Is your baby waking for a hours in the night? Are they generally quite content and happy in the cot, certianly initially whent they first wake?
If so, it’s like they are having a ‘Split Night’.
What is a split night and how do you stop them?
What is a split night?
A split night is when a baby or toddler wakes for a long period of time in the night, and often little ones aren’t upset during this wake. They may even chat to themselves or practice a new skill like clapping or crawling. Sometimes they do get grumpy after a while when they are fed up of being awake and want to get back to sleep.
Usually a baby is able to self-settle* too so it can come out of the blue for parents who have not had many sleep issues or already resolved them.
What’s typically happening is their circadian rhythm (their body clock) and their sleep pressure (what makes them feel tired) is mis-aligned.
If your little one isn’t able to self-settle and is awake during the night upset multiple times, this isn’t a split night. This is to do with sleep difficulties they are having and you can fix these here.
What causes A split night?
There are a number of things that can cause split nights and we will discuss them below, but it’s generally down to daytime sleep not quite being right, causeing an imbalance in your infant’s sleep hormones (melatonin and cortisol). Let us explain a little more…
Too Much Daytime Sleep
This is quite a common cause of long periods of night waking. If your little one is getting too much sleep in the day they may simply not be as tired enough at night because their sleep pressure (their drive for sleep) isn’t quite high enough as it was used up a little too much during that daytime sleep.
In this case, it might be their naps are too long or they are ready for a nap transition. There are some key clues that your little one is ready to drop a nap which we cover in full detail in our blog on nap transitions . If they are struggling to get to sleep at nap time, or they are pushing their nap times later and later, then it might be time to make a change.
Not Enough Daytime Sleep
We know this can sound counterintuitive, but not enough day sleep can cause restless nights. It’s not just split nights, but also multiple short night wakings that can improve when little ones have the right amount of day sleep. Overtiredness can be worse than too much sleep as it has a direct link to increased cortisol levels which is our ‘awake hormone’.
Not enough daytime sleep is probably the biggest cause of split nights and we often see this for babies or toddlers who have just started nursery and they’re more tired than normal, or are going through a nap transition. We do also see it when a child just isn’t napping enough during the day and their wake windows into bedtime, especially, are too long.
In the first few years of our babies and toddlers’ lives, cognitive and physical development is rapid, and quite frankly amazing! However their development can contribute to disrupted sleep. For example, the little one who wakes up during the night practice their new skill of clapping or rolling or learning to crawl or walk to name a few examples.
It’s unavoidable; in fact you wouldn’t want to avoid it as it all part of their advancement, but how you react to it is important (we’ll come onto that in more detail later).
How to help a split night?
Assess The Daytime Routine
The first thing we recommend our clients do is assess their little one’s day routine. We have a blog on ‘How long does my baby need to sleep for?’ and have detailed day routines on our Instagram which offer you a guide for the day for each age. Changing the day routine could be all you need to stop that long period of night waking.
Just remember that they will have been awake for quite a while during the night so will likely need extra daytime sleep – either a longer nap or an extra nap – to compensate. Otherwise the overtiredness loop you get into can continue.
Optimise The Wake Windows
One of the key parts of the day routine is ensuring there is the right gap between the last nap of the day and bedtime. We often see parents thinking their child has to be awake for much longer before bedtime than they actually have energy for. It’s the fear of having their child sleep too close to bedtime, especially those younger babies, but being led by their wake window – their maximum energy capacity – really helps here.
Have A Consistent Bedtime Routine
Also try to ensure bedtime is a distinct process that helps your child know it’s night time. I personally bath my boys at the same time each night, then we have a story with milk and they get into bed. Kids love consistency and routine. This triggers them to know that it’s night time, which is when their long sleep takes place. Make sure you pick a bedtime routine and time that suits your family and keep it consistent.
Respond Appropriately To Them
Another important thing to be mindful of is how to react when you little one wakes. If they don’t need your support, then hang back. Going into them will encourage them to think its play time. Keep a watchful eye on their monitor if you have one, but only offer support if and when they need it.
We remember when our youngest son first learned how to clap. He was so chuffed with himself that for a couple of nights he woke at 2am to practice his new skill. He happily clapped away for about half an hour before falling back to sleep. If we had reacted to him by going in and feeding him (he hadn’t had a night feed in months) or picking him up and rocking him back to sleep, he may have decided that that was something he needed in the future when he wasn’t actually looking for support – he just wanted to clap!
Split nights can be a real pain. Obviously they are usually not upset for most of the wake, but it will impact with their night sleep and their energy and mood levels the next day. And usually it keeps us parents awake too.
Our advice is to really focus on the daytime routine and sleep amount first and foremost as not enough sleep in the day is usually the biggest driver of Split Nights. If you need help with doing this, get in touch below.
We are a husband and wife business, and are leading sleep consultants based in the UK. If you are having issues with your little one’s sleep, have a look at our sleep plans which range from an online plan to one-to-one coaching. If it feels like you’ve tried everything, then come and try the one thing you haven’t which we know works – that’s our proven sleep method Comforting Through Change™.
We also train people to become sleep consultants. So if you fancy a career change, one where you can be at home ALL the time, contact us via our Academy. We would love to hear from you.