For parents of infants, there’s no greater frustration than finally getting the baby down for the night only to hear a sharp cry on the monitor a few minutes later. They showed all the signs of drifting off to dreamland, but were awake and fussy again before you could even make it to your own bed. It’s an exhausting cycle for both of you!
Rest assured: this doesn’t have to be your norm. If your baby wakes up 5 minutes after falling asleep, figuring out the source of their startling awake is key to settling them down and easing them back to bed. But what’s causing these early false starts, and how do you make bedtime a predictable habit instead of a headache?
It could be many things, and solving the puzzle can be the most important gift parents give their newborn, as well as themselves.
Identify the Root Cause for Waking
Although it sometimes seems like babies are simple (eat, sleep, poop, repeat), they’re actually pretty complicated. Afterall, they are little humans and humans are complex! Many things might be troubling them and preventing peaceful sleep, and unfortunately, they can’t exactly explain the problem to you! Crying is their only way of letting you know something’s not right, and that means the burden is going to be on you to diagnose and solve the problem.
Here are just a handful of common reasons why your infant might be waking prematurely:
Any parent knows that a hungry or wet baby will tell you they need feeding or changing—loudly! Thankfully, the simplest answers are often also the correct ones, and if you’re experiencing routine issues at bedtime it might be as simple as checking diapers, checking the temperature or making sure they’ve had a full feed before being put down to sleep.
Time of day is also a factor in sussing out why a baby is waking immediately after going down. The “witching hour” adds an extra layer of complexity when trying to understand your baby’s sleep style. A well-fed and freshly-diapered infant between 4-12 weeks old who’s crying or won’t sleep might just be experiencing those late afternoon itchies, and swaddling, pacifiers, and keeping the environment calm may be enough to get through those difficult early weeks.
Finally, a common mistake new parents make involves misinterpreting natural baby noises as distress. You’ll learn to differentiate between harmless fussing or a brief loud cry and genuine cries by giving your little one a bit of time to work out what woke them; you don’t have to rush in as soon as you hear them vocalize. If it’s not a full-blown holler and things seem pretty chill, chances are everything’s OK.
The room itself should be conducive to good sleep: dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Much like adults, babies wake up if they’re too cold or hot while sleeping. It’s a fair response to physical discomfort that requires trial and error to solve. If your baby sleeps hot, utilize cooler, breathable fabrics and less layers to keep them sleeping soundly. On the flip side, if they run colder, they might need an extra layer at bedtime.
Overstimulation prior to sleep contributes to further restlessness, so be mindful of the environment your baby inhabits at night. For instance, late evening hours are often when parents get a little time to themselves, but a flashing TV and echoing music in the next room could be all it takes to disrupt the peace.
While you’re preparing your infant for bed, take some time to wind down with them. This can be a great time for mom’s to take some deep breaths and decompress. Remember your calm energy lowers their energy levels too. You’ll probably find yourself getting better sleep along with your baby!
Lack of Routine
Just like adults with an evening regimen before bed, babies thrive on structure. For parents whose baby wakes up 5 minutes after falling asleep, establishing a consistent sleep routine gives them the best start to a good—and uninterrupted—night of rest. Dialing in some key changes to an iffy strategy (or lack thereof) can be all it takes to create a strong foundation for your child to be an independent sleeper.
An example would be opting to change the time your baby goes into the crib to an earlier bedtime and sticking to that regularly going forward, which can lengthen the duration of their sleep each night. Other routine-builders include using a white noise machine to lull your infant asleep, or swaddling them in the same soft blanket to signal bedtime. Remember: consistency matters!
Any Kind of Withdrawal
Co-sleeping babies who are learning to sleep on their own in the crib tend to wake suddenly. They may cry or fuss as they try to get comfortable adjusting to that new routine. This is a totally normal response to adapting to a new routine. The same can be expected when other major transitions occur, like quitting the pacifier or phasing out swaddling.
Self-soothing is a vital skill that babies need to develop as they grow, so let yours adapt in small doses. You can also curb withdrawal behaviors through responsive settling, like tending to your baby gently and subtly by rubbing their tummy or singing a lullaby to ease them into sleep. Avoid picking them up unless nothing else is working, since this can upset their circadian rhythm and worsen the wake up, taking you back to square one. However, if picking them up helps them to calm and gets them back to sleep quickly then go ahead and do what works.
Missed Sleep Cues
Your baby’s sleep window is the sweet spot when sleep should come most easily, and the optimal time to head for the crib should always happen before your baby gets overly fussy or overtired. Follow their lead by taking note of obvious signs of initial drowsiness, and make that your moment for bedtime instead of waiting until it’s convenient for you (trust me: Netflix will be there when you get back).
Also,when they routinely drift off in one place then get moved to another, infants get acclimatized to waking more frequently. In fact, this is true of kids in general! Picking up on your baby’s patterns around bedtime saves you both the hassle of sleep disruption now and paves the way for healthier sleep habits in the future—an invaluable effort! What feels like a lot of work when your baby is young will pay off in dividends as your baby gets older!
Address That Cause for Better Sleep Outcomes
After identifying the root cause for waking, you’ll be able to focus on correcting whatever it is that is disturbing your baby’s rest. New parents are almost always tired in those first few months, so it’s understandable if you’re getting frustrated with a baby who isn’t just passing out on the spot like you wish you could.
But patience is a virtue, and most aspects of parenthood demand a certain amount of it. You’re both going to struggle with sleep initially until you’ve gotten into a more settled routine. Of course, addressing the cause of your baby’s interrupted naps and nights can easily feel overwhelming when you’re managing everything else, and if that’s the case, know that you’re not alone. Every baby is unique, and there’s a remedy for even the most sleepless of infants out there: a baby sleep expert.
Consult with a Baby Sleep Expert
Everyone wants to help their precious newborn sleep well, and if your baby wakes up 5 minutes after falling asleep, it can feel like you’re failing as a parent. I’m here to tell you you’re definitely not! As a certified sleep consultant, I’m here for you and your family as you navigate the ups and downs of achieving peaceful sleep. This is a journey for sure, but with support from Your Sleeping Baby, we can meet your sleep goals together.
Disordered or restless sleep challenges all of us. In a world where a good night’s sleep is becoming increasingly rare, truly rejuvenating rest should be more of a priority than ever. Your baby deserves to enjoy quality sleep from day one, so let’s set them up for rest success—reach out for a consultation with me today!