Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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Should You Wake A Sleeping Baby; What You Need to Know

One of the questions I often hear after new parents have solved their napping issues using The Helping Babies Sleep Method, is "should you wake a sleeping baby?  Which is ironic because they NEVER thought they'd be asking that!  So many people suffer from short naps and early mornings.  This question is indeed good news! 

No one wants to wake up a sleeping baby, especially if you've been struggling with initiating sleep or getting a longer stretch of sleep for naps or night time sleep.   Often people feel that letting a baby nap too long in the daytime will reduce their sleep pressure and cause problems with either the next nap, interrupted night sleep, night confusion or early morning wake ups.   This is usually very uncommon but we'll talk about more on when to wake a sleeping baby further on. 

Congratulations on having long sleeps!  Be it first thing in the morning, a nap or long periods at night, it's a win!  You used to worry about not enough sleep but things are shifting and now you're worrying about the amount of time your baby is sleeping.  Often parents worry too much day sleep will affect night time sleep.   The uncertainty feels terrible.  

Let me share with you how I coach a clients through a variety of scenarios.  The first step is to ask yourself questions surrounding the situation.

1. How old is your baby? Are you in those first few weeks of life and concerned about weight gain and need more food?  Or is this a toddler who took forever to fall asleep and now is having a late nap?   The answer as to when to wake them up is different for both.

2. Do you have proof that letting them sleep will be detrimental to your schedule?  For example, will letting the last nap run late interfere with bedtime?

3.  Do you have actually have a fixed schedule? Or are you kind of winging each sleep period as it comes.

4.  What time of day is it?  Is this early morning or end of day? 

First we'll talk about sleepy newborns and then we'll talk about babies and older children. 

Healthy Babies Less than 3 Months of Age

In my training as a certified lactation counselor, I know that the first month of life is really all about feeding.  Formula or breastfeeding, it's all about getting your feeding habits down and baby gaining weight. To establish healthy milk supply when breastfeeding, two important variables are at play.  

1.  Nipple stimulation.   it is important that the parent's nipples are stimulated frequently and that milk is transferred from mother to baby frequently.   This tells your body to release oxytocin and prolactin which increase milk supply.

2.  Removal of the milk also tells your body that the milk was needed and to make more.  This can be accomplished via breastfeeding or pumping.   

Here are some general guidelines on when it may be appropriate to STOP waking a breastfed or formula fed newborn baby up to eat at night:

  • Around 4-6 weeks of age, if the baby is gaining weight well and has regained their birth weight. 
  • When the baby regularly goes 3-4 hours between feedings at night without showing hunger signs (rooting, fussing).
  • When the baby is producing enough wet and dirty diapers per day indicating they are getting adequate milk. By day 6 onward this is roughly 6-8 wet/heavy diapers per day. 
  • When the baby is demonstrating longer stretches of sleep at night, such as 5-6 hours. 
  • Continue responding during the night to clear hunger cues like rooting, increased activity, and crying. Gradually space out feedings as the baby allows

The American Academy of Pediatrics says it's not necessary to wake babies for nighttime feeding once they surpass their birth weight and are gaining weight regularly. This is often by 2–3 weeks old. You can read up on this here:  https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827

The La Leche League also support this position. They say: 

  • During the first few weeks when babies sleep deeply, they may need to be encouraged to feed at night if it's been 2–3 hours since the last feeding. After this period, healthy babies don't need to be woken to feed.
  • Preemies and babies who aren't gaining weight well may need to be woken for more frequent feedings as directed by the pediatrician.
  • If your baby is gaining well and shows signs of sleeping 5-6 hours fairly consistently at night by 6 weeks, you can allow them to sleep unless they cue to feed.

When to Let a Sleeping Baby Sleep At Night :

  • Babies over 3 months, let them sleep as long as they want in the night time.  You do not have to wake them up to eat unless this is medical advice from your pediatrician. 
  • Waking the baby may disrupt sleep cycles and patterns.
  • Sleep is important for development, growth.

Daytime Naps for Newborns:  

  • You want to get lots of calories in during the daytime to help with longer stretches of sleep at night time
  • During the day, you can wake your baby up if it's been 3 to 3.5 hours since the last full feed. 
  • Pillar 3 of The Helping Babies Sleep Method encourages you to be an "intentional feeder.  Using food to fuel and to stack calories during the day so you can get longer stretches of sleep at night. 
  • At night time, if she’s gaining weight well, I would not wake her up and let your child naturally wake up for a feed.

For newborns in the daytime, there's a common rule out there that says don't let your newborn sleep more than 2 hours.  However, after doing the deep dive in research, we know that newborns will sleep in 3-4 hour chunks around the clock so it pains me two wake a newborn up after 2 hours knowing that a 3 hour nap might be available to them. Long daytime naps for newborns can be very helpful for your nights. A well-rested baby will sleep better in the night time. I prefer to wake a newborn up only to eat in the daytime. My priority being on getting food in every 3-4 hours at the most in the daytime so that we can get as many calories in during the daytime. 

