Isolating the Source of Your Baby's Sleep Problem

The problem might be baby-related, but it might also be associated with Mom or her diet, waketime activities, or Baby’s sleep environment.

Baby can wake for any number of reasons on any given day. So how can you isolate the specific source of your baby's sleep problem? 

Let's begin by looking at a different, yet very relatable, scenario...

We have all experienced it.

Sitting with our laptop, we discover our internet connection is no longer working. Is the problem connected to our laptop, wireless router, a loose connection in the modem, or a disturbance down line with the internet provider?

While the goal is to get the internet back up, we have to discover the origin of the problem.

In a similar manner, nap disturbances can be triggered from a variety of sources.

The problem might be baby-related, but it might also be associated with Mom or her diet, waketime activities, or Baby’s sleep environment.


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Isolating the cause of your baby’s sleep disturbance is the first step toward fixing the problem.

To help with this, our list is divided into four categories. While some causes of sleep problems have obvious solutions (a diaper needs changing, trapped gas or a burp must come out), other causes are more subtle and need investigation.

For clarity sake, we are providing two lists. The first (which you'll find below) provides a general overview of the many reasons babies wake early from their naps, whether it happens three times a month or three times a day.

The second list (to follow next week) provides an expanded explanation of causes that impact more than an occasional nap. These are indicated by asterisks (*). Working through both lists can move Mom and Baby closer to the needed solution.

Isolating the Source of Your Baby's Sleep Problem:
List One

Sleep Problems Related to Baby

Here are some potential baby-related contributors to Baby waking early: 

  1. Baby is hungry because:
    1. He did not take a full feeding at his previous feeding
    2. He needs more “milk” calories in a 24-hour period*
    3. He is starting a growth spurt*
    4. He is ready to start solid foods* 
  1. Baby is uncomfortable because:
    1. He is getting sick, has a slight fever, is teething, starting an ear infection,
    2. He has an insect bite or a hair twisted around a toe (tourniquet syndrome)*
    3. He is too hot or too cold
    4. He has a diaper rash 
  1. Baby’s tummy is troubling him because:
    1. He has a mild or delayed case of reflux*
    2. He is having an allergic reaction to a new baby food*
    3. He is struggling with a bowel movement
    4. He needs a burp
  1. Baby woke up because:
    1. He startled himself (startle reflex)
    2. He rolled over and does not know how to roll back
    3. He lost his pacifier and cannot resettle without it
  1. Baby is starting a sleep/nap transition because:
    1. He is extending his nighttime sleep, affecting daytime naps*
    2. His body does not require as much sleep in a 24-hour period, thus impacting 

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Sleep Problems Related to Mom

Here are some potential mother-related contributors to Baby waking early:

  1. Baby is hungry because:
    a. The previous feeding proved to be inadequate
    b. Mom’s milk supply has gradually decreased*
  1. Mom’s diet is affecting the nursing baby
  1. Baby has a reaction to a new medication Mom is taking*
  1. The nursing baby is getting too much lactose from Mom*
  1. Mom’s schedule was rushed, so she did not allow enough time for her baby to receive a full 

Sleep Problems Related to Activities

Here are some potential waketime activities that can contribute to Baby waking early:

  1. Previous waketime was too short*
  1. Previous waketime was over-stimulating to baby because:
    1. The waketime was too long, thus promoting fatigue rather than sleepiness
    2. The waketime activity was too over-stimulating (e.g. placing baby in front of TV)*
    3. Baby’s overall routine has too much flexibility (e.g., Mom is running too many errands, and Baby is catch- ing catnaps in the car)
  1. First feeding of the day has too much flexibility*
  1. The three activities of Baby’s day are out of Mom has baby on wake-feed-sleep schedule instead of feed-wake-sleep schedule. 

Sleep Problems Related to the Environment

Here are some potential environment-related contributors to Baby waking early:

  1. Baby is not being exposed to adequate amounts of Natural light helps babies regulate their circadian clock.*
  1. Baby’s room is not dark enough* 
  1. Baby is over-stimulated in the crib because of wind-up toys that were turned on when he was put down for his nap*
  1. When your baby reaches four to six months of age, he could be waking up in response to familiar sounds in the home*
  1. Unknown: What does this mean? Simply that a reason exists, but it is so unique to your baby’s situation that it is not easily duplicated by other babies*

Make sure to check back next week for the second list of expanded sleep problems. 

For more help getting your Baby on a Babywise sleep schedule, you can read more articles on Baby Sleep here.


Excerpted with permission from On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo, M.A. and Robert Bucknam, M.D., copyright Parent-Wise Solutions, Inc. You can learn more and purchase the book here.

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