Vicki Cowan’s first baby, Jessica, would sleep through pretty much anything, even ringing phones and barking dogs. When Philip was born two years later, Cowan found he was much more sensitive.
“The phone ringing, his big sister running around, even my cooking could wake him up,” she says.
Babies do vary a great deal in how easily they are woken, says Wendy Hall, an associate professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who researches infant and children’s sleep problems. “About 20 percent of the babies I see would be described as light sleepers, and it seems to be inborn, just part of their temperament. They tend to also be very easily stimulated when they are awake and may be intense in their responses to the environment.”
These light sleepers can be woken by noises, movement nearby or the sun shining in the window early in the morning.
1. Try white noise
A steady background sound masks noises that might disturb sleep. Try a fan, a radio tuned between stations (so you get only static) or an actual white noise machine.
2. Swaddle your baby
A sudden sound can startle a baby, making her fling out her arms and legs and waking her. If she’s snugly swaddled, the sound may still disturb her a little, but she won’t startle awake.
3. Darken the room
Rearrange the furniture or use blinds to block the sun. Use a night light or even a flashlight during night feedings.
4. Do not disturb
Parents can inadvertently wake up light sleepers by checking on them. “If the baby isn’t signalling you, then don’t go into the room to check — just let him be,” Hall advises. A baby monitor can reassure you without bothering baby.
Will your baby outgrow this?
Hall says that light sleepers are always light sleepers, but as children get older they usually develop strategies to help them go back to sleep after a sound or movement wakes them up, without needing a parent to rock or nurse them. So while it doesn’t actually go away, it does get easier.
Afternoon daylight improves nighttime sleep
In a 2004 British study, parents used a light monitor on their babies (between six and 12 weeks old) and kept a sleep diary. The results found that babies who had more exposure to daylight during the afternoon slept much better at night. So try taking an afternoon walk or having an outdoor playtime whenever the weather permits — and your light sleeper might just sleep a bit deeper.
This article was originally published in November 2007.