You can learn more about my methodical approach to newborn sleep and feeding in my Amazon bestseller; The Helping Babies Sleep Method. 

Can My Baby Sleep Too Much In the Daytime?

Most people do not have to wake a sleeping newborn in the daytime.  In general hunger will wake them up.    Sometimes when we have a newborn who is uncomfortable we may have more night waking.  These babies may sleep longer in the daytime to recoup some of the lost sleep at night.  When looking at newborn sleep, it's best to consider 24 hours of sleep vs dividing sleep into daytime and night time buckets.  Some breastfed babies will have more nighttime feedings if mom has low milk supply.  Premature babies may need to eat more frequently at night.  With interrupted night sleep they may need more daytime sleep.  In The Helping Babies Sleep Method we talk about feeding approaches and patterns to help you get full feeds in the daytime to assist you with a daytime feeding schedule.  Being hungry can impede babies from connecting sleep cycles in the middle of the night and having shorter stretches of sleep. 

Why I Dislike the "Wake Them at 2 Hour Rule"

We don't teach this in The Helping Babies Sleep Method.  In the book we teach you that newborn sleep is weakly regulated and that research shows they may take 3-4 hour chunks of sleep around the clock.  We do agree with prioritizing feeding over sleeping in the daytime so that you can stack your calories and thus shift oz to the daytime.  But the "2 hour rule" doesn't consider the age of your baby or what their night was like.  Maybe they were teething last night and had a rough night, or woke early due to teething, and they need to recoup that lost sleep.  We much prefer to wake them if they are sleeping past a feed.  This is most common in the first few months and rarely an issue later on. 

The main reason I don't like this rule is it's only suited for babies who are already sleeping very well.  Most of you google baby sleep are tired and have frequent night waking and interrupted night sleep and capping naps in the newborn stage especially won't help your cause, but rather keep you stuck in an overtired cycle. 

Should I Let My Baby Sleep In? Should I Let My Baby Sleep Late in the Morning? 

Most people want more sleep and so it's not uncommon to let baby wake on their own naturally in the morning.  

Times When You Might Wake a Newborn In the Morning:

  • You have a schedule where you have to be out of the house and get to daycare. 
  • The breastfeeding parent has to leave for work 
  • You feel like your schedule has shifted to having very late bedtimes, after say 10 pm and baby sleeps past 7 am because of the shifted schedule.  You can slowly start waking them earlier so that bedtime consequently shifts earlier. 

Should I Wake My 2 Month Old in the Morning? 

Your two month old needs to have 16 to 20 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period.  Your 2 month old likely still has frequent feedings in the night and one of those likely falls around 4-5 am.  If you are feeding your 2 month old later than 6 am, you might want to wake her up by 7 am to get your day started.  Your 2 month old won't have a rigid sleep schedule but when your child wakes up in the morning can affect your bedtime routine and it's timing.  It can be a benefit to have a regular waking time for the day within 30 minutes day to day.

Should I Wake My 3 Month Old in the Morning

Your three month old needs to sleep 16 to 20 hours over a 24-hour period.  At 3 months there is often a leap in circadian rhythm and many parents are noticing that the witching hour is dissipating and the bedtime routine is taking less time. Bedtime may be getting earlier.

General Guideline:  Wake a 0-3 month old by 7:00 am or 7:30 am at the latest to get the day started.  Start the day with a feed.

When to Wake a Baby 3 Months and Older in the Daytime:

​There is a leap in the circadian rhythm around 4 months and again at 6 months when the rhythm is fully mature.  Around 4 months of age your baby will be much more awake of their world, and in general will wake up sometime between 6-7 am with a bedtime falling somewhere between 6:30-7 pm.

The Two Main Reasons We Wake Babies 4 Months and Older From Naps:

1.  To stack the calories and prevent them from sleeping too long and spreading the daytime feeds too far apart, minimizing the amount of food they can eat in the daytime.  This could potentially shift food to the night unnecessarily.

2.  To preserve a schedule which could be when last nap falls or when bedtime falls. 

General Guidelines to Wake From Naps to Preserve Bedtime, assuming waking for the day between 6 and 7 am:

  • 4 and 5 Months - Wake from the last nap by 5:30 pm so that bedtime falls before 7:30 pm.   
  • 6 and 7 Months:  On 3 naps, wake from last nap by 5:00 pm, so that bedtime falls around 7:30 pm.  
  • 7 to 14 months:  On 2 naps, wake from last nap by 4 pm, so bedtime falls between 7 and 8 pm. 

Your child is between the ages of 4 months and ~14 months, when she starts to transition to 1 nap.

