What You Need to Know About Split Nights

Your baby went to sleep without any issues, and you’ve finally hit R.E.M. sleep — YES! Then, you’re awoken by your baby’s cries. You go into the nursery to calm your little one, change a diaper, and maybe take care of a feeding, but your little one is wide awake and ready to play. It’s tough to be upset with that adorable little smile, but what on earth is going on here? Today I’m going to talk about split nights.

What are “split nights”?

You may already be familiar with the term “split nights” if you’ve undergone a sleep study for sleep apnea, but split nights with babies and toddlers is an entirely different thing. Split nights in our case is when your baby goes to sleep at night and wakes a few hours later for an hour or more. Babies experiencing split nights will be wide awake in this interim period, frustrating tired parents with their 2 a.m. playtime.  

Causes

I’m going to delve into the science behind sleep quickly, so as not to lose you — but it’s important for you to understand your baby’s night wakings in context.

Human sleep is regulated biologically and is regulated by two processes: circadian and homeostatic. You’re likely familiar with circadian rhythm, which is the human body’s sleep/wake cycle, based upon the 24-hour clock. Human’s homeostatic sleep drive asserts that the longer one stays awake, the more tired they are — you practice this with your baby by responding to sleep signals to put your baby down when they need sleep.

So, your baby’s body is still working on responding to natural sleep cycles, which can quickly change with their rapid growth and development. When their body’s need for sleep — or natural sleep cycle — shifts to accommodate growth and development, but the schedule you’ve been maintaining doesn’t shadow this, your baby’s sleep is easily affected. They can miss sleep windows and become overtired, or even sleep too much during the day (leading to dreaded split nights). This sounds more complicated than it is, so keep reading.

What to do about split nights

If your baby’s nighttime sleep is disrupted with a middle-of-the-night wake-up, you should first take a look at what’s going on during the day. Getting your baby back on track is often a matter of tweaking their daytime nap routine. While it’s not necessarily the concrete answer you’re looking for, you may find that shifting naps earlier or ensuring that your baby doesn’t sleep more than a specific length of time solves middle-of-the-night wakings.

Take a day or two to watch for baby sleep signs carefully, and see if they correspond to the schedule your baby is currently following. If they differ, you’ve found the answer and should shift according to the natural sleep signs your baby is demonstrating; use your baby as the guide to their newly adjusted schedule.
If you still are unable to find the right schedule to eradicate your baby’s split nights, give me a call. I offer a complimentary 15-minute sleep assessment so I can get to know the specifics about your situation.

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