“Never wake a sleeping baby” is probably one of the most famous saying out there. New parents are often wondering “Is it true? Should you wake a sleeping baby during the day? Is it one big baby sleep myth? Or do you always let a baby sleep for as long as they want?
In fact, one of the moms in the My Sleeping Baby Facebook Community has a newborn baby and asked this exact question since her newborn was taking long stretches of sleep during the day.
The short answer to this question is “Yes- you can absolutely wake a sleeping baby in certain circumstances”. In this blog post, I will explore the question of WHEN it would be appropriate to wake a sleeping baby in more detail so that you can make an informed decision about your little one’s sleep.
The benefits of letting a baby sleep
Before we dive into the debate over whether waking a sleeping baby is a good idea, it’s important to understand the benefits of sleep for our little ones. Sleep is critical for a baby’s growth and development, both physically and mentally. During sleep, a baby’s brain processes information, consolidates memories, and releases hormones that regulate growth and appetite.
Moreover, babies need LOTS of sleep over a 24-hour period- much more than adults. Newborn babies may sleep for 16-17 hours a day and older babies may need up to 14 hours of sleep per day. Therefore, if your baby is sleeping a lot during the day, it may just be their natural sleep pattern, and there may not be any reason to wake them up.
Also, if your baby is recovering from an illness or a growth spurt, they may need more sleep than usual. Allowing them to sleep uninterrupted can help their body heal and restore energy.
Why you shouldn’t let a baby sleep too much during the day
So, let me clarify something here. Obviously we never want to wake a sleeping baby for the heck of it. However, there ARE problems that can emerge with too much sleep during the day. If you’re wondering when you should wake a sleeping baby during the day and what circumstances warrant this, here are a few examples:
Reason #1- Prevent Day-Night Confusion
It is typical for newborn babies to experience day/night confusion, which is when their circadian rhythm (aka their biological clock) is underdeveloped and they mix up their days and nights. Newborn babies don’t have circadian rhythms (yet!), making it challenging for them to differentiate between daytime and nighttime.
Nonetheless, there are steps you can take to help your newborn’s biological clock develop. One of these big steps is to avoid letting your baby nap longer than 2-2.5 hours so that he can quickly learn when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime.
As your baby gets older, you may want to establish a regular sleep schedule to help them develop healthy sleep habits. Waking them up at the same time each day can help set their internal clock and make it easier for them to fall asleep at night.
Reason #2- Save the baby’s biggest stretch of sleep for nighttime
One of the biggest concerns about very long daytime naps is that, if a newborn gives you too much sleep during the day, they may wake up more at night and be less sleepy. This can lead to a disrupted sleep pattern for both the baby and the parents.
I learned this lesson very early on when Emunah, my oldest, was a newborn. I immediately saw that Emunah would give me ONE 4-hour stretch of sleep every 24 hours. If she ever took a longer nap that was bigger than 3.5 hours during the day, she’d refuse to give me that longer stretch of sleep at night. That meant I did EVERYTHING in my power to ensure her daytime naps were never longer than 2-2.5 hours so that I could get longer stretches of sleep at night. That 4 hour stretch of nighttime sleep with a newborn is GOLD.
Two- hour daytime naps are fine, I just don’t recommend allowing the nap to go longer than this.
Reason #3- We don’t want your baby skipping any feeds
One important reason to wake your sleeping baby during the day is to ensure that they’re getting enough daytime feeds. Newborn babies are typically eating pretty frequently during the day, especially if they’re breastfeeding. And if they sleep too much during the day, they might skip a daytime feed (or two), which means they’ll need more night feedings to compensate. Avoid this like the plague!
Waking your little one up from a long nap can also help establish a regular feeding schedule and ensure that they’re getting enough calories to support their growth and development. So, while it can be tempting to let your sleeping baby sleep, waking them up for their feeds is an important part of keeping them healthy and happy.
Reason #4- Health concerns
If your baby has certain health conditions, your pediatrician may recommend waking them up during the day. The most common reason is to ensure your baby is getting enough calories, especially in the first few weeks. If your baby is sleeping for an unusually long time, your doctor may recommend waking them up to feed. This is especially important for premature babies or babies with certain medical conditions.
Additionally, if your baby is not gaining weight as expected, your doctor may advise waking them up for more frequent feedings. In this case, it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice and wake your baby to ensure they are healthy and growing properly.
Reason #5- Protect the rest of your little one’s daytime schedule
Another reason why you may need to wake a sleeping baby during the day is to protect and improve their other daytime naps and ensure they get to bed on time for the night. Here’s the thing- there IS such thing as too much daytime sleep. And if a baby naps too long in the morning, they may struggle to fall asleep for their second nap. Or if your baby takes a long nap in the late afternoon, he might struggle to fall asleep nicely at nighttime.
Babies only need a certain amount of sleep each day. Waking them up from a long nap can help ensure they are getting the right amount of sleep and protects the rest of their schedule.
How to go about waking a sleeping baby during the day
If you’ve figured out that you need to wake your sleeping baby, it’s not always so easy! Here are some tips to make it a bit easier:
- Be gentle! Try waking them up by talking softly or stroking their back. Loud noises or sudden movements can startle them.
- Try to schedule wake-up times around their feeding schedule, so they’re awake and hungry when it’s time to eat.
- If your baby is having trouble waking up, try changing their diaper, undressing them, or giving them a bath to help stimulate them.
- If your baby is swaddled, carefully unwrap them to allow for movement and stimulation.
Remember that every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Pay attention to your baby’s cues and responses to determine the best way to wake them up gently and calmly.
Here’s the reality…
Sometimes waking your sleeping baby means that you are helping your baby’s circadian rhythm develop, you’re saving your newborn’s biggest stretch of sleep for the nights, you’re preventing your baby from skipping daytime feeds, and you might be addressing any health concerns your little one has.
Intentionally protecting your newborn’s longer stretch of sleep during the night a) means that YOU will get some uninterrupted night sleep during this stage; and b) helps establish healthy sleeping habits since this 4-hour stretch of night sleep can eventually extend to 5, 6, 7 + hours. Make sure you allow that to happen. You’ll thank me for this.
And capping the naps of your older baby or toddler when necessary allows the rest of their daytime schedule to remain intact.
You’re welcome! 🙂
Other articles and resources on baby sleep
The 4 month regression explained
Why I don’t like the book 12 hours by 12 weeks
The Snoo bassinet: what you need to know before you buy