Are you constantly tiptoeing around your house, fearing you could wake your baby? We've got 8 incredible solutions to help your light sleeper stay asleep.
I am lying in my bed, completely still. My body is not moving one inch. Only my eyes wander back and forth from that sleeping baby to the door. I am planning my escape to the bathroom, knowing very well the minute I make the slightest sound, this so-called "sleeping" baby is going to wake.
And there it happens. I guess I just moved my eyes too loudly.
Any noise in this house would wake my sleeping baby boy. That's how much of a light sleeper he was. I sometimes would wake up an hour before him in the morning, but I had no chance to get up because I knew I would wake him.
Do you know how hard it is to crave coffee for one hour in the morning?
I am sure you do, otherwise, you wouldn't be here. And believe me, you are not alone. I hear from tons of parents who have a light sleeper on their hands.
So let's explore why some babies seem to wake more easily than others and if there is something you can do to get your baby to stay asleep.
This article covers:
The Truth About Light Sleepers
Before we get deeper into the subject, let's first unwind some truths.
Most parents believe their baby is a light sleeper. But it is often misleading.
They try to transfer their baby to the crib, and they instantly wake. They make a slight noise, and they instantly wake. They unlatch them from the breast, and they wake.
But all this doesn't make your baby a true light sleeper. It is actually normal infant sleep behavior.
See, babies, especially young babies and newborns, are designed to be light sleepers. It is an incredible mechanism that protects our babies from possible threats while they sleep, like SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). So your little one's body is actually doing an amazing job in protecting it by waking up.
That's why frequent night wakings and short naps are so common in babies.
But there is more to it...
Understanding Baby Sleep Cycles
Every baby (and adult) is a light sleeper and a heavy sleeper. It simply depends on which sleep stage they are currently in.
An adult's sleep cycle consists of 4 stages. We traverse through those 4 stages during a sleep cycle. Stage 1 and 2 are light sleep stages, stage 3 is deep sleep, and stage 4, also known as REM sleep, is light sleep again. So whenever you are in stages 1,2, or 4, you are in light sleep, and you will arouse more easily from outside noises, light, or any other disruption. When you are in deep sleep, you don't wake up so easily.
The same goes for your baby, even though their sleep pattern is slightly different.
A newborn, for example, has only two stages, a light sleep stage, and a deep sleep stage. After four months, usually, when the 4 month sleep regression hits, they gain the two remaining sleep stages, and their sleep cycles become more similar to the one of an adult.
But there are still quite some differences that will make babies lighter sleepers than adults.
First of all, a baby's sleep cycle is much shorter, so they go through more sleep cycles and spend more time in light sleep. Secondly, babies spend more time in REM sleep (which is also light sleep) than adults. In fact, humans spend more time in REM sleep while they are newborns than at any other time in their life.
So as you can see, your baby was already born a light sleeper, kind of on purpose.
Is Your Baby Really A Light Sleeper?
Now with all the science uncovered, the question is, are there really babies that are true light sleepers?
And the answer is yes!
Even if light sleep is part of every baby's life, there are babies that wake more easily while asleep than others. Some babies never have trouble being transferred to the crib, and others (like my boy) will wake up every single time even though they are 2 years old.
This is part of your baby's identity. While some brains more easily block environmental stimulation when asleep, others are still very receptive when sleeping. You could turn on the blow dryer in my daughter's room, and she would still not wake up. My son, on the other hand, would notice every little movement in the entire house.
Another thing is that light sleep is often also connected to temperament. If you have a more easy-going baby or a baby that falls asleep very easily and fast, they might wake more often but fall back asleep quite fast, too. But if you have a more sensitive baby or a baby that is currently going through a phase of separation anxiety, the light sleeper in them might be more present.
Solutions To Get Your Baby To Stay Asleep
Well, no sleep consultant in this world can make your baby spend more time in deep sleep. But even if you cannot make your baby less sensitive to input or change their sleep patterns, you can make adjustments to their surroundings to help them sleep better.
1. Use White Noise
Every parent of a light sleeper should have a white noise machine. It is a perfect way of masking outside or inside noises (you know, when you try to sneak out ninja-style). A white noise machine with a remote is especially helpful because you can increase and decrease the volume without having to go in and potentially wake your baby. Just make sure that the white noise machine is not placed right next to the crib but close to the door and that the sound level doesn't exceed 50 decibels.
2. Black-Out Curtains
I said it once, and I will say it a million times more: high-quality black-out curtains are the best investment you can make as a new parent. You will keep them for years and years to come.
