What to do when your baby wakes up every hour?
Latest update: June 9, 2018
Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
The steps below help you reduce frequent wakings by remedying
the underlying cause(s). It's not uncommon for a
baby or toddler to wake up
every hour at night or during naps.
NEW! For my complete guide on helping babies and toddlers who wake up every hour or otherwise very frequently, have a look at Overcome
It gives you a tailored action plan, includes a thorough sleep and well-being assessment and techniques for weaning from feeding to sleep, learning to self-soothe, reducig the need to feed at night, staying asleep, etc. all combining to make overcoming frequent wakings doable, in a gentle yet effective way (no tears!). ---
In this article, two first things you can do:
- Discover the cause. We can almost
always identify a specific cause for
that frequently, often a combination of several. We'll start tracking down this "why" with the checklist below.
- Stay calm: easier said than done, I know, but important: a
phase passes most quickly if we avoid
panicky changes to the schedule
and routines, and focus on addressing the cause(s).
Many if not most babies go through
phases of very frequently waking up at
some point in the first year. Remember that in the very first months,
frequent and even hourly awakenings are normal and can be absolutely
necessary to protect baby's health: refer to the newborn
and under 6 months sections for more info.
Use the checklist below to find out why your baby wakes up so often
(after 45 minutes, each
hour, every two hours, ...),
and then remedy accordingly to help your little one sleep through the
Get started tackling waking up hourly
What causes waking up hourly?
Sleep comes in cycles. Each cycle lasts about 50-60 minutes for a
young baby, consists of a set of lighter and deeper sleep phases and is
repeated several times a night.
In-between cycles there is a brief
half-awake moment. Sleeping through
means going right back to sleep
through this moment and straight into the next cycle.
However, if at this
delicate half-awake moment, there is any discomfort, external
disturbance or a physical habit of waking up ... your baby will wake
And this can happen at the end of each cycle, i.e. every 50-60
minutes ... leading to hourly awakenings.
Go through the entire
checklist below: please don't rush/skim/skip the headlines but
take the time to read all possibilities, also
that you least suspect: often that's where the answer is
... Follow the suggestions to remedy where necessary.
1. Restless onset of the night
If the start of the night is not
peaceful, sleep becomes
restless ... with overly frequent wakings as a logical result. These
wakings are often with crying but can also be without, just lying
awake, wanting to play, ... not able to settle back.
A restless bedtime can come from difficulty settling, problems with
feeding right before bed, stress from crying it out techniques or
simply lots of energy and activity going on at home in the evening.
Ensure at least 1 hour of winding-down time before starting the
actual bedtime routine. In that hour, stick to quiet activities (but
avoid screens and electronics), dim lights, soft voices, quiet music,
... Then have a simple recognizable bedtime
to ease into the night. This is so basic
that we often
forget its importance, especially in today's busy and fast paced times
... but a quiet evening is indispensable for a good night.
Even at an age and health condition when night feeds
would no longer be necessary, your baby may still wake up due to a very
real hunger feeling - whether that got established from habit or e.g.
during a growth spurt.
And when hungry at night, you may get her to settle anyway - with or
help - but then she'll lightly wake up and cry in between sleep cycles,
Two possible causes for how this problem typically starts:
#1. Have tried to wean from
or more night feeds "cold turkey": even if you know your baby
does not need the
nightly feeds anymore, she may still be hungry - due to the true hunger
from the habit of feeding at that time.
progressively, using the gentle techniques as detailed in my sleeping
#2. Not feeding enough
during the day: during teething or illness feeding may be
disrupted during the day, or she may simply be too distracted to feed
probably during the day, leaving her hungry at
Solution: carefully (!) top
up nutrient intake during the day
Caution! To avoid issues
with under- or over-feeding and
disrupting sleep patterns, you need to balance nutrient and sleep needs
very precisely. Also here, gentle
techniques as discussed in No-Tears
Sleeping Through the Night are your best approach.
Remember that if your baby is newborn or under 6 months old, (frequent)
night feeds can still be necessary for optimal health (hydration,
growth spurts, illness, ....).
To avoid unnecessary
though, you will need to wean from the night feeds
progressively and/or top up cautiously (!) during the day.
Acid reflux (GERD) can be very painful, especially when lying down for
longer time. Consult with your doctor for medical advice but whether
taking medication or not, always use all possible reflux
Especially remember to burp frequently and hold upright for at least 30
minutes before putting down to sleep on an elevated mattress.
4. Not burped (enough)
When feeding before going down to sleep, it is important to give
enough time and
opportunity to burp. A simple swift movement to place your baby
behind you) high over your shoulder, some tapping on the back, ... are
Not all babies burp easily, if yours doesn't then simply make sure you
hold her upright long enough after a feed (30 minutes minimum). Even -
and specially - if she dozes off
during the feed and does not wake up when put down, do hold her upright
long enough after the feed, and give plenty of burping opportunity.
5. Poor nap quality
An irregular or ill-suited nap schedule not only gives poor naps, but
also gives rise to unsettled sleep patterns. And that is a very typical cause of frequent
and unnecessary wakings Again the wakings will not
necessarily be with crying, mainly being awake and not easily settling
Better suited nap times do not have to be at fixed times, and also do
not necessarily mean more or less frequent naps ... just arranged
differently is usually what it takes.
Observing and learning to recognize true sleepy signs and behavior is
key. That allows to arrange a well adapted nap routine/schedule which
ensures good naps and therefore improve continuous sleep at night.
Review the award-winning
3-step nap program to set-up naps well.