“Never wake a sleeping baby.”
My guess is that most of you have heard this piece of advice at one time or another, and if you haven’t, you just wait!
While I certainly don’t enjoy waking a sleeping child, sometimes it’s necessary.
So here are four reasons I tell parents to wake their sleeping kiddos:
A nap exceeds two hours.
If your child takes multiple naps a day, I strongly suggest capping naps when they reach 2 hours so he still has time for another nap or two before bedtime.
Exceptions: if you have a newborn, you can cap naps at three hours, if necessary.
Additionally, if your child just takes one nap a day, he or she may sleep a little over 2 hours, and as long as it’s not impacting night time sleep, that’s okay.
A child is maxing out on appropriate daytime sleep.
I know, I know, “sleep begets sleep.” And it does – great daytime sleep is so helpful to great night time sleep!
However, my goal is to see kids sleeping 11-12 hours at night, and if there is too much daytime sleep, that might start cutting into night time sleep.
As a quick reference, 4 month olds can handle around 4 hours of daytime sleep and a 6-12 month olds can handle around 3 hours of daytime sleep. Once your child transitions to just one nap, the range widens to 1-3 hours of daytime sleep.
Your child slept more than 12 hours at night.
In general, we’re looking for babies and toddlers to follow a “12 hours of day, 12 hours of night” model, with some wiggle room on either end, of course.
With a 7-7 schedule being “ideal”, I recommend families try to stay within about 30 minutes of that wake up and bedtime, when possible (this becomes more realistic and consistent as babies get closer to 6 months old).
So if a baby or toddler went to bed at 7 pm and is still sleeping at 7:30 am, I usually recommend parents wake him to stay within 30 minutes of his normal daytime schedule so he doesn’t get too thrown off.
Some kids seem more sensitive to even just 30 extra minutes of sleep, so if you notice your child has a tougher day of naps when he sleeps more than 12 hours at night, that’s a good sign you should wake him up after 12 hours.
Exception: If your child no longer naps during the day, extra night time sleep is okay!
Your child’s last nap is interfering with bedtime.
When I work with families, we almost always aim for a bedtime between 6:30-8:00 pm. Some babies who are just about ready for a nap transition, or some toddlers who take an extra long afternoon nap, might need that nap to be cut off in order to still get to bed at an appropriate time.
For example, if it’s 4:15 pm and your 9 month old is still napping, wake her up so she can still get to bed before 8:00 pm! Or if your 2 year old usually goes to bed around 7:30 pm and is still napping at 2:30, it’s time to wake him up.
It’s not the end of the world if you don’t wake your child, simply know that you will certainly need to push bedtime back to make sure your child has enough sleep pressure to actually fall asleep, and your child may not get his usual 11-12 hours of sleep that night if he maxed out on daytime sleep.
So while it’s never fun to wake a sleeping child, and I certainly don’t love waking up my sleeping girls, sometimes it is necessary.
Naps and night time are so connected (“sleep begets sleep,” right??) that it’s sometimes worth waking your sleeping baby or toddler in order to preserve that next nap or their overnight sleep.