Common Causes of Split Nights and 3 Easy Ways to Fix Them

circadian rhythm early bedtime night wakings short naps sleep pressure split nights Nov 23, 2021
Common Causes of Split Nights and 3 Easy Ways to Fix Them

Is your baby usually a sound sleeper, but then occasionally acts as if they've forgotten how to sleep? Do they often wake up in the middle of the night (or even just a couple of hours after they’ve gone to bed), and are then wide awake for hours?

If you answered yes, your little one could be experiencing “split nights!”  

Split nights are different from other night wakings. They normally consist of just one waking in the night and can last up to 2 or 3 hours. Most of the time, your child isn’t even upset or crying, they’re just...awake.  

While split nights are a result of a biological concern and there is not an easy fix for getting your baby back to sleep quickly at the moment, there are ways to prevent split nights from happening. 

What Causes Your Baby to Have Split Nights? 

There is an ideal amount of hours during the day that your little one should have both awake time and daytime sleep [1]. This amount of hours is dependent on their age and developmental factors, just like the amount of nighttime sleep they should be getting is. There are two factors that could disrupt your baby’s sleep pressure and cause a split night:

  1. Getting too much daytime sleep
  2. Going to bed too early 

During your baby’s awake time (or “wake windows”), they build sleep pressure that results in the body’s drive (or want) to sleep [2]. At night, this sleep pressure will help your baby fall asleep and help determine how long they will stay asleep. Once this sleep pressure wears off, their circadian rhythm kicks in. Circadian rhythm is a biological internal clock that will help your little one stay asleep until morning [3] (check out this blog to learn more about circadian rhythm).  

Normally, sleep pressure and circadian rhythm work together to help your baby sleep through the night [4]. When the two are out of sync, it’s common for your baby to wake as soon as the sleep pressure dissipates and be ready to rock and roll at 3 a.m. (cue the coffee)! 

Some babies may actively try to go back to sleep; but they are unable to, similar to insomnia! Since a split night is not caused by your baby waking for a need (feeding, pacifier, comfort, etc,), it’s normal for your baby to be happy during this awake time and treat it as if it was a normal block of time to be awake during the day. 

Once they build up enough sleep pressure to get back to sleep, most babies will go back to sleep until morning and wake up generally in a good mood as if they just had a full consolidated night’s rest!

How to Fix Your Baby’s Split Nights

Knowing the appropriate wake windows for your little one is a helpful (and necessary!) tool in making sure your child is getting the right amount of sleep for their age [5]. Not sure how much awake time your baby should be getting or how long their naps should be? My free sleep tips download can help!

Your baby’s naps and bedtime are also key components to avoiding a split night. If your baby is consistently getting too much daytime sleep, or going to bed too early, it’s easy to get stuck in an endless cycle of split nights. 

Here are three ways to take charge of your baby’s sleep to help prevent split nights:

  1. Work on naps

If your baby is experiencing split nights, it’s normal and common for naps (whether too long or too short) to be the culprit! Take these two scenarios into consideration:

Scenario A: Your little one is a great napper and tends to take long naps that often interfere with their set bedtime. In this scenario, they are getting too much daytime sleep which could cause a nighttime disruption and I recommend waking your baby early from their nap to ensure it doesn’t mess with the timing of their later naps or shoft their bedtime too late. 

Scenario B: Your baby often takes cat naps and tends to only take one or two naps throughout the day that are no longer than a half-hour each, and then by 6 p.m. they are exhausted. You put them to bed and they fall right to sleep, but then by 4 a.m. they are wide awake. In this case, you can work on lengthening your baby’s short naps

For both of these scenarios, depending on their age, your baby may not be capable of staying asleep the entirety of the hours they are in their crib at night! 

Book a call with me for some personalized support on how to get your baby’s naps back on track!

2. Move bedtime 

It’s true that a consistent and early bedtime has been proven to promote longer stretches of consolidated night sleep [6]. However, if your child is getting too much daytime sleep, it may be beneficial to shift their bedtime later (temporarily, for a few days if needed) to build up that sleep pressure and make a shift in their circadian rhythm. Ensuring your child is also exposed to more light during that time can assist in shifting your child’s circadian rhythm, if needed. 

3. Wake baby in the morning

I know waking your baby up in the morning is probably the last thing you want to do after you’ve been awake with them for hours during the night. However, waking them at a set time in the morning can reinforce a set wake time and better help you control their sleep throughout the day; making it possible to help keep their wake windows accurate and more likely that they’ll be able to build enough sleep pressure by bedtime to stay asleep longer in the night. 

It’s important to note that these tips do not apply to newborns and young infants who will wake to eat throughout the night anyway. And remember, it takes time for babies to adjust to changes  to their circadian rhythm and sleep pressure; 

and if they are having split nights frequently, it may take a few days of closely manipulating their sleep to see any changes take place.  

I know how overwhelming this process can seem. If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides or schedule a call with me for some personalized support. 



[1] [5] 

[2] [4] 



Need help transforming your child's sleep? Check out my sleep offerings for children 0-3 years old!


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