Is your little one waking in the middle of the night? And when I say wake, I mean like really waking up for huge chunks at a time.

If you’re dealing with a baby who sleeps this way, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. This isn’t the usual pop in the nursery for a quick comfort session for a few moments. This is a middle of the night rave!

This all too familiar phenomenon has quite a few names. Segmented sleep, bifurcated sleep, split nights; to name a few. But simply put, it’s where your little one gets some good sleep for 4-6 hours and then wakes up looking completely re-energized and happy as a clam, ready to start the day in the middle of the night. And this may last for hours at a time.

Contrary to what we may believe, this isn’t some strange occurrence at all. In fact, way before the invention of the electric bulb, people would sleep for a few hours at a time, then wake for an hour or two. People would often use the time to read by candle light, have sex, or even visit neighbors! 

In today’s modern society, things are much different. We go to bed and hope to hell we get a great night’s rest and wake up refreshed in the morning.

But for some reason, your baby just didn’t get the memo.

Baby 3 am parties are not as unusual as you may think. Tell if this sounds familiar.  Baby settles fairly quickly at bedtime and then wakes up to party their little ass off for about an hour or so, then without a single care in the world, just nods off again without a care about how you, the parents, need to drag themselves through an entire day on an empty sleep tank.

So before I get to the solution, which I think you’re ready to hear, let’s explore why this problem is present in the first place. We have to take two things into consideration, one being our circadian rhythm (our natural tendency to fall asleep when it gets darker and then be awake when it’s light) and then secondly our homeostatic sleep drive (also known as sleep pressure, which builds up as a result of the time spent awake).

So what happens in the case of your baby, is that the sleep pressure reaches its peak at around bedtime so as soon as they go down, they are lights out. As this pressure then lessens through sleep, the circadian rhythm steps in and then takes over. 

When it comes to split nights, there could be two reasons for the waking:

  1. Baby is not getting to bed early enough.
  2. Baby is going to bed too early.

STOP! Don’t throw your phone or computer out the window with that contradictory explanation.

If baby ‘s bedtime routine is too late, this pressure builds up and makes the brain believe that something is up and increases the cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone that is responsible for helping the body deal with stress.

Our brains are still a bit primitive thinking that we need to be on the alert from threats entering the cave, so this makes it tough at bedtime for baby to get to sleep. The cortisol is what affects the baby’s sleep pattern which often leads to these morning rendezvous at 3am.

If this is the case in your home, then consider yourself one of the lucky few. To get baby back to bed, you’d just need to reassure them with some comfort to fall back to sleep on their own. You could consider moving her bedtime up a bit for a few nights.  Also, be sure you are not flicking on bright lights.  I only recommend a dim, amber colored light.  The Hooga Book Light is amazing for this, because you have control over the brightness, turn it on/off when needed and is extremely portable.

Then we get to the opposite scenario! What if your baby’s bedtime is just too early.

If your baby is one of the few who gets adequate sleep during the day and has an early bedtime, it could be that not enough sleep pressure has built up to keep them sleeping even after their circadian rhythm takes over to help them sleep through which leads to the 3am wake up. And then what happens is that they are not tired enough to go back to sleep, so they party for about an hour until the sleep pressure eventually builds up.

As a mom and sleep consultant I’m all for early bedtimes and I believe too little sleep is more of a problem than too much sleep! But if your child is going through these “split nights”, it could be worth changing their schedule a bit, so they get the best amount of sleep and so do you. 

Often, we want the little one’s to get to bed earlier, especially if the day time naps sucked. In this case try to prevent doing this too many nights in a row.. We don’t want baby overtired, but we also want to prevent them from being in a crib for longer than what they can actually sleep.

If your little one has had a rough day and the naps weren’t that great, it’s absolutely okay to get them to bed a bit earlier than usual. But make sure that you try and get them back to their usual routine as soon as possible and preferably by starting the next morning.

I bet this might sound like some perfectly orchestrated Broadway musical and yes it can be somewhat complicated, but once you understand all the bits involved and understand where you can make some tweaks with your child’s routine, your baby will sleep better.

And lastly, remember this is not an overnight fix. If your baby has developed a pattern, getting them out of it will take some time. Like any other issue of this kind, you can expect some protest from your little person but don’t lose sight of your end goal. Remember you are playing an important part in your child’s future — you are teaching them the very important skill of sleep which will impact their overall well-being. Allow patience to lead and be consistent. Before you know it,  you and your baby will be sleeping like rock stars and getting the sleep you both need and deserve.

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Stop making these 3 Biggest Sleep Mistakes and finally get the rest you deserve.