  • At this age it is rare that your child is on a “fixed schedule” where 9 am is nap time
  • During this period there are many changes in naps some text
    • 5 months dropping from 4-3 naps
    • 7-10 months dropping from 3-2 naps
    • 9-11 months plenty of teething and motor development
  • I would not wake my child up from a nap unless I have proof that letting her sleep is interfering with more consolidated night time sleep or she's sleeping more than 30 minutes past a milk timesome text
    • An example would be that my 6 month old had a third nap at 4:30 pm, that ran long and she didn’t wake until 6 pm.  That means bedtime isn’t going to be until about 8:30 pm.  That’s a late bedtime. This late nap will end up cutting into night time sleep so I would likely wake her up after 45 minutes of sleeping.
  • These scenarios are usually very rare

When to Wake Up Babies on 2 naps - 8 Months and Older 

  • Your daily nap hour goal is 2-3 hours, assuming ~ 11 to 12 hours of overnight sleep. 
  • When your child is consistently on 2 naps, usually the 2nd nap is the longer nap and the first nap is 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.
  • If the first nap is on the long end, say 1.5 hours and then struggles for the second nap – either falling asleep or only sleeping for 30 minutes, then you’ll want to wake your child from the 1st nap after 1 hour so that he/she is ready for the 2nd nap and it will last longer.
  • The afternoon nap should naturally be longer and has her better rested with a substantial nap before bedtime.
  • You'll want this 2nd nap to end by 3-4 pm depending on their age. 

Should You Wake a Toddler From 1 Nap?  

  • So important to protect that 1 nap
  • At this age, car naps can be painfulsome text
    • If she falls asleep for just 30 minutes she won’t transfer from the car to the crib and it’s impossible to get her to nap again for the day
  • You’re left with a tired cranky toddler who won’t nap
  • Protect your 1 nap
  • In general, I wouldn’t let your toddler nap past 4 pm
  • If your toddler had a rough day and didn’t fall asleep until 3 pm instead of the usual 1 pm, I would wake her up at 4:30pm
  • There is some variation between 4:30 and 5:00 pm based on when her bedtime normally is and when she woke up for the day
  • For example, if you have a toddler who goes to bed at 8 pm, gets up at 7 pm, her nap will be later in the day compared to a toddler who sleeps 7 pm to 6 am.
  • Thus that 4 pm or 5 pm cut off varies according to the child.

How to Wake Your Toddler From a Nap: 

  • Be gentle
  • Open the curtains, gently rouse her and then leave the room
  • Provide the opportunity for her to “come to” without someone hovering over her
  • Repeat gently rousing and leaving the room, make her think she woke naturally

 How Does Bedtime Shift As Your Baby Ages?  

Let’s take a little walk through the months and look at all the change happening with bedtimes.

From 0-4 months, your baby is sleeping on and off throughout the day and night and isn’t even awake for more than about 1-1.75 hours at a time.  You have no set schedule.  What you have is a flexible routine of eating, sleeping,  and pooping. I would only ever wake a baby during the day if he has been napping more than 3-4 hours at 4 and 5 months and is sleeping through a feed. I want to make sure that he is getting regular feeds during the day, to set him up for success at night time. This is a rare phenomenon.

At 5 months, your baby will be in the 4-3 nap transition where some days she’ll have 4 naps, and other days 3 naps.  The number of naps all depends on the length of her naps and how long she can comfortably stay awake between naps before becoming fussy.  At 5 months, your child needs 3-4 hours of total daily nap hours.

Whenever you are in a nap transition, your bedtime fluctuates to accommodate the last nap.  I would never wake a baby up during this period because there is no set bedtime.  Bedtime fluctuates based on when the last nap is.  Its is very common to have a 30-40 minute cat nap around 4:30 or 5:00 pm at this age.

At 6 months, your baby will consistently be on 3 naps and require 2-3 hours of total daily nap hours.  There is a window here, that could last 1-2 months, where your bedtime is relatively consistent.

Once you are into 7-10 months, you’ll be going through the 3-2 nap transition where your baby drops down to 2 naps.  Again, when you are dropping a nap, your bedtime will be bumped up a bit earlier because you are losing some daytime sleep and don’t want her to be overtired by bedtime.

From ~ 10- 14 months, your baby will be on 2 day time naps.  Sometime between 14-18 months, your baby will drop down to 1 daily nap.  Again, bedtime fluctuates.

What about Dreamfeeds?

Dreamfeeds have different purposes at different ages.  A dreamfeed is when you pick your sleeping child up and get them to feed.  They are not asking for a feed, that is feeding on demand.  We go over dreamfeeds in details in this blog post. 

In the rare case that these late morning wakings are happening past 6 months of age. It is usually because the child is feeding frequently through the night, and usually has a sleep crutch of nursing back to sleep. 

I don’t like to wake a sleeping baby because if they are sleeping, they need it! 

Who knows what biological process their little bodies are working on in that restorative sleep session. 

Maybe they are fighting a cold, working on language development or processing the activities of the day. 

I would only want to interrupt that if I have evidence that it will have a negative effect on other sleep patterns in their life. 

Like this philosophy? Check out my Amazon Bestseller - The Helping Babies Sleep Method which teaches you how to be a great baby detective for sleep and feeding and debunks many baby sleep myth.

My thoughts,


Also, Check out Sustainable Products for Babies: Recommended by Baby Sleep Expert Dr. Sarah Mitchell.

Ever wonder how much sleep your baby needs and when? Worried you're not getting nap hours in? Download my free sleep timing and quantity chart and see how much sleep they should be getting for their age.

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