What to do when your baby wakes up every hour at night

Author Name: 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.

--- For my complete guide for helping babies and toddlers who wake up every hour or otherwise very frequently, have a look at Overcome Frequent Waking. It gives you a tailored action plan that makes overcoming those all too frequent wakings doable, in a gentle yet effective way (no tears!). ---

If your baby is waking every hour, you can use these 3 steps:

  1. Quickly find out, right below, the reason why your baby wakes up every hour (hunger, teething, colic, sleep environment, hidden discomfort, unable to self-soothe, unadapted bedtime routine or sleep schedule, nursing to sleep, etc.)

  2. Resolve the discomforts effectively with our pediatrician-approved methods, shown to avoid your baby waking

  3. Help your baby learn to settle, fall asleep and stay asleep for longer stretches with the truly-no-tears proven techniques by Heidi Holvoet, PhD

We know how it's exhausting to be up every few hours of the night, these frequent night wakings don't allow you much sleep. Parenting is hard enough as it is, and it can be even more difficult if you don't get much sleep at night.

Young mother admiring her sleepy baby

Babies have sleep cycles that are around one hour long. This means that every hour at the end of the cycle your baby will experience short delicate periods of half waking up.

If anything is not ideal, they can wake up entirely and cry or otherwise need your assistance.

The key then to having a little one who sleeps through the night is to identify and solve the cause of waking and create the right conditions to help them fall back asleep easily.

The steps below will help you identify & address any sleep issues so that you can get back to being a well-rested parent!

Gentle & Personalized Sleep Strategies For A Baby Who Wakes Every Hour

For a no-tears sleep training program that is adapted to your unique baby, I'm happy to invite you to my award-winning Overcome Frequent Waking program and book. It's unique because it's truly no-tears: none of my techniques resort to any form of crying.

You will learn easy & age-appropriate methods to help your baby self-settle and sleep for longer at night, even for many hours at a time!

You will also get access to my private sleep help support group, as well as the most comprehensive baby well-being assessment you will find online. And helping you as a parent avoid sleep deprivation is my very personal mission!

Awake baby wondering

When It's Normal For A Baby To Wake Up Every Hour

Newborn babies and babies who are about 4 months to 8 months old will wake up every few hours as part of their normal development. Their sleep cycles are designed to make this happen.

In newborn babies, it's typically due to hunger and needing to feed. In fact, frequent feedings are required for a newborn baby's safety, health and optimal growth.

After about 5-12 weeks your baby may sleep longer stretches, several hours, at night, and you might be getting used to regular sleep again.

However, at around 4 months old it is normal for babies to experience a sleep regression and begin to wake up every hour again.

Sleep cycles affect night wakings

This sleep regression happens because at this stage in their development babies' sleep cycles are shorter. Each sleep cycle has some deep sleep but they will enter a light sleep phase every 1-2 hours at night.

During this light sleep phase it's very easy for babies to be disturbed by hunger, noise, or something else like physical or emotional discomfort and wake up completely.

Also, baby grows and goes through several developmental milestones through the first year, many of which affect night sleep. That means also older babies and toddlers can suddenly start waking frequently at night.

Beautiful baby sleeping on back

What To Do About Waking Every Hour

Once your baby is beyond the newborn stage, if they still wake up every 1-2 hours there are three steps to get back to sleeping longer stretches at night again.

  1. First, find the reason why your baby wakes during their light sleep phase. There is almost always a specific cause, and often there are several reasons. Our quick assessment right below is easy to do and will help reveal both physical and emotional discomforts

  2. Second, knowing exactly what's causing them, allows us to quickly resolve most and usually all discomforts well enough to improve sleep drastically and quickly and we set up the basic conditions for getting good sleep for the whole family

  3. Third, my proven truly gentle No-Tears Sleep Techniques help with both ease of settling, quality of falling asleep and staying asleep for longer stretches

Please see my Overcome Frequent Waking program for info on these exact 3 steps.

Let's start here with learning 12 common reasons why your baby wakes up so often.

Why Does My Baby Wake Up Every Hour?

Let's review 12 common causes of frequent night waking:

1. Restless transition from day-Time to night-Time

If the transition to night-time is not calm and peaceful it can cause sleep issues. Even before you start the bedtime routine there should be around one hour of winding down time.

During that hour stick to quiet activities, keep the lights in the room dim, and avoid screens and electronics.

After that, your bedtime routine should be easily recognizable so that your baby will know it is time to settle down for sleep.

See the linked article for more tips on crafting a bedtime routine that supports optimal sleep habits.

2. Baby waking up due to hunger

Even when babies are old enough that feeding during the night is no longer necessary, they might still wake up feeling hungry. This could be simply due to habit, or they may be experiencing a growth spurt.

You might be able to get your baby back to sleep without feeding them, but they will likely just wake up and start crying again in an hour or so.

This problem commonly starts one of two ways: either you tried to stop night feeds by going 'cold turkey', or your baby does not feed enough during the day. It's best to reduce feeding at night over time rather than making them stop suddenly.

You can also carefully increase daytime feeds. A baby's nutrition, night-time and daytime feeds and sleep needs must be balanced very precisely, so use caution.

I give advice and teach methods of doing exactly this, gently and achieving sleeping through the night in a safe and effective way in my Overcome Frequent Waking program. If you are not sure what is best for your baby, don't hesitate to check with me!

Cute baby standing in crib

3. Baby reflux while sleeping

Acid reflux (GERD) can be very painful, especially when babies are lying down for naps or to sleep at night.

Contact your doctor first for advice and to see if your baby might need medication. Even if they don't, you should still use all possible tips to prevent reflux.

In particular, it will help to burp your baby often and keep them upright for at least half an hour before putting them down to sleep. Do this for naps and at night. I do not recommend putting your baby to sleep on an incline as it's not safe.

4. Not burped enough before sleep

When feeding your baby before putting them down to sleep you need to give them enough time for burping. Not all babies burp easily.

And if your baby isn't burped well or hasn't started digestion well, she'll wake and have trouble to achieve uninterrupted sleep.

Especially if they fall asleep while feeding, aim to hold your baby upright for at least 20-30 minutes. It can help to place your baby high up on your shoulder, gently tap them on the back, or simply moving about gently.

5. Poor nap quality

Many babies who don't nap well during the day can also experience unsettled sleep patterns at night. A baby's sleep pattern will be optimal if day-time and night-time sleep are balanced over 24 hours. They might not cry, sometimes they will just be awake and not able to go back to sleep.

The ideal nap schedule depends in part on baby's age, individual situation and sleep environment. Most babies over 4 months old, and many parents, do well on fixed schedules but for some, naps don't need to be at particular times.

The key then is monitoring your baby for signs that they are getting tired and putting them down to fall asleep then.

Sleeping better during the day will improve your baby's sleep at night. In particular the very frequent night wakings will drastically reduce.

To learn more about napping, I'd like to invite you to my 3-step nap program. It's also included free as part of the Overcome Frequent Waking program.

More sleep advice on how you can keep your baby from waking every one to two hours at night is on page two.

Article Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD - Founder, senior sleep consultant

Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 14+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.

Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books.

Association of Professional Sleep Consultants

She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.