How to Manage Night Wakings and Getting Baby Back to Sleep

sleeping baby on a white sheet wearing a white long sleeve onesie and socks

The worst part about a *yawn* is how contagious it is – even if you’re just reading about how someone else is doing so!

In any case, getting enough sleep is vital to being able to function as a mom (or just as a person!), which is why night wakings are so difficult! So let’s help you get your sleep training completed already so that you (and baby) can sleep through the night.

That way, you’ll have the rest, mental capacity, and wherewithal you need to handle each new day as your best self. Ready?

What are night wakings and why do they happen?

Before we can figure out how to stop the night wakings from happening, it helps to know WHY they happen.

Because if you know why your baby is waking up, you can help them get back to sleep that much faster.

So here are some of the most common reasons why babies and kids wake up in the middle of the night:

  • They’re hungry
  • A wet or poopy diaper isn’t comfortable and that woke them up
  • A bad dream or new noise woke them up
  • They’re sick
  • They need comforting
  • They finished a sleep cycle and have naturally woken up
  • It’s daytime (and time to wake up!)

As your child grows, the list of potential reasons will grow and change. That’s normal. My older kids no longer wake due to a full diaper – but they do wake for a full bladder. Thankfully, though, they’re capable of fixing that on their own. They get up, go to the bathroom, and go right back to bed.

So let’s chat about ways to get your kids back to bed, shall we?

Need help surviving sleep regressions? Here are some tips to help you survive with your sanity intact.

Once my child’s awake, how can I get them back to sleep?

Once your child wakes up, look at the reason why they woke up. Then address that need and then help them ease their way back to dreamland.

Referring back to our earlier list of potential wake-up reasons, you can:

  • Feed hungry babies – hungry toddlers (and older) can wait until breakfast.
  • Change full diapers quickly and in as dark a room as possible
  • Comfort them after a bad dream
  • Consider giving them appropriate medicine, comfort, or hugs as needed
  • Comfort your child as needed – or teach them (during the day) to self-soothe so they can manage on their own
  • Give them a few minutes to settle back down into sleep on their own before stepping in to help
  • Get them up and get your day going.

Now, as to how you’ll do this, it’s going to depend on several factors. First off, how old is the child? How do they prefer to be comforted? And what comforting methods are you comfortable with?

My babies loved being rocked, held tightly (or swaddled), and getting to either nurse or suck on a binky. That being said, teaching them other self-soothing methods was important because I didn’t like being their only method to calm down.

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Other ways to calm them down include patting them on the back; singing a soft lullaby; using a quiet, soothing noise (like this white noise machine) to lull them back to sleep; and using repetitive, calming touch to calm them down. They may also want their blankie or stuffed animal to hug as a way to calm down.

During the middle of the night, I try to avoid lights, too much noise (talking), and toys. Instead, keep the room dark, calm, and free from stimulation. That way, you’re helping them get back to sleep faster. And that way you can get back to sleep faster!

More ways to get kids back to sleep after a night waking

Here are some more great ideas from parents just like you – parents who have joined our free Sleep Training Support group on Facebook (and you’re welcome to join us!). One mom even had a whole routine, so we’ll start with that:

  • Give them five minutes or so to self soothe. After all, maybe they’ll calm back down and settle in by themselves.
  • After the five minutes is up, go ahead and check on your child. Make sure they’re doing okay (so you can go back to sleep, too!), that the temperature in their room is fine, they’re breathing well, or anything else in the room.
  • If they’re asleep, let them continue sleeping. But if they are awake, feel free to snuggle until they’re drowsy.

Another mom suggested using repetitive touch and sound. Things like stroking your baby’s head, singing, and a rocking motion when younger worked best for her family.

One more suggestion from our wonderful support group was to pick up your restless little one and rock them. Then, while rocking them pat their back with your whole hand once. Then pat their back using four fingers – then three, then two, then one. This mom says that, while it may look ridiculous, it works magic at getting them back to sleep.

The idea of a countdown is kind of nice, too, as it teaches them to self soothe and calm down, even if it is on a very subtle level!

How can I best prevent night wakings?

Now, while prevention is always the best treatment, it’s not always a guaranteed thing.

Just because you’ve prepared your child’s bedroom for sleep success doesn’t mean they will always 100% sleep through the night. After all, there could be a surprise poopy diaper at 2:15 AM.

However… I’ve found that having things set up for sleep success does help it happen more regularly, more reliably, and more restfully.

So here’s how we prepare things to prevent night wakings:

  • Keep bedrooms free from screens (phones, TVs, tablets).
  • Use a white noise machine in every bedroom.
  • Bedroom fans can be used instead of or in addition to a white noise machine.
  • (If white noise doesn’t do it for you, try pink or brown noise with this app.)Night
  • Make bedrooms dark and restful with blackout curtains.
  • Keep too many distractions out of the bedroom (toys, books, etc).
  • Allow your children to have age-appropriate comfort items like blankets, stuffed animals, or a pillow.
  • Give your children a sippy cup of WATER (or ice water) to drink if they’re thirsty.
  • For children who are deep sleepers, make sure they’re wearing pull-ups or night time undies – or limit how much water you give them in that sippy cup.

Related Topics:

  • Need more info on sleep training? Go to the main hub and find all the answers you’ve been looking for!
  • Got a question on sleep regressions? Follow this link to find answers and solutions.
  • Need help making a sleep training plan that will actually work? Free information to help you make that happen.

Ready to get your nights back? Join the sleep training challenge!

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Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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