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What are split nights? Why are they happening? And how can we get back to sleeping again?

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When parents talk about split nights, they’re referring to a little one going to bed, then being awake for a long period in the early hours, before going back to sleep again. Your little one might be quite happy to be awake and quite alert, or they might be quite frustrated that they’re awake. Either way, they’re not going back to sleep – and neither are you – until it’s almost time to start a new day.

So, what causes a split night?

Typically, split nights are caused by a little one’s daytime sleep not being in quite the right place. So, if a little one is having too much daytime sleep, or not quite the right number of naps, that could be the reason your little one is waking. It could also be that they’re not having enough daytime sleep. While that sounds confusing it’s down to two of the many reasons that we sleep overnight. The first is our circadian rhythm, which is our natural tendency to sleep based on it being dark and waking when it’s light. The second, is sleep pressure.

So, a good place to start helping your little one drop those middle of the night parties is to check whether they’re having the right amount of daytime sleep/number of naps and not too much or too little sleep during the day.

Generally, this is a good guide:

0-3 months 16-18 hours per 24 hours

3-6 months 15 hours per 24 hours

6-12 months 14 hours per 24 hours

1-2 years 12-13 hours per 24 hours

3-5 years 10-13 hours per 24 hours

6-12 years 9-12 hours per 24 hours

0-3 months 4-5 naps per 24 hours          

4-5 months 3-4 naps per 24 hours

6-7 months 2-3 naps per 24 hours

7-12 months 2 naps per 24 hours

13 months-2.5 years 1 nap per 24 hours

But do remember all little ones are different, so some may be ahead or behind the curve when it comes to the above information. If you’ve realised that your little one isn’t on quite the right schedule for their age any more and perhaps they need to drop a nap or have a little bit more awake time before naps and/or bedtime, give your little one’s body clock a chance to catch up with the changes you’re making. It’s unlikely your little one will immediately drop those split nights, so give them a week or so to adjust.

Developmental shifts

Split nights can also happen if your little one has suddenly worked out how to crawl, stand or walk because developmentally they’ve had a leap in what they can achieve and this causes their sleep to get disrupted overnight. Or it could have happened because they’ve had a few nights of being ill and so perhaps their daytime sleep has overcompensated for that.

If you think the split nights you’re experiencing are down to your little one practising their new found motor skills, give them lots of practice during the day, and at night remind them to lie down by patting the mattress. Try not to help them back to sleep by cuddling, rocking, stroking or feeding, otherwise your little one will want you to do this at other times, and you’re going to get into a tricky situation while you remind them of their independent sleep skills.

If they are ill, and that’s the reason behind those split nights, wait until they are well and start adjusting their daytime sleep and bedtime timing to make sure they have enough sleep pressure to fall asleep.

If you have any questions about split nights or think your little one is waking because they don’t have their independent sleep skills, get in touch, we’d love to chat to you. You can book a free, 15 minute call to find out more about how we work and what we do here:

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