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Split Nights- What Are They and How to Solve Them?




It’s 3 am and your baby has been awake for 90 minutes with no sign of going back to sleep. You have tried feeding her, rocking her, and offering her a pacifier, and NOTHING works. These long night wakes have been going on for 2 months and you are SO done. You ask yourself, “When will I ever sleep again?”.


Does this sound slightly familiar? Maybe it’s your toddler up for an hour each night, and you have NO CLUE WHY. In either scenario, I’m here to share with you about split nights. Split nights are when your child wakes in the middle of the night for a LONG time and no amount of comfort helps to soothe them back to sleep.


Children have a maximum amount of time they should be in bed, typically between 11-12 hours. For a child to sleep 11-12 hours at night, enough sleep pressure needs to be built up and the circadian rhythm needs to be involved. At the beginning of the night, sleep pressure must build up before bedtime, and this is called the sleep drive. The built-up sleep pressure will decrease as the night goes on, and then the circadian rhythm takes over to carry your child through to the morning (I.e. to complete the 11-12 hour stretch of sleep). A split night happens with the sleep pressure and circadian rhythm SPLIT, which results in a long night wake.


In this blog, you will learn:


  • How to identify a split night

  • 4 Reasons why split nights may happen

  • Tips to help solve them when they do happen

How to Identify a Split Night?


The most common scenario is that your baby or toddler is awake for a long time in the night (i.e. typically 1-3 hours). The long waking may happen every night or a few times a week. Often, your baby is happy and alert and any amount of comfort, feeding, or rocking won’t help your child fall back asleep. The main reason why your actions don’t help is that your child is typically not waking due to a need (i.e. hunger), but it’s a biological issue due to the imbalance of their sleep pressure and circadian rhythm. For children with independent sleep skills, it’s important to remember that they know how to fall asleep, but because there is something biological making it, they can’t sleep.

4 Reasons Why Split Nights May Happen


  1. Short naps and a reoccurring early bedtime (i.e. naps are chronically short, which requires an early bedtime).

  2. Too much daytime sleep (i.e. naps are too long in length). 

  3. Development regressions (i.e. your child may be practicing skills in the crib during the night as they work on their new skill). 

  4. Chronically being overtired (i.e. too late of a bedtime)- These are the only wakes that will be UNHAPPY. This is rare, but it can definitely happen.

Tips to Help Solve Them When They Do Happen

  1. Wake your baby at the same time each day. Waking at a consistent time each day helps to set the tone for the day and helps the body to sync with this consistent wake-up time. If your child is having split nights, it can be tempting to allow them to sleep in later due to a rough night. However, I would encourage you to wake them at the same time, even after a particularly sleepless night.

  2. Next, work on tackling short naps so that your child’s early bedtime can be pushed later. You may need a combination of lengthening shorts, naps and/or extending awake windows to make this happen. 

  3. Ensure your baby is not sleeping too much during the daytime (crazy, right?). There is only so much sleep in a 24-hour period that your child needs, and if too much of the total sleep is happening during the day, it can pull away from the night.

  4. If the cause of split nights is due to a new skill (i.e. crawling), make sure to allow plenty of daytime practice so your baby can learn to master the skill during the day and hopefully less at night. Typically, when sleep regresses due to changes in development, sleep should return to normal within 1-3 weeks. 

  5. Chronic overtiredness can be a reason split nights happen. However, it’s less likely. If a late bedtime leading to chronically being overtired is the root cause of your child’s split nights, they will present as UNHAPPY during the night. The best way to help improve the nights is to shift bedtime earlier. As your child replenishes their sleep debt, you should see the split nights resolve.

  6. Consider implementing a chosen sleep training method to help get rid of unwanted habits started due to the split nights. Only do this AFTER you address the root cause and make the appropriate schedule changes.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How long until I see success after making schedule changes?


In most cases, you should see the split nights begin to dissipate after 4-7 days if you are extremely consistent with schedule changes. I cannot say with certainty that this will be the case for your unique situation; however, it’s a great guide.


How long can I expect my child to stay in bed overnight?


When answering this question, it can be helpful to address the age of your child. Newborns have late bedtimes and, therefore, may have a shorter amount of time in their crib/bassinet overnight. If your child is 3 months and older, you can aim to have them in bed for 11-12 hours a night. Keep in mind there are specific times through a child’s life (no matter the age) when they may sleep longer than 12 hours (i.e. sickness, nap transitions, or a poor nap day). It’s important to remember that this is temporary, as consistent early bedtimes can lead to early morning wakes or, in the case of this blog, split nights.

Are you ready to feel rested again? I would love to support you! Book a free 15-minute call to see if working together is the right fit for your family.



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