Set Scene: Baby went to bed beautifully and has been sleeping soundly for 7-9 hours when suddenly you are awakened by cries. You go into your child’s room and do your usual ‘tricks’ but tonight is different. Nothing is working, no amount of comforting, feeding, or assisting is helping your baby fall back asleep. Baby is wide awake for hours and you don’t understand what is happening; welcome to a split night
Your baby’s sleep is regulated by two main things: The Circadian Rhythm and Sleep Pressure. The circadian rhythm is the body’s sleep/wake cycle based on the 24-hour clock. Sleep Pressure is built by following age appropriate wake times for your babies age. As babies grow and develop so do their sleep needs; if you are not maintaining your baby’s schedule to correctly fit their age you could end up with a dreaded split night.
Main causes of split nights:
Too much day sleep taking away from nighttime sleep:
Every age has a maximum amount of sleep they should receive during the day, at night and over a 24-hour period. When a child goes over the maximum of this sleep limit, they can sometimes “max” out on their sleep needs causing them to wake after 8-9 hours in the night feeling completely rested, and ready to go.
Bedtime is too early:
This is a tough cycle to get trapped in, and I’ve personally been there!
Your little one has a poor day of naps so in return you give an early bedtime. Fast forward to the next day and it’s another bad nap day and early bedtime, repeat until the 3rd-4th night of early bedtimes. Your baby’s sleep pressure then starts to decrease in the middle of the night and baby wakes up feeling very rested. Due to the long wake up in the night, many parents will allow a late start to the morning to make up for the lost sleep, parents may even allow a bit more daytime sleep to make up for that extra-long wake up – this starts the cycle again.
How to fix split nights:
Many will curse my name after saying this, but you need to wake your little one at the normal wake up time even after a split night. Baby is likely going to be exhausted and want an early nap or to nap longer – stick with your age appropriate schedule and be conscious about the amount of daytime sleep and the time your little one is going to bed. Following the correct amount of wake time between your baby’s last nap and bedtime helps build up the pressure needed for a long sound sleep.