, he transitions to light sleep, which is an inactive sleep. His mind is relaxing, and his body is rejuvenating.
Most people switch from stages throughout the night a few times. Your baby, on the other hand, experiences a cycle every hour or so. Once he makes it through one cycle, there is always a chance he will wake up. Then, he is afraid and needs you to help him get back to sleep.
The Obvious Reasons Why Your Baby Wakes Up
Before you go to any extremes trying to figure out why your baby is waking up, you should think about the obvious reasons. There are quite a few. Run through them in your mind before you jump to conclusions and think that there is something is wrong.
- Wet Diapers: Some babies are less tolerant to wet or dirty diapers. If you believe that this is the culprit, you can try changing his diaper when he wakes up in the middle of the night. Another solution is to purchase a different kind of nighttime diaper. There are quite a few choices on the market that might work to make your baby feel dry all night.
- Hungry: One of the most obvious reasons that your baby is waking up is that he is hungry. Most babies can night wean around eight to nine months. However, some kids need at least one feeding up to the age of 12 months old. One solution to combat this problem is to offer your baby a dream feed. This practice involves going to your child around 10 or 11 p.m. and feeding them while they are asleep. It is an excellent way to get more sleep.
- Sleep Associations: A difficult problem to face is that your baby only relies on their sleep associations. If his pacifier falls out, he will be upset and unable to get back to sleep without it. Maybe he fell asleep with you rocking him, but now he isn’t moving.
- Needs More Sleep: Most babies who wake up crying require more sleep, and their crying is a sign. If your child wakes up in the middle of his nap crying, it could be because something woke him up and he wasn’t ready to wake up. A well-rested child typically doesn’t cry.
- Teething: Even though your baby looks so adorable with two front teeth, parents dread the process of teething. It leads to sleepless nights, lots of tears, and pain for your child. Check your baby’s mouth for signs of an erupting tooth. Orajel, pain medicine, a cold washcloth, and other methods of managing teething should be attempted.
- Moro Reflex: All infants have the Moro reflex, a typical infantile reflex. Any stimulus can cause your baby to feel startled. Their legs flex and they stretch out their arms quickly. Typically, they also cry afterward; they are afraid. It can come from a sudden, loud noise, a bad dream or something that touches them.
One of the best ways to combat the Moro reflex is to swaddle your child. Swaddling keeps your baby calm and relaxed. Most children who wake up while they are swaddled quickly fall back to sleep if they are still sleepy. Luckily, the reflex will decrease around the age of four months old. Until then, this is one reason why your baby might wake up crying.
- Temperature: Everyone has the perfect temperature in which they sleep. Some people prefer to be warm; other people prefer to sleep in a cooler environment. Your baby may feel too hot or too cold, leading them to wake up crying repeatedly. Most doctors suggest that parents keep the temperature of their house between 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Some babies are very picky about being at the correct temperature. They aren’t always able to correctly regulate their temperature when outside of the womb.
Reasons Why Your Baby Wakes Up Crying
There are a few common reasons why your child might be waking up in the middle of the night. Here are a few of the common reasons.
1. Sleep Terrors
Believe it or not, babies can have sleep terrors as well. Some babies are lucky enough to bypass this phase, but it is one of the most common reasons why your child will scream in the middle of the night.
Chances are you have had a night terror or twenty. However, babies are more prone to them. Their sleep terrors aren’t like yours; they are more similar to sleepwalking. Your baby feels quite alarmed, as you can imagine.
Your first question probably is why does your child have a sleep terror? If you can figure out the why solving the problem shouldn’t be too complicated. One of the most common reasons is that your baby is overtired and sleep deprived. Getting your baby the right amount of sleep is paramount.
An overtired baby is past the point of exhaustion. His body is physically fatigued, causing his stress response system to kick into overdrive. When that happens, his stress hormones begin to create cortisol and adrenaline which fill your baby’s bloodstream. These hormones make it tough for your child to calm down and relax.
