Why is My Baby Suddenly Waking Up at Night Again? (Part 2)

I am usually caught by surprise when my son suddenly starts waking up at all hours of the night again. Haven’t you ever wished you had advance notice when another round of sleep training is coming?  In part one, we discussed why is my baby suddenly waking up at night again?  In this post, we are talking about what to do when you’ve discovered there is nothing physically wrong with your baby, but he simply doesn’t want to sleep. Perhaps he has fallen out of the habit because of an illness, a vacation, a growth spurt or another reason. Below are the basic steps to follow for successful sleep training.  

  1. Establish a Bedtime and a Bedtime Routine – Pick a realistic bedtime that you will be able to stick to, and start adjusting naptime so your baby will be sleepy on time.  Create a simple bedtime routine that your baby can begin to use as his cue to settle down for bed.  The exact components are not nearly as important as the fact that they become a consistent, recognizable routine and are not energizing. Possible components include putting away toys, brushing teeth, reading a story, singing a couple songs, goodnight hugs, or turning off the lights together.
  2. Pick a Method and Make a Game Plan – There are two basic categories of sleep training/retraining methods.  Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all method for every baby, mommy, and situation.
    • No Tears – The most common variations of this method involve picking up your baby every time he cries, waiting till he is calm, and then laying him back down in his crib before he falls asleep in your arms. This cycle is repeated as often as needed until he falls asleep and then repeated as often as he wakes up during the night. Obviously, the advantage of this method is the “no crying” part. Some moms find this is one of the longer methods of sleep training.  Others have found it ideal.  See our previous post from a mom who had great success with her variation of this method.
    • Some Crying Expected – If you are ok with allowing your baby to cry just a bit, this method might be your “go to”.  One common variation begins with sitting beside your baby and offering comfort (but you don’t pick him up) as he fusses himself to sleep. Gradually, over a week or two, you phase out the patting, singing, and comforting, and move your seat further and further from the crib until he is falling asleep alone. Here is an article with more details on this method. A second variation involves laying baby down, leaving the room, allowing him to cry for a predetermined number of minutes (by age), coming in to offer comfort (you can also reassure yourself nothing else is wrong), leaving again, and repeating until he goes to sleep on his own.  The advantage of this method is that babies typically learn to sleep faster.
  3. Decide When to Begin – The more sleep deprived you become, the harder it is for you to focus and be intentional about sleep training. So, the sooner you can begin the better! And remember, babies are fast learners. This can work for you and against you! If tonight is just not the night to start, no worries — just remember, it takes intentional work to “retrain” that clever baby of yours.
  4. Be Confident and Consistent – Put your plan into action! Babies are reassured by your confidence, so the more you are able to remain confident, gentle, and firm the better. Try not to second-guess yourself or change approaches midstream. Give your plan a chance to work!
  5. Try Something Else – If it is simply not working, go another direction! This is the counterbalance to the point above. Sometimes a sleep training method is simply not working, and it’s not for lack of follow-through.  Not all families or babies are the same. When that happens, try another method – with confidence!     

What’s Worked for Us

  • Our bedtime routine involves turning down the lights, walking around and saying goodnight to favorite toys, and singing three songs.  Yes, sometimes he falls asleep during the songs, and I don’t feel guilty about letting him do that. It’s cute. Other times he’s just drowsy when I put him down.
  • The first time I did sleep training I would lay my son down, leave, let him cry two-five minutes, go back, pat his back and tell him goodnight, and then leave for another two-five minutes. Within just a couple repetitions, he got the idea and went to sleep.  In three days we went from getting up five times a night to about zero! Honestly, this first time was the hardest. The crying, even for a few minutes, broke my heart.  But once the sleeping began, we both felt SO much better. The ultimate result was so many fewer nighttime tears for my little boy and a much more energetic and engaged mommy!
  • I have needed to use several of the above methods over the past year and a half. Once after we got back from vacation and needed sleep retraining, my son went through a unique phase. I noticed that sitting by his crib as he fussed himself back to sleep worked much better than leaving the room. Leaving made him anxious. He just needed the assurance that he wasn’t being left. Within a few nights I moved further and further away until he could go back to sleep alone again. During another round of sleep retraining, however, it was not so serene!  My son would get angry and throw fits if he could see me sitting there not picking him up. He didn’t want comfort. During this time, it worked much better to leave and come back every few minutes (5-10 minutes) until he worked through his frustration and went to sleep.  

Remember… This is not a Perfect Process

You and baby are both learning, and good nights and bad nights are to be expected. One comforting thought is that mothers have been teaching their babies to sleep for generations. If they did it, so can we!  Keep going and don’t be discouraged when you find yourself retraining for the 5th, 6th, or 7th time. This is normal — just ask any of us Mommy Medicine moms.  And remember…one day your baby will enjoy sleeping through the night. And, for that matter… so will you!

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (2/19/2018) Dave Herholz (Flickr)

Jessica Hines

Jessica Hines

Jessica lives in Mesa, AZ with her husband Daniel and their three-year-old son, two-year-old daughter, and five-month-old son.  She is primarily a stay at home mom who works part time from home as a tutor and an administrative assistant for her church.  As a tutor Jessica has ten years of experience working with students in Math, Science, and English and is passionate about helping students regain their confidence and discover keys to understanding the concepts they are studying.  Prior to having kids, Jessica graduated with a degree in Dietetics from Arizona State University and spent several years working in the nutrition field doing menu planning and analysis for schools and long-term care communities.   

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