Why do babies wake up every hour?

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We’ve written quite a few articles on baby sleep at Best For Parents because it is one of the most intense parts of everyday life for parents. Babies waking up and not sleeping for very long is a contentious issue and one where most parents would want to change for the better out of everything a baby does.

But the question is – if your baby wakes up every hour is it normal, will it get better or is it something that you need to make some changes to force improvements?

However, we can guess why you’re here. We can give you two answers to the question – why do babies wake up every hour and why doesn’t baby put themselves back to sleep every hour. The second question is important because if your baby woke up every hour but was able to go back to sleep each time then you might not notice. The real reason you’re here is that your baby wakes up every hour and doesn’t fall back asleep. Are we right?

Sleep Cycles

Babies, like adults, sleep in cycles which last for around 40 minutes and go towards 1 hour by the age of 2. At the end of each cycle, they will be in a lighter sleep which increases the likelihood that they might wake up depending on several factors. These cycles can’t be changed in length but it does explain why it appears that they do wake up every hour or so.

So, short cycles are the reason why your baby might wake up every hour. Why they don’t back to sleep is another matter.

Reasons why your baby wakes up every hour

When the sleep cycle ends and they are half awake, it’s a critical moment whether they will wake up and cry or go back to sleep. Although they may cry despite your best efforts, there are things you can do to reduce the chance of them waking up completely, some reasons will be obvious and others may surprise you.

They’re in a sleep regression phase

If you’re a part of any mum groups or regularly chat to mums of older children then the word sleep regression will have come up many times. It’s the dreaded phrase which essentially means that your child’s sleep takes a backwards step and gets worse for a short period of time. Sleep regressions tend to happen at 4 months, 6 months, 8 months, 12 months, 15 months, 18 months and 24 months and last for between 1 and 4 weeks.

During a regression, wakings can be more frequent and unsettled and it can be become harder to get to sleep in the first place. The causes of a regression make it more difficult for a baby to go back to sleep at the end of a sleep cycle.

Sleep regressions can be caused by:

  • Growing pains
  • Teething
  • Mental leap
  • A dramatic change in circumstances – house move, new sibling, new bed routine

There’s nothing you can do to stop the regression – it will happen and it’s best to ride it out with plenty of love, cuddles and attention on demand. Extra feeds and pain medication can also take the edge off.

You’ll also notice how often a regression seems to happen, this does tend to mean that despite your best efforts your baby is likely to wake up every hour from time to time.

Their sleeping area has changed

It is essential, in our opinion, that the room and everything about it is exactly the same as it was when they fell asleep. The lighting, noises, temperature – everything. If they wake up and notice things are different then they may wake up out of confusion. If the room is now hotter or colder than could unsettle them. Bear this in mind before putting them to sleep in the first place by:

They’re hungry and/or thirsty

Hunger and thirst may not wake your baby up but it will certainly make them grump and unsettled at the end of a sleep cycle so it’s good practice to offer them a drink or a snack or feed if you’re breastfeeding. Making sure they are well fed and watered before going to sleep can reduce this as a cause of hourly waking.

What do I do if my baby wakes up every hour?

The best piece of advice we can give to tackle a baby that’s waking every hour is to be calm and be there for your child during this period of time. Sleep struggles are a natural part of early parenthood and the quickest way to get out of it in one piece is to have a baby understand that no matter what they’re going through that someone will always be there for them.

Sounds wishy-washy but we truly believe that a child that grows up to be a sound and secure sleeper starts life in a supportive household. Methods such as cry-it-out may seem appealing but it can have long-lasting negative effects on their mental health and in many cases make bedtime worse later on in life.

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