In the morning, sleep becomes very light, so once a little bit of light comes into the room, your baby can wake up. My boy even woke up from cars driving by at night. So get those black-out curtains and make sure that they cover the whole window.
3. Make It All Dark When Baby Goes To Bed
I cannot tell you how often my baby woke up when I tried to leave his room. Whenever I tried to sneak out of the room and very carefully opened the room door, he would instantly wake from the light coming in from the rest of the house.
So when you are getting your baby to sleep, not only make sure that their room is dark, but you want to make your whole apartment or floor is dark enough, so it doesn't disrupt his sleep.
4. When They Wake, Give Them Time
Sometimes when our babies wake just after we got them to sleep, we switch into panic mode. Patting, shushing, singing a lullaby, you just name any sleep prop, we will try everything in our power to get them back to sleep ASAP.
But it can actually be beneficial not to make a big deal out of it (don't worry, you can roll your eyes just do it quietly). Instead of jumping right in, just try and wait. As long as your baby is happy, see if they fall asleep on their own. It can help light sleepers to fall back asleep quicker and easier if you don't intervene immediately. You can try to encourage independent sleep during those light wakings.
If your little one needs help, then stay calm and slightly pat their bum or use verbal reassurance to help them back to sleep. Just keep interaction to a minimum.
5. Consider A Separate Room
When you have a light sleeper, you might want to consider moving them to a separate room. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room-sharing for at least the first six months, even ideally the first year. Once your baby is above that mark, you can try out moving your baby to their own room and see if they sleep better this way. A separate room may reduce the chance of your baby waking up by noises from mom, dad, or another sibling.
Remember that any sleeping arrangement doesn't have to be a permanent and final decision. Once you notice your baby or toddler sleeps much better, there is nothing wrong with moving them back into your bedroom.
6. Wait Until They Are Really Asleep
If you want to transfer your baby or toddler to the crib or bed, it might be worth waiting 5 more minutes. I always had to wait an extra 10 minutes to transfer my 2-year-old from our mattress to his crib. But believe me when I say it was always worth it. It feels like a lot at that time, but ensuring they are in deep sleep will make a crib transfer much easier.
You can check if your baby is in deep sleep by very slightly lifting their hand and letting go. If their hand seems weightless, they are probably in deep sleep. Other typical signs are quiet and regular breathing, and removing the pacifier, or unfolding their hands easily.
7. The Right Timing
The fear of an overtired baby is real for parents. But if you have a light sleeper, undertiredness can become a much bigger issue.
Parents often assume that their baby or toddler needs more sleep than they really do. For example, 12 hours of sleep every night is a real achievement, to be honest. Most babies will sleep 10-11 hours, which is enough for them.
If you end up with an undertired baby that is also a light sleeper, you have a higher chance of them waking. They will have low sleep pressure and more difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep.
So if your baby is waking frequently, takes a lot of time to fall asleep, and experiences regular false starts or split nights, they are probably undertired. Try to extend their awake time or delay bedtime to see if it helps with their sleep.
8. Go To Bed Later And Wake Up With Them
I was always a morning person. I liked getting up early and having my coffee in peace. With my boy unimaginable. I could wake up at 4 AM, and he would still wake up with me. So I decided to change my sleeping hours because I knew I couldn't influence his sleep at that point.
The time you spend in deep sleep decreases as the night progresses. So you have more deep sleep at the beginning of the night than in the early morning hours. Additionally, melatonin levels are high. All that makes your baby sleep better at night than in the early morning hours.
So instead of going to bed early and waking up early, I chose to stay up a bit later and get up when he got up. Sure, it was not ideal for me, but it was better than running back and forth between my coffee and my baby and trying to get the latter back to sleep.
9. Get Ear Plugs
Babies, especially newborns, make all kinds of weird noises while they sleep. And now, with your newly gained mom antennas, you obviously wake every time they make a little sound.
But it doesn't necessarily mean they are awake. If your baby is awake and needs you, believe me, they will let you know.
So get yourself some earplugs to mask those little grunts and squeaks your baby makes while sleeping.
Time Will Help
I know this is the last advice any sleep-deprived parent wants to hear, but even light sleepers get better with age and time. Your baby's sleep will naturally get more consolidated during the day and night. Short naps will stop, and they will fall asleep faster when they wake up. You might not even notice.
Even though you might still have a child with low sleep needs or who tends to wake more easily, it doesn't mean you are doomed forever. My son is still a light sleeper and wakes more easily due to noises than my daughter. But I have gone back to my usual early mornings. And you won't believe it, my alarm clock is ringing (on the lowest volume, but still), and he doesn't wake.