My little girl started sleeping all night long when she was 3mo. She was sleeping from 11:00PM to 7:00AM, without waking up.

Shortly after she turned 4mo, she woke up during 2 days, screaming and crying, and we thought she was beginning to dream.

Now, 5mo old, she has begun to wake up twice every night. Not at the same time, though; there is a 1 hour variation. Her diapers are a bit wet, but just as they were previously. She begins to make noises, the she begins to cry a little, and I wake up, change her diapers, she breastfeeds for some 15 minutes, and we put her in her cradle again. After about 5 minutes she falls back to sleep

Is this normal? I read somewhere that after 4mo she would do this, since she would begin to dream, but I can't find the source anymore.

And how long does this take? :)

  • Nursing for 15 minutes sounds possibly hungry to me. At that age my child never nursed for more than 15 minutes.
    – justkt
    Aug 8, 2013 at 13:55
  • Thanks for that comment, and also everybody for the answers so far. Good to have different opinions, possibilities, suggestions... Aug 8, 2013 at 14:28
  • 1
    There could be other causes for such wakings such as teething pain to consider as well. Aug 8, 2013 at 20:25

3 Answers 3


I have seen so many different ages quoted for the start of dreaming that I have given up on determining when it actually starts. For example in Parenting sleep expert Jodi Mindell says that newborns may actually be dreaming in REM sleep, though only in images and not in words, but nightmares probably don't begin until 2 or 3. Again researchers are reported according to this pediatrician to have shown that newborns dream but nightmares don't begin until around 3. According to Scientific American some scientists believe that while REM sleep occurs in newborns dreams don't happen until much later.

There are many factors which can cause poor sleep around five months of age. While the majority of babies will probably not get teeth until a couple months later some babies genuinely are teething at this age and during the week or so around cutting teeth may experience difficulty sleeping. A pediatrician I know pointed me to this recent study which showed that the correlation between tooth erruption and the symptoms parents most commonly consider to be teething symptoms is statistically significant.

Another factor is the experience of a mental developmental leap in the weeks leading up to the six month birthday. Wonder Week 26 is the name given to this leap by the researchers who describe it. During this leap your child begins to understand distances and separation, including the fact that you are distant from your child and the fact that your child is actually quite a small infant. This can be very alarming information to someone who has not understood it before and can cause restless sleep as your child processes it. This leap forms the roots for separation anxiety which may plague your child anytime between now and 18 months.

Another cause of wake-ups may be an inappropriate nap schedule. Children at this age should be on two or three naps. A child on two naps will have around 3 hours between sleep periods. A child on 3 will have up to 2 1/2 at this age. Your child should have a maximum of 9 hours total awake during 24 hours at this age according to this chart. If your child has just dropped his or her 3rd nap or is showing signs (such as extended play before naps or very short naps of 30-45 minutes each) of needing to drop a nap then the total daytime awake time will be lower during the nap transition. If your child is having sleep disruptions but not ready to drop to 2 naps you may need to do a little nap limiting so your child can still fit in 3 naps. A common 3 nap schedule is 1.75-2 hours from morning wake up to first nap, 2-2.25 between nap #1 and nap #2, 2.25-2.5 hours between nap #2 and nap #3, 2.25-2.5 between nap #2 and bed. Once it takes 2.5 hours or more for your child to reach his or her first nap then it is time to consider switching to 2 naps.

Between four and six months of age your child may begin to exhibit the signs of readiness for solid foods. You may want to discuss with your pediatrician whether or not it is time to start your child on solid foods. Though rice cereal and other grains have been shown to have no effect on infant sleep, some mothers theorize that filling solids containing fats and proteins do help children not be hungry at night. Note that this theory is entirely based on parental experience and I have absolutely no studies to back it up.

The important thing about these wake-ups may be less what causes them and more your reaction to them. Your reaction will depend very much on your nighttime parenting philosophy. Attachment parents believe that your constant soothing of an upset child is required for emotional health and will usually respond by bedsharing, night feeding, and other soothing tactics. These parents trust research which says that very hands-on parenting leads to more emotionally stable individuals later in life.

Parents who follow the Weissbluth Method, the Ferber method, sleep help fading, or other sleep training methods have a different philosophy. They have read the studies on the importance of age-appropriate sleep amounts and sleep consolidation and seek to promote sleep for the whole family. It is important for these families to continue to use a variant of their chosen method to encourage independent sleep during sleep disruptions. If a family has sleep trained their child using the Ferber method and then begins bedsharing or nursing back to sleep during a disruption it sends a conflicting message to the child - sometimes if the child cries he or she will be helped to sleep and sometimes not. This creates an inconsistently reinforced habit of night waking. Inconsistent reinforcement of a habit creates the strongest habit! So if you already have a method you have used to get your child sleeping through the night, do not change it due to these wakings.

If you have just been rolling with your child's good sleep up until this point, now is the time when you need to decide how to handle night wakings. Do you want to comfort to sleep at this age and up until a later age? Do you want to implement some form of sleep training? Do you want to wait ten minutes to see if your child can settle, then do a check for diaper changes and hunger, then sit in the room until your child falls asleep? Figure out what is sustainable for your family and what your doctor recommends and do that.

  • My 17mo seems, from time to time, to have nightmares; she'll wake up screaming and insistently crying, and it takes a while holding her to calm her back down. Not sure what could scare her that badly at that age; a sensation of falling, maybe, or thinking Mommy and Daddy aren't around. Anyway, it can starte even earlier than 2
    – KeithS
    Aug 26, 2013 at 20:27
  • @KeithS - my almost 18 mo. seems to get that way when overtired and always has from when she was about 3 mo.
    – justkt
    Aug 26, 2013 at 23:24

Children generally wake up in the night if they are hungry, need a diaper change, or simply aren't tired. From your post it doesn't sound as if she is hungry, or needs a nappy change, so the likely explanation for your child waking in the night is that she is getting too much sleep in the day, and isn't tired enough to sleep through.

As children get older they need less sleep in total, and children will need fewer or shorter naps during the day. You could try shortening one of your child's naps by 30 minutes in the day and see if that improves the situation.

  • 1
    Additional causes of night wakings: mental developmental leap, motor skill aquisition, teething (recent studies say yes, earlier studies have said no), overtiredness, and improper sleep associations. Before nap limiting I'd especially rule out overtiredness and improper sleep associations.
    – justkt
    Aug 8, 2013 at 13:55

Your baby is waking up because he's hungry! Probably ready to start weaning! Try a bit of baby rice cereal before bed with last feed, I'm having the same thing with my 4 1/2 month old and it seems to have worked.

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