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Split Nights

Is your Little Darling waking up in the middle of the night?

By waking up, I do not just mean for a short period… I mean REALLY waking up and staying awake for hours.

If you are wondering if this is the case then it is probably not as the parents of children that have segmented sleep will know EXACTLY what I am talking about.

I am genuinely not talking about having to go in and offer comfort for 10 minutes, I am talking about a full-blown dance party at 3am.

This can be called segmented sleep or split nights and it describes a situation where your child will sleep for a long stretch at the start of the night but then will wake up happy and full of energy in the middle of the night and it lasts for over an hour.

It is actually not something that is new in today’s society either.

Back before the use of electric lights, people would often sleep for a couple of hours and then wake up for a few hours and then actually go back to sleep.

Nowadays, however, the vast majority of us go to sleep at night and, hopefully, close our eyes and sleep straight through until morning.

If you are still reading then I am guessing that your baby did not get the memo about this no longer being a thing?

This is actually a pretty common problem that I see.. Baby goes down at 7:30 at night, wakes up at 3:00 in the morning, thinks it is time for a disco party for an hour and a half, then goes back to sleep, apparently not caring about the bleary eyed, miserable day she’s set her parents up for.

Why does this happen and how can we solve it?

Our main drivers when it comes to sleep take two forms. The first is our circadian rhythm, which is our natural tendency to fall asleep when it’s dark and wake up when it’s light.

Secondly, there is our homeostatic sleep drive, commonly known as sleep pressure, which builds up over the time we’re awake.

Let’s look at an ideal day.. over the course of the day, sleep pressure builds up, then at bedtime, when the pressure hits the perfect spot, baby will put his head down and goes straight to sleep. As his sleep pressure begins to subside, circadian rhythm takes over and baby stays asleep until morning.

In the case of a split night/segmented sleep, we could be looking at one of two reasons why they’re waking up.

● Little Darling is not getting to bed early enough, OR…

● Little Darling is going to bed too early.

I know, I know.. that just seems impossible to figure out which is the case but keep reading, I am hoping to clarify a little for you.

If your child is going to bed too late, that means too much sleep pressure has built up, the brain has this instinctive response that says, “Oh, you’re tired but you’re not sleeping. There must be something wrong like a predator around, so I had better get ready to make a break for it,” and then starts upping the cortisol levels. Cortisol is our stress hormone and can counteract our ‘need’ for sleep.

The brain means well, but it’s a little behind the times and has not quite caught up with modern times.

This can make it tough for baby to get to sleep at bedtime due to being wired by cortisol levels, and it can also cause a full wake up at the end of a sleep cycle, which commonly happens around 2 or 3 in the morning.

If this is what you are experiencing, you are actually one of the lucky ones. The best thing to do is to treat this wake up like any other night time wake up, reassure baby that it’s still night, comfort them and let them get back to sleep on their own. You could actually move bedtime up slightly over a course of a few nights to make the adjustment needed.

The other situation is where your baby is getting to bed too early.

In a scenario where your little one is getting lots of good quality daytime sleep and going to bed early, it is very possible that there is just not enough sleep pressure built up during the day to keep baby sleeping until their circadian rhythm takes over.

Remember the circadian rhythm helps them sleep through the rest of the night after sleep pressure has diminished, so up they get. Now that there isn’t as much sleep pressure, and their circadian rhythm doesn’t have the levels needed to get them to sleep, suddenly they’re up and active for an extended period of time while that pressure builds back up.

If you have read my previous blogs then you will know how much of a fan I am of early bedtimes. Too little sleep is a much bigger problem than too much. However, if your baby’ is having this kind of split-night sleep, it is definitely worth examining their schedule and doing a little alteration or two to ensure that you are getting the perfect sleep pressure right at the same time that baby’s going to bed for the night.

I totally understand that there are many situations that can arise where you’ll want to get baby to bed a little early. If she had a day of poor naps and is clearly tired a half hour before bedtime, it’s absolutely the right move to get her to bed ahead of schedule.

I would recommend to avoid putting baby to bed early more than one or two nights in a row. We want to prevent over tiredness but we also don’t want them in the cot at night for more time than they’re actually capable of sleeping. This means if your baby has had a tough day and didn’t nap well, it’s fine to get them to bed a little early, since that sleep pressure is likely already built up, but try to get her back onto the regular schedule starting the next morning, including their wake time.

I appreciate that this can all begin to sound like an immaculately choreographed symphony, and in some ways it can be complicated, but the more you understand the little nuances and know where to make those minor adjustments, the better your baby will sleep, and the less they’ll run into these regressions, setbacks, and interruptions.

There is one final thing to consider if you’re getting ready to handle this situation. This is not likely to be an overnight fix. Once baby has gotten into this habit, getting them out of it can take some time.

You are very likely to experience push backs so it is important to remember your goal. You are giving your Little Darling the skill they need to sleep soundly through the night.

My biggest advice is to be patient and be consistent and this will ensure that both you are your baby are enjoying a full nights sleep pretty quickly.

Did you know that I offer a free 15 minute sleep evaluation call to discuss what is showing up for you and your Little Darling as well as discussing how I can help...?

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