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Split Nights: A Parent's Guide

Do you find yourself experiencing the frustration of your child waking throughout the night, with these wakes lasting for prolonged periods? You may be encountering what is commonly referred to as "split nights" or "night parties." These occurrences, while annoying and exasperating for parents, are not uncommon. However, we need to remmeber that just because something is common, does not mean it is normal. 

Night wakes can be biologically normal at variable ages for children, but long periods of time awake overnight are not within the realm of normal. This means that night parties or split nights aren’t normal and should be explored. Understanding the underlying cause and implementing an appropriate strategy can work towards stopping this disruptive pattern.

child awake in the cot