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Triggers for sleep problems

In this article I have decided to write about the most common things I have found to cause sleep problems in the first 18 months of a childs life. Over the years I have found all sorts of triggers for sleep problems such as hunger, dummy use, rocking a baby to sleep, allowing a baby to start falling asleep while feeding, being cold at night, the bedtime ritual the parents are using to get the baby to sleep and things such a going away or moving house.

So when do these problems start to show?

My experience indicates that babies don't start to surface between sleep cycles (the process of drifting between light and deep sleep) until they reach about eight weeks. Newborn babies can be aided to sleep by sucking on a dummy or feeding or having a parent rock them to sleep and they will still sleep for long periods, however at about eight weeks daytime sleeps change. If you have aided your baby to sleep, you will notice that she will only catnap during the day. This is fine at first because she will be sleeping great stretches of time at night however at about five to six months this will suddenly change. The baby who is aided to sleep will suddenly start waking at night when night time sleep cycles start.

Usually a baby of six months will show the first signs of a self-settling problem by waking at about 5:00am. Then she will begin to wake at 11:00pm, and by the time your baby is one year old she will be waking at 9:00pm, 11:00pm, 1:00am, 3:00am and 5:00am! The sooner you solve the waking problem the better.

Is your baby hungry?

Some babies catnap during the day or wake up at night because they are hungry. To be sure your baby is not hungry you need to feed your baby until she is full. This means if you are breastfeeding you need to feed your baby both breast until they have stopped feeding. However if you are following Tizzie's early routines you only feed your baby for a set amount.

If your baby is bottle-fed you need to feed her until she has had enough there should always be milk left in the bottle after a feed and you should never give your baby a set amount. As explained in the bottle feeding article or in the Save Our Sleep book on page 30.

If your baby is over four months and showing sign's of catnapping and waking again at night your baby may be ready for solids. If your baby is over six months I suggest you start solids. However if your baby is between four and six months you need to look at the pro and cons to starting solids. These are explained in my crash course in weaning article and in the Save Our Sleep book on page 111. Please take into account when making your decision on when to start solids that the world health organisation (WHO) says you should not start solids until at least four months and if possible six months. Click here to visit the WHO website.

If your baby has been on solids for more than seven days you should be feeding your baby two courses of solids at each meal until she is full and turns her head away. Some babies stop eating because they are bored not full so it is good to give them two tastes at each meal. 


The most common trigger I have found for sleep problems is the dummy. In my experience, dummies cause 90% of all sleep problems in children under 18 months old.There are three main reasons why a baby with a dummy wakes more frequently than one without.

1. A baby with a dummy seems to find it harder to achieve a deep sleep, their intermittent sucking seems to disturb their sleep pattern.

2. A baby who goes to sleep with a dummy will wake up expecting to suck, but if the dummy has fallen out the baby will shout out for you to come and put it in again. Unfortunately, by the time you may decide to go in and replace the dummy, your baby is so awake, it is harder for her to get back to sleep, even when you have replaced the dummy.

3. I believe the constant sucking on the dummy tricks the body into thinking there is food coming, which causes them to digest their milk too fast and makes them hungrier than a baby without a dummy.

Dummy use appears to reduce the risk of SIDS, however I feel when you look at the side effects of using a dummy the reasons to not use a dummy outweigh this fact. One major reason is babies who suck on dummies tend to be more prone to ear infections. Ear infections may bring on high fevers and the use of antibiotics which both have side effects of there own.

Rocking your baby to sleep

Rocking a baby to sleep is also an aid which you don't want your baby to start to rely on to get to sleep.At first you again like with the dummy will not see the problem. You will rock your new baby to sleep and your baby will still sleep for long periods. But as with the dummy, when your baby starts to surface between sleep cycles the rocking will be needed again to get your baby back to sleep.

I believe it is unfair to start a habit you are not going to continue. Let's say you find rocking your new baby to sleep an easy option. What happens when your baby gets too heavy for you to rock? Yes you can go out and buy a rocking chair and sit in it while you rock your older baby to sleep, but remember when your baby is 12 months old you will be getting up four of five times to rock her back to sleep between sleep cycles.

Yes this could work, but what happens if you have a second baby before your first starts to self-settle? What happens if your 20 month old toddler and your 4 week old baby both need rocking at the same time? As you can see, at some point you will have to stop the rocking. But at what age will your new baby understand why you have stopped rocking her to sleep? This is why I believe you should never start a habit such as rocking which will trigger a sleep problem.

Feeding a baby to slumber

Feeding a baby to sleep is another trigger I come across quite often. The parents I talk to don't even realise this is happening. When I ask parents if they put their baby down awake, they generally believe they do. However, what they don't realise is that while their baby may look like she is awake, she has already begun reaching that heavy-eyed, falling asleep stage while feeding.

In reality, she has been aided into slumber. Therefore, when she wakes during the night, she wants that same help to get back to sleep. I ask these parents to bring everything in the bedtime routine forward by 20 minutes and have some play time before they put there baby to bed. Often just making this little change and asking the baby to settle from wide awake causes the night waking to disappear.

Cold at night

This is a topic which comes up frequently for me and I seem to spend a lot of time telling parents their baby's are not wearing enough at night. I have spent the last three years mostly doing my home visits in Australia, but for thirteen years before that I was in the UK. The thing that amazes me most is the difference in how the two sides of the world dress their babies at night.

In the UK parents put a lot more clothing on their babies at night, and I believe the temperature of their homes is actually warmer than the night time temperature in most of the homes I visit in Australia. In the UK they have a different type of central heating which keeps the house at a more even temperature throughout the night.

