Why Your Baby Might Be Waking at 3 AM

July 13, 2023

why your baby might be waking at 3 am blog post image

Calling all bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived parents wondering why your little one wakes up EVERY MORNING at 3 am.  Hey there!  Glad you stopped by. Please know you are not alone. Many parents (me included once upon a time) find themselves on the same boat, trying to figure out why they wake at this unearthly hour. To better understand why your baby is waking before the sun, you must understand more about how humans sleep.  

Baby Waking for a 3 am Pajama Party

Although, in theory, this sounds fun, your little one is probably not waking up for fun and games. However, I’ve worked with a few families in the last ten years who, I think, had a baby awake and ready to party.  Usually, when these wakings happen, no one is having much fun – including your baby. Although, I remember one time when my oldest daughter was a baby; during one of her night wakings, she woke crying, and as soon as I picked her up to feed her, she began to giggle.  Yes, GIGGLE!  I guess at that point she was ready to party!  Soon after we began building those sleep skills because mommy was not a night owl nor in the mood to party! 

The Sleep Cycle Quirk

Babies, just like adults, have a circadian rhythm and sleep cycles very similar to their parents.  The difference is that your baby’s sleep cycles are shorter and more numerous. It is common for babies, children, and adults to wake partially (albeit briefly). Most of the time, they drift back off to sleep without issue. But sometimes, they fully wake up and have difficulty getting back to sleep independently.  And more often than not, this often happens around 3 am. This could be a terrific opportunity to “Practice the Pause” and see if your little one can resettle independently. Give it a shot, wait 5 or 10 minutes and see what happens.  

The Hunger Games

For newborns and younger infants, hunger could be a valid reason. Their tummies are tiny and need frequent refueling, which ultimately can lead to wakeful periods during the night.  When feeding your baby during the night, I recommend keeping the room dark and interaction to a minimum.  I’ve written another great article on feeding your baby at night, which you may find helpful. 

Out of Habit

Babies who have only ever been helped to sleep by rocking, feeding, etc. will look for that same help every time they wake up at night.  No, it’s not some evil plan to keep you up all hours of the night; it’s simply what they have learned to do and expect to happen.  And although frustrating for you, I guarantee you it’s no picnic for your baby.  

It’s a chemical thing

You’ve likely heard about melatonin and its involvement in the sleep process, helping to balance circadian rhythms. When it comes to sleep, melatonin is like a warm bath, relaxing us and getting our brains ready to rest. On the flip side, our bodies release cortisol about three hours before our natural wake time. Cortisol acts as a stimulant and is released during times of stress, but it also acts as our body’s way of waking itself up.

How stop your baby from waking at 3 am

I’m often called by panicked parents who are desperate to “fix” their baby’s sleep problem. If your baby hasn’t developed the skills to sleep independently and is thus waking early, then nothing is broken; it’s simply not yet learned. This is where the work comes in.

Please know that your baby’s sleep isn’t going to be solved overnight, but know that you can take steps each day to help your baby learn how to sleep independently — and soundly.

I can’t say this enough — create an environment conducive to sleep. If you’ve not already, start by making the necessary changes to your baby’s nursery. Add blackout curtains or shades to ensure your baby’s room is nice and dark — perfect for encouraging continual melatonin release through the night. Remove the ceiling projectors and any other bright or shiny items that may stimulate your baby — you want your baby’s nursery to be boring, so they’ll want to sleep. 

Finally, ensure you’re committed to a consistent and predictable sleep schedule. Keeping a consistent sleep routine can better train your baby’s body to work in tandem with their natural circadian rhythm. And most importantly, make sure you’re teaching your baby the skills they need to sleep independently.

Also, remember that every baby is unique and what works for one child may not work for another. Understanding the specific reasons for your 3 am wake-ups is the first step to finding the right solution for your baby and your family. 

Do you need more personalized advice? I’m here to help! Book a free Discovery Call with me, and together we can start unraveling the mysteries of your baby’s sleep habits. Because every parent deserves the gift of sleep, click the link to schedule your call today. Don’t delay, a good night’s sleep awaits!

Hey there!  I’m Jenn, a top-ranked certified pediatric sleep consultant and parenting educator.  With over 10 years of experience, I help tired families with evidence-based, respectful sleep solutions and personalized support from beginning to end.  Transforming families from sleep deprived to sleep revived.  Rest assured, there is nothing I haven’t seen or experienced and I am confident that together we can help your precious little one become a great sleeper.  Creating happy little sleepers is my mission, passion, and my joy!

Are you ready to get off the Crazy Train and have the whole family sleeping better? Follow the link below to schedule your complimentary consultation with Jennifer today!

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