All of this results in a bad cycle. Your baby is overtired but unable to relax enough to fall asleep, leading to an even higher level of exhaustion. Getting your baby to sleep takes a lot of effort. Also, babies that are overtired also tend to wake up sooner, creating an even longer cycle of exhaustion.
Are you wondering if your baby is overtired? Here are some signs to follow to let you know.
- He is rubbing his eyes or face.
- He yawns, hiccups or sneezes a lot.
- He moves his face away from stimulation.
- He is fussy and whimpering, leading to a full-blown spiral meltdown with crying.
- He clings to mom or dad, not letting them put him down.
- He appears physically wound up when he gets extra exhausted.
- He avoids making eye contact.
- An overtired newborn may have trouble latching or cries at the breast.
Handling Sleep Terrors: It is important for parents to deal with sleep terrors as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this problem will not just go away on its own. You have to address the problem. Always respond to your baby; these terrors are hard for your child to handle.
However, you have to try not to confuse or disorient him too much. He is still part sleeping and waking him up fully will make it worse. Most sleep terrors have to run its terrible course. Make sure he doesn’t get hurt somehow. Speak gently to him, rub his back or stomach. If this doesn’t help, pick him up and try to get him to fall back asleep.
Another possible reason that your child is waking up crying is that he is sick. If your baby was sleeping through the night as normal and suddenly starts to wake up, there might be something wrong.
Your first course of action is to figure out what could be ailing your child. Check for a fever. Is his nose running? If so, his throat could be sore as well. Another problem could be an ear infection. Typically, only a doctor can diagnose one, but you may notice some signs. If he is pulling on his ear frequently, it is a possibility.
If the problem persists, a trip to your doctor’s office may be in order. A pediatrician can take a look at your baby and decide if there is something medically wrong with your child.
3. Growth Spurt
Babies grow rapidly during the first year of their life. Every child will face a few growth spurts, typically at the same time. You can expect them to happen around 7 to 10 days, three weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, nine months, and 18 months.
They don’t all happen at these exact times, but you can expect them in this time frame. During a growth spurt, their sleep schedule will be messed up. A child that previously slept through the night won’t do so anymore. In fact, they sometimes wake up every hour during a growth spurt.
What can you do? Nothing. Unfortunately, growth spurts just have to run their course. During this time, you can expect your baby’s sleep cycles to be erratic. They will likely eat a lot more than normal. Some breastfed babies can nurse every hour. Soon, your child’s sleep will be back to normal.
What to Do When Your Baby Wakes Up at Night
Inevitably, your child is going to wake up at night from time to time. You need to have a plan of action to help your child. Here are some things that you should try when your baby wakes up crying.
- Wait. Instead of rushing into your child’s room, it is always best to wait a minute or two before you get your child. It could be that your baby has momentarily woken up between sleep cycles, and he may drift right back off to sleep. However, if you rush in there, you are going to wake him up when he may have gone back to sleep by himself. Always give your child the opportunity to put himself to sleep. You don’t need to let your child cry it out, but fussing and turning are far different.
- Keep It Calm: The last thing you want to do is wake your baby up more than they already are. Always keep your voice low and the lights low when you go to your baby. Doing so decreases the chance that your child will fully wake up.
- Try Their Sleep Associations: Most babies have a sleep association or two. To get them back to sleep, it is ok to try to use one of them. Some children prefer to be rocked or bounced. It may take a combination of a few movements. Pacifiers are often an intimate Some babies need to be swaddled for comfort.
- Turn on the Music: Some children respond very well to music and sounds. A lot of parents prefer to have white noise machine. A CD with gentle lullabies can be another option for children as well.
What to Remember
All babies wake up during the night. It is common, especially for young babies. As they get older, wakeups will decrease over time as well. However, there will still be times, especially during their first year of life that they wake up crying. First, look at the common reasons why your baby may be waking up. If those don’t seem accurate, look at some of the other choices. Soon, you will figure out what is wrong and help your baby sleep all night without crying.