I am not sure if it is even the warmth the babies like or if it is that with more layers on they feel cosier and more secure. But I do know that the extra layers can stop babies from waking at night.

I often go on home visits to homes where the parents are convinced their baby could not possibly be cold. As an experiment I put their baby in a baby safe sleeping bag which are available in the Save Our Sleep® store. Over and over again just trying this extra layer helps the baby to sleep all night. I seem to have to tell parents over and over again that I believe their baby's night waking is due to coldness but over and over again the parents just won't believe it can be that simple. If your baby is cold at night, the waking normally happens at about 4:00am. 

Moving house

Moving house is very common in today's society but it does not have to trigger a sleep problem with your baby or toddlers sleep patterns. The most important thing you need to do when moving house is make your baby or toddler, feel as safe and secure as possible. The easiest way to achieve this is to have your baby or toddler in a good feeding and sleeping routine. Baby's and toddlers like to know what and when things are going to happen.

It is very important that your baby or toddler is in the same bed in the new house. So if you are not going to be able to set up the usual cot by the time your child has to have its first sleep in the new house, I recommend you put your baby in a travel cot and that you have had your baby or toddler sleep in it for the four nights prior to the move. It is a good idea to take your baby or toddler for a tour of the new house and explain to her where everyone's room is and where you will be sleeping.

It is very important that your baby or toddlers routine is the same coming up to bedtime. If you usually give your baby her last feed then you need to do this. I know you may have an extra set of hands around that could do it for you but in the long run it will go smoother if you give your baby or toddler the normal attention at bedtime. Remember if bedtime goes well, you will have lots of uninterrupted hours to unpack.

Your baby or toddler may want to test the rules and boundaries in this new house. It is very important you give your baby or toddler clear messages that the rules are the same. This will make them feel safer. If, for example, you put your baby or toddler to bed on the first night and your baby or toddler got very upset and it was obvious to you they were emotionally upset, you should go and get her up and bring her out of the bedroom and calm and comfort your baby or toddler before putting her back to bed.

Whatever you do, don't go in and then walk straight out, as this is controlled crying and I feel it will make your baby or toddler more emotional.

If you are moving interstate and there is a one hour time difference, then you should follow my daylight savings advice. If you are moving to a country with a much bigger time difference then you should follow my traveling with a baby advice. Remember moving abroad is easier that going on holidays as you wont have to adjust your baby again when you get home.

If you feel a dummy or rocking could be triggering your baby's night waking then I suggest you put your baby on my routine for your baby's age and after following the routine for four days stop using the dummy or stop rocking your baby to sleep. Instead use my recommended settling techniques for your baby's age to get your baby to sleep. But the routine is the most important part of transforming your baby from a bad to good sleeper.

How much sleep does a baby need?

Sleep is a skill we need to learn - you can't just turn it on and off - and it is one of the first skills you need to teach your baby. One in three children, under the age of five, do not have this skill; and out of these children, 30 per cent are said to have serious sleep problems. When adults get tired they tend to slow down, but when a child or baby gets tired the opposite occurs, and they will speed up and become hyperactive.

An interesting study published in BBC News Online (24th April 2004), suggests that sleep problems in babies could lead to drug problems in the teenage years. This is the first study to look at the relationship between children's sleep problems and substance abuse in later life. Researchers from the University of Michigan claim that early sleep disruption does not mean a child will have substance abuse problems as a teenager, but that it could be a 'marker' for later issues. This is one more reason that parents should focus on healthy sleep habits for their children.

Everyone is different in the amount of sleep they need, but the table below gives the average amount that I recommend.

Some babies will sleep a lot more, and other's slightly less.

AgeTotal hours in
a 24 hour period
Total hours
at night
Total hours
during the day
Daytime sleeps
or naps
Newborn 15 to 17 hours 10 11 hours in 2 5 hour blocks 5 to 6 hours 3 to 5
4 weeks 15 to 17 hours 10 - 11 hours (broken for feeds) 5 to 6 hours 3 to 4
3 months 16.45 hours 12 hours (broken for feeds) 4.45 hours 2 sleeps and 1 nap
5 months 16.15 hours 12 hours (broken for feeds with the dreamfeed) 4.15 hours 2 sleeps and 1 nap
7 months 16 hours 12 hours 4 hours 2 sleeps
9 months 15 hours 12 hours 3 hours 2 sleeps or 1 longer sleep and 1 nap
12 months 14 hours and 30 minutes 12 hours 2 hours and 30 minutes 1 sleep or 1 longer sleep and 1 nap
18 months 14 hours and 15 minutes 12 hours 2 hours and 15 minutes 1 sleep
2 years 14 hours 12 hours 2 hours 1 sleep
3 years 12 hours and 40 minutes 12 hours 40 minutes 1 nap

Please note that a sleep is when your baby sleeps for more than one sleep cycle; a nap is when your baby only sleeps for one sleep cycle or less.

In this section you will find routines for your baby's age that will guide you through the day, giving you details of when to feed, play and sleep. The routines cover breastfeeding and bottle feeding from newborn to 24 months plus.
In this section you will find baby articles that cover a number of different problems such as such As Colic, Reflux, Night Waking & Catnapping.
In this section you will find all the reading that is not in the Save Our Sleep™ book. Tizzie will be adding a new article, routine or case study to this area each month.
We have combined our most popular routines and articles to create packages to help you prevent and solve feeding and sleep problems for various age ranges. They are available here at a special discounted package price.