Q&A: 6-month-old waking up in the middle of the night

Kate asks:

"Hey Moxie

OK, so when they’re 6 months, and they start rolling around the cot all night, waking every couple of hours asking to be put back where they started….

Do you think it’s best just to let them cry and figure out how to fall asleep wherever they are (on their tummies, out of the blankets and whatever)? Or go in every so often, sort them out, and hope it’s a phase that ends soon enough?

Because there’s some serious sleep deprivation in this house!

Cheers

Kate"

Well, Kate, first of all, I think you must be a better person than I am to be able to end your email about sleep deprivation with "Cheers." I think I would have ended mine with "Stick a fork in my eye" or "Barely functioning."

Now, on to the issue. I'm going to have to go with "it depends" on this one. It seems like there are three things you have to examine before you make your plan:

1. What's up with all the wiggling? Is he just a wiggly kid? Or is there some kind of developmental spurt going on? Is he about to crawl? Is he getting a tooth or two and trying to wriggle away from the pain?

If it's something transient, like teething or crawling or something else developmental, I'd say to see if you can hold on for another week to see if it resolves itself. I think most kids will go back to what they were doing before sleep-wise once the spurt or crisis is over. But if he's a wiggly kid, then you're really looking at making a decision about what to do.

2. How will he deal with being left alone to work it out on his own? Some kids will fuss a little and then conk right back out. Other kids wake up in the middle of the night and just won't go back to sleep without help. My older son was like that--if he woke up he was up! and crying! until someone came to save him from the indignities of being alone! in the dark! oh, cruel cruel world! I never considered letting him cry, because it would have gone on for hours and hours. My younger one will wake up, fuss for 10 seconds, and then go right back to sleep. A friend's child will wake up, scream his head off for about a minute, and then abruptly fall asleep again (she discovered that he'd fall asleep again on his own in almost exactly the time it took her to realize what that noise was, wake up, struggle out of bed, and stumble down the hall to his room.).

If you've got a kid who's going to be up and crying if you don't go in, then you're going to have to go in, do a slow wean off going in, or minimize the ways he can wake himself up. If he freaks out from being on his tummy, do more tummy time during the day so he's not as freaked out by it when it happens in the night. If he's cold, maybe put him in warmer pajamas so the blanket isn't such a factor. If it's something else, try to figure out what exactly is waking him up and see if you can eliminate that cause.

You can always let him fuss for a minute or two to see what happens and whether he's an escalator or a yelper who falls back asleep. It might surprise you.

3. Can you let him cry? Some parents have no problems with letting their kids cry at night. Others can't do it. I think you should be the same kind of parent at night as you are during the day, so stay true to yourself and your vision of yourself as a parent. Or delegate this one to your partner.

Whatever happens, just know that he will sleep through the night without you. Even my older one, who would yell like a car alarm when he was up at night, now falls asleep easily and stays asleep with no problems. And someday they'll move out of the house and you won't know how or even if they sleep.

Courage.