My 8 month baby wakes every hour! Please help!

by Nancy

Question: Hello, We are desperate for sleep! I have read lots of advice and your advice but still become stuck in the middle of the night. My daughter use to sleep well till she hit 5months. Now she wakes every hour sometimes every ten minutes. She gies to bed at 7pm with little fuss, she eats well in the day plus takes her milk. She sleeps in her cot with a sleeping bag. She wakes all night long - either for her dummy - sometimes I give her water - and then a bottle at 2am. I've tried letting her cry - she gets very cross - I've tried classical music - cuddling her - sleeping with her - medicine n gel for her teeth - change her nappy ...etc... It's basically a circus!

She takes two naps a day usually 45 minutes or an hour at the most and sleeps in her cot.

I just don't know what else to do to keep her asleep. She is a light sleeper but how do I fix it?

Last night after Reading your advice we managed to skip the milk, I stood with my hand to her face n hushed her to sleep, which sort of worked but still kept waking. Plus I moved her bedtime to 6.30

The 2nd night went well, bed at 6.30 then awake every half hour till about 10 when she slept till 6! No milk all night.

Last night not as good - she hadn't eaten that much at dinner but went to bed with no fuss at 6.30, slept till 10 then 1 then 2 then 3.30 then 6. Still haven't given her any milk. We just put her dummy back in or sometimes teething gel if she really gets cross. Everytime I go into her she is at different end of the cot so moving around probably doesn't help. 

Heidi's Answer:

Dear Nancy,

As you probably have read around here, it is quite common to have a great sleeping baby retrogress around 4-5 months. Most often it is a growth spurt but sometimes a cold or teething or similar, that triggers a fresh string of night awakenings. Sleep patterns are developing drastically still at that age so they easily change over.

It is good to realize though that the good skills learnt before are not all lost and that keeping up the basics (schedule, routine, encouraging self soothing, ...) is the basis to improve things as quickly as possible again.

The earlier bedtime was a good idea.

One first step is to see if there is not something 'simple' waking her up. What seems like a detail to us can keep a baby awake all night. Too much or too little light, street noise, noises at neighbor's, your blankets if she is in you room, a wet diaper, hot or cold in her room (temperature can sometimes vary not enough for us to notice but a baby would) ... Work to avoid any of these possible disturbers as much as possible.

And of course yes if she is teething that can disturb her sleep a lot. You may find one or several of the home teething remedies very helpful. Do these not just at night but through the day to relieve her discomfort as much as possible.

Also, do you sometimes have the impression that she is not comfortable when lying down? Is she happy and content to lie down and play during the day? If she's not comfortable that may of course also explain her waking up. Maybe her mattress is too soft or too hard.

If she is uncomfortable when lying down and you feel she has actually been since birth, and you are fine with alternative medicine, you may consider osteopathy. Only consult a specialized pediatric osteopath that you fully trust.

The fact that she moves around a lot in her cot could be waking her up but on the other hand it is not something that you can avoid. The sleeping bag is the most you can do to keep her from moving too much. But some kids just will do this moving around and it can actually help with soothing later on.

Now to work on keeping your daughter asleep for longer stretches:

1. Increase nap duration. To help your daughter get used to sleeping longer stretches again, naps are a good place to start. Her 45-60 minute naps are not nothing, but she would benefit from 1,5 our or longer naps. Even if only one of the 2 naps were this long that could help with her night time sleep.

To lengthen the nap, work with the technique of going to her 5-10 minutes before she'll usually wake. Use your hands around her shoulders, face, stroking her belly, hushing, ... to help keep her asleep. I agree that this will not work perfectly from the first time but if you practice and persevere for a while, you can get good results.

You can do this at both naps but you can also choose to do one nap 'on the move'. Then you take your daughter out for a long walk/ride in the sling, stroller or car. Being on the move makes it easier to sleep for longer.

Of course this is not a new habit you want to 'set' but it can help her body become used to sleeping for more than an hour in a row again. Do this at one of the naps for a week and then put her back in the cot for this nap.

For both naps, you may need to have a look at the schedule. A slightly later or slightly earlier start of the nap can give very different results. Make sure her naps are scheduled at moments when she is readily tired but far from over-tired.

To help you find the best-fit nap routine, my "Nap in a Snap" guide gives you the necessary tools and techniques.

2. Nights. I get the impression that her cot will be best to sleep in consistently. Especially because sleeping in bed with you does not help her sleep longer stretches. The consistency of always putting and keeping her in her cot will avoid confusion for her.

I am not sure if you put her down awake of if you help her settle. If you help her settle, start working with the gentle self soothing method right away. Use the same technique of gradually putting her down earlier at night awakenings.

Then for the frequent awakenings, I must advise you to also here practice with keeping her asleep before she wakes, as we discussed for naps. I know this is tiring for you now but it can improve things drastically.

To help you, and her, it is a good idea to decide which awakenings will be feeding and which will not. That avoids you needing to ponder over what to do or not in the middle of the night.

You may find it helpful if you feed once earlier in the night in stead of waiting until 2am, since you mention that she wakes up frequently before 10pm. You could feed at around 9pm or 10pm. Then see how the rest of the night goes. If it helps you can feed a second time around 2-3am but only if that helps to keep her asleep for longer after that.

If that helps, it shows us that she may actually be waking out of hunger – not that uncommon even at this age. You can then work to increase her food intake during the day (nicely spread – no stuffing before bed time). An extra snack in between or a milk dessert after solids can all help to gently increase what she eats in total. That will help avoid hunger at night.

The feedings at night you can then wean by gradually offering less and less. With the bottle that is easy but gradually diluting it more and more (less formula for same amount of water). Then you gradually decrease her hunger feeling and that again helps avoid her waking up.

If she wakes in between feeding moments you decided on, and in spite of your trying to keep her asleep: it is fine to pick her up to help her settle again. Of course do not feed at a no-feeding moment (to remain consistent) and keep the awakening as boring, short and in dim light as possible.

A final suggestion: your daughter may be going through a separation anxiety phase. The tips on the separation anxiety page can help you with that. Specifically, a transitional object such as a soft animal or a scarf that you wear during the day, can help a lot.

Best of luck to both of you,

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