Our Little Chicks Paediatric Sleep Consultants Singapore logo
Written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
13 July 2020

Why is baby always waking up at 3am?

Before answering this extremely common question, I would like to first explain how a baby's sleep works as a whole.

About three hours before we normally wake up, our bodies start to release a hormone called cortisol. If you've read anything about your baby's sleep before this, you probably cringed a little when you saw that word.

Cortisol is a stimulating hormone that is also made when we are stressed to speed up the heart rate and wake up the nervous system. In the morning, it serves as Nature's caffeine, to help wake us up to start the day.

When the sun goes down, our bodies know that night is coming and start making a hormone called melatonin that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep until morning, when the whole process starts over again. When we wake up to bright sunlight, our bodies start making more melatonin earlier in the evening.

So, what does this have to do with getting up at 3 a.m.?

Here's how it goes... If your baby's circadian rhythm tells him or her to wake up at 6 a.m., then about three hours before that, her body starts to make cortisol, and at this point, it has stopped making melatonin for the night. With rising cortisol and lower melatonin, when she finds herself out of a sleep cycle after this time, she finds it harder to fall back asleep. And if the baby doesn't know how to fall back to sleep on her own (because she reliant on eg being carried/fed/having her pacifier replaced for sleep), she  will probably wake up fully and have a hard time going back to sleep.

So, how do you deal with this?

Expose baby to sunlight in the day  : Even though there is no easy way to change when a baby's hormones are made, you can help her by taking her outside as much as possible during the day. As I've already said, natural light during the day helps your body make melatonin at night. Exercise also helps babies sleep better at night by making it easier for them to fall asleep.

Dim it down near sleep time: It also helps to make sure that baby's room is as dark as possible at night, and to start dimming the lights in the house at least an hour before you put her to bed. By making it look like sunset, you can get her body to start making melatonin so that it's in full swing when she goes to bed. Also,  avoid screen time within that same hour as the blue light emmitted lower melatonin levels and increase cortisol levels, making it harder for your baby to settle into sleep.

But most importantly, the best way to help your baby sleep through the night is to get her on a regular sleep schedule and teach her how to fall asleep on her own. That's because the truth is that you will never be able to stop your baby from waking up at night. We all wake up at night as we all have sleep cycles that we move in and out of. As adults, we can just calmly figure out what's going on when we wake up in the dark, figure out where we are, see that it's still nighttime, and go back to sleep. Usually, we don't even remember it the next day.

So, whilst we can't stop baby from waking up at night,  we can help her learn to know that she's safe, in a place she knows, still tired, and able to fall back to sleep on her own. I'm here to help you with that if you need it.

Article written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
Based in Singapore
Trained in the Sleep Sense Program

9 comments on “Why is baby always waking up at 3am?”

  1. hi,my toddler is 1 year now but still she does not have any sleep routine.2 days she will wake up at 3 am ,feed and cry and after 2 hours sleep till 10 am in morning.Third night she will sleep through the night with little waking and feed and sleep easily.Daytime nap has reduced to 1 hour only.Please please help me make her a better sleeper on her own.

    1. Hi Richa,

      Noted and 1 year is a great age to get your daughter sleeping well! I will email you shortly, providing you with a link to book a discovery call with me to find out more.

      Regards
      Lavinia

  2. My son just turned 8mths and even before that always wakes up at 3am for a feeding. I know he is well fed and still wakes up. My pediatrician has told me before he doesn’t need feedings but he will keep crying otherwise. What do you suggest?

    1. Hi Estefania

      At 8 months of age, a baby does not typically need a night feed and is capable of sleeping independently and well through the night! Once night feeding is dropped, daytime appetite typically improves with baby becoming willing to feed well in the day. It is a great age to get your baby sleeping like a champion!

      Would you like to schedule a discovery call? This will allow me to understand more about what is going on with your baby's sleep and take you through what I could do for you. If so, could you make a booking for a call using the calendar on the website? You will then be able to choose an available time slot that suits you.

      Here is the link for convenience:

      https://ourlittlechicks.com/book-a-free-20-minutes-discovery-call

      Regards
      Lavinia

  3. My little one is nearly 11 months and falls asleep on his own at bedtime but waking at 3/3.30am and whinges until he's properly crying. If he has a bottle he will go back off but obviously trying to drop that nighttime feed. He does have a dummies which may be the reason he wakes fully. Any help will be greatly appreciated

  4. My little one is nearly 11 months and falls asleep on his own at bedtime but waking at 3/3.30am and whinges until he's properly crying. If he has a bottle he will go back off but obviously trying to drop that nighttime feed. He does have a dummies which may be the reason he wakes fully. Any help will be greatly appreciated

    1. Hi Samantha, 11 months is a great age to get your baby sleeping independently and well!

      Would you like to schedule a discovery call? This will allow me to understand more about what is going on with your baby's sleep and take you through what I could do for you. If so, could you make a booking for a call using the calendar on the website? You will then be able to choose an available time slot that suits you.

      Here is the link for convenience:

      https://ourlittlechicks.com/book-a-free-20-minutes-discovery-call

      Regards
      Lavinia

  5. My son just turned 2mths and even before that always wakes up at 2am, after feeding and diaper change he still wakes up, he will be fully awake with clear eyes opened. What do you suggest?

  6. My son just turned 2mths and even before that always wakes up at 2am, after feeding and diaper change he still wakes up, he will be fully awake with clear eyes opened. What do you suggest? please help

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

crosschevron-downmenu-circlecross-circle