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

Latest fact-check and update: October 30, 2021

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

If your baby is waking up every few hours of the night, you will be short on sleep as well. Parenting is exhausting enough as it is, and it can be even more difficult if you don't get much sleep at night.

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 sleep training program that is adapted to your baby, take a look at my award-winning Overcome Frequent Waking program and book. 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.

Awake baby wondering

When It's Normal for a Baby to Wake Up Every Hour

Newborn babies and babies who are about 4-8 months old will wake up every few hours as part of their normal development. 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 be sleeping for stretches of 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. This happens because at this stage in their development their sleep cycles are shorter and they will enter a light sleep phase every 1-2 hours. 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.

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 two things you need to do.

  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.
  2. Set up the basic conditions for getting a good sleep.

Please see my Overcome Frequent Waking program for info on both these things.

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

Why Does My Baby Wake Up Every Hour?

1. Restless transition from day to night

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.

2. 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 feeding during the day. A baby's nutrition and sleep needs must be balanced very precisely, so use caution. I give advice and teach methods of doing 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, please never hesitate to check with me!

3. 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. 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. Especially if they fall asleep while feeding, keep holding them upright for at least 30 minutes and gently tap them on the back.

5. Poor nap quality

Babies who don't nap well during the day can also experience unsettled sleep patterns at night. They might not cry, sometimes they will just be awake and not able to go back to sleep.

Naps don't need to be at particular times. The key is monitoring your baby for signs that they are getting tired and putting them down to nap then. Sleeping better during the day will improve your baby's sleep at night. To learn more about napping, you can see my 3-step nap program. It's also 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.