Does your baby fall asleep at bedtime, only to wake for hours in the middle of the night before finally going back to sleep? You may be experiencing split nights. It is something that I see a lot in families I work with. You aren’t alone!
Is your baby awake all hours of the night ready to play, while you’re trying to sleep soundly? You may be dealing with something we call a split night.
In this blog post about split nights, we’ll go over:
- What is A Split Night?
- What To Do If Your Baby is Having A Split Night
- Why Split Nights Happen
- How to Fix Split Nights
- Will My Baby Grow Out of Split Nights?
If you still have questions at the end of this blog leave it in the comment section and we’ll try and help you troubleshoot.
What is A Split Night?
A split night is when your baby goes down for bedtime, but then is wide awake for a long period of time in the middle of the night.
They are usually alert and content and not in need of anything specific to fall back asleep.
There is one key difference I see between a split night and a regular nighttime waking.
During a regular waking, your baby usually needs something to return to sleep including:
- Diaper Change
During a split night, a baby is simply awake and isn’t in need of some sort of parental comfort or a feed to return to sleep.
Split nights can be incredibly frustrating for parents. You’re exhausted. You know your baby should be sleeping, but instead your baby is awake—grinning, cooing, and trying to play.
No baby sleeps perfectly every night, and it can be normal for a baby to have a random night where they are wide awake in the middle of the night for whatever reason. If it is a one-off and not a regular occurrence, you likely don’t need to do anything.
But if this is happening multiple nights in a row, that is a true split night.
What to Do When Baby Has Split Nights?
In my experience the best thing you can do for your baby during a split night is to keep things as “nighttime” as you can.
Keep the lights as low as you safely can, don’t turn on the TV, and don’t create a playtime atmosphere.
Your goal is dark, quiet, and calm during a split night.
Babies are wide awake during a split night and unable to fall back to sleep. We want to help them fall back to sleep as quickly as possible once their bodies and brains are ready by maintaining a sleep-friendly environment.
It can be tempting to take your baby out to the living room and offer a snack or turn on a show, but that often only serves to prolong the awake time.
If your baby continues to have split nights, it usually means something with their sleep schedule is off. Keep reading to learn how to prevent split nights.
Sleep and Feed Schedules for Every Age
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How to Fix Baby’s Split Nights
Now that you know what a split night is, why is your baby having them?
There are a few common reasons why babies have split nights and what you can do to prevent them.
Too Much Day Sleep
If your baby is consistently having split nights, one of the first things you want to do is look at your baby’s sleep schedule.
Sometimes, babies get too much daytime sleep that they simply can’t sleep 11–12 hours straight at night.
How much sleep a baby needs per 24 hours varies by age.
If a baby is getting too much of their sleep during the day, they are likely to have a period of time at night where they are wide awake for 1-3 hours.
When they finally get tired and become sleepy, they usually return to sleep.
If this is the cause, the fix is less daytime sleep. Depending on your baby’s age and stage, this can look like a few things:
- Extending their wake window
- Dropping a nap
- Shortening a nap
- Shortening multiple naps
Lack of Daytime Sleep
Other times, the cause of split nights is the opposite: lack of daytime sleep.
When babies struggle with naps, I find that parents often compensate by using an early bedtime as a tool to prevent an overtired baby. An early bedtime is typically considered a bedtime of 6:00 p.m. or earlier.
This is a great strategy and is something I sometimes recommend! But, early bedtimes are meant to be occasional things and not nightly things.
When the early bedtime becomes routine, babies can start to hit their nighttime sleep maximum well before their usual morning wake time. If early bedtimes are your split night culprit, the fix is moving bedtime later.
Ideally, bedtime is no more than 12 hours before your baby typically wakes for the day.
As your baby starts to grow and develop, those new milestones they’re meeting can interfere with sleep.
These common sleep regressions can cause split nights temporary.
If your baby is going through a sleep regression, make sure to hone in their schedule and give them plenty of time during the day to work on their new skills.
We want to make sure they practice walking or rolling over a ton during the day, so they don’t need to practice it during sleep time.
Will Baby Grow Out of Split Nights?
Will your baby eventually grow out of the split nights?
Since split nights are usually the cause of an off sleep schedule, the best way to resolve the split nights is to look at your baby’s sleep schedule and adjust accordingly.