When it is okay to wake up a sleeping baby

When it is okay to wake up a sleeping baby

‘Never wake a sleeping baby’ is certainly a statement that I feel needs a bit of an update! A sleeping baby is something we all want, which means it can throw us off the thought of ever needing to wake them up! If no one in your household is achieving long stretches of sleep, then waking your baby short term to improve on the quality of sleep where it matters the most, may be the best and easiest solution!

New baby

We know that newborns need lots of sleep. In fact, the average requirement in the first few weeks is between 16-18 hours a day! There are a few occasions when a newborn will need to be roused from sleep, while still maintaining their daily sleep needs.

Supporting the difference between day and night.

It is natural for a new baby to experience some level of day and night confusion. This normally resolves after a few weeks, but it can take longer in some babies. Our sleep/wake cycle is regulated by an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. A baby’s circadian rhythm is very disorganised in the beginning, which means the difference between day and night is unclear and needs to be supported. One the ways we can do this is by limiting day sleep stretches to no longer than 3 hours. This is a sufficient nap for a newborn and assists in supporting a regular feeding pattern.

Waking to feed

In the beginning of life, we want to support our babies weight gain by ensuring they take in a sufficient number of calories during each 24-hour period. Regular feeding is going to support babies to thrive and grow, while providing them with a valuable energy source in order to feed effectively. This means that during the first few weeks of life, a baby may need to be woken to feed. It is usually recommended that they are feeding every 3-4 hours until regular weight gain is being seen. Once this is happening, you will no longer have to wake for a feed. If you are ever concerned whether you should be waking your new baby, please speak to your doctor.

Resolving a sleep problem

Even the best sleepers have days and periods where they will not sleep as well. If you are experiencing something unusual or out of your baby or toddler’s norm, it may be a phase and simply resolve itself after a few weeks without any need for change.

Too much day sleep

It is important to note that at Babies and toddlers have a total amount of sleep required for their age during a 24-hour period. This means there is a limit to the number of hours assigned for sleeping. Nighttime sleep is a very restorative period of sleep, so we want to nurture it as best as we can! Creating a balanced nap routine during the day and knowing your baby’s daily sleep needs can ensure that the day naps are supporting healthy sleep overnight and not taking away from it.

If you feel bad waking your baby during their nap because they were up all night, try to remind yourself of the bigger picture. Allowing too much of a catch up has the potential of reinforcing exactly what you are trying to move away from. This does not apply to a baby or toddler that has had a one-off rough night, this is more for the long-time night wakers out there!

Reducing Extended night wake ups or playtime at bedtime

If you are finding your baby is waking up for hours on end throughout the night or taking a long time to settle at bedtime, it is likely to be a sleep scheduling problem. This may be as a result of your baby or toddler out growing their original schedule. Familiarise yourself with the required awake time applicable for your baby’s age as well as recommended number of naps. If you are not sure, this information is available on my Instagram page. Please contact with me if you would like further assistance and support with your baby’s sleep routine.

Before a Nap transition

A nap transition is needed when our babies and toddler’s daytime sleep requirements reduce. In order to gear them up for the smoothest transition possible, we may need to begin to wake them early from the nap that they are transitioning away from, before getting rid of it completely. This means that by the time this nap is ready to disappear altogether, it should be nice and short.

Nap transitions:

3rd nap of the day- disappears at approximately 6-8 months of age.
1st nap of the day- disappears at approximately 15-18 months of age.
2nd nap of the day- disappears at approximately 2.5-3 years of age.

For more information on nap transitions, head over to my blog “considerations for a healthy nap transition.”

Maintaining sleep pressure

Just because our babies and toddlers are due a nap, it does not mean they will want to always take it! A reduced amount of sleep pressure throughout the day can be seen when they are having too much sleep in the morning. You may notice that the second nap starts to get shorter and shorter in length which causes your baby to be overtired by the time bedtime rolls around. Waking your baby or toddler up from their morning nap a little earlier than they are used to, can help to support a longer afternoon nap to happen. This supports a nice balance of restorative sleep where it is most useful, so play around with a nap length that works best for your baby.

How to wake up your baby or toddler

When we are needing to wake our baby up for whatever the reason, it is nice to practice a gentle arousal from sleep. We can do this by opening the door and letting in some light, providing a gentle stroke then leaving them to wake up fully. You can even try talking softly or singing into the monitor if you have one. If this is not enough to wake them, go into their room and open the blinds, allowing them to wake up on their own naturally. As a last resort, create a bit of extra movement outside of their sleep space or gently repeat some of the steps already mentioned.


Hi! I’m Jen, Internationally Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant, Registered Nurse for over 13 years and Mother to three beautiful children. I absolutely love supporting families to thrive and develop sleep confidence for themselves and their babies

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