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Waking up many times through the night (recurrent night waking) is very common in babies and toddlers. It can be very distressing and exhausting for their parents and caregivers.
In children aged six months to 18 months, sleep is made up of cycles that last about an hour. A sleep cycle consists of both light and deep sleep. It is normal for children to wake at night when a sleep cycle comes to an end, when they are in light sleep. Many children can easily resettle
themselves, while others will call out or cry because they need help settling back to sleep.
For sleep problems in older children, see our fact sheet
Bedtime problems – children.
It is common for parents and caregivers to feed their child to sleep or use techniques such as patting, rocking or holding the child until they fall asleep in their arms. When these techniques become habits that are needed to soothe a child to sleep, they are known as sleep associations. Specific
attachment to one parent or caregiver can also be a sleep association.
Sleep associations are not a problem for all children, but those who don't settle easily and wake frequently at night are more likely to become dependent on sleep associations.
To reduce your child's dependence on sleep associations, try the following suggestions for promoting better sleep routines:
Once your child has learnt to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night, be wary of times of change. Coughs and colds or holidays away can be enough to upset your child's routine and may lead to a recurrence of night waking. Be aware of this, and try to be consistent during those times
of change. If holidays away cause disruption, try to return to the sleep routine once you are home again.
I've tried the suggestions for good sleep routines but
nothing seems to help. Should we go to sleep school?
Speak to your Maternal and Child Health Nurse. They may be able to provide you with some other useful advice for getting your baby to sleep better. If nothing seems to help, they will be able to recommend a sleep school (otherwise known as an early parenting centre). Sleep schools have
expert staff who can teach you how to help your baby self-settle. They may have day-stay programs or residential programs where you stay overnight. A sleep consultant may also be able to perform a home-visit and provide a tailored plan for settling your child.
I've been told to try controlled crying to teach
my baby to self-settle, but I am not comfortable with this technique. What are
some other effective options?
There are a number of different techniques for settling children. These include controlled crying, pat-and-shush and camping-out. You should discuss these with your Maternal and Child Health Nurse, sleep specialist or doctor to determine which is suited best to your family.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed July 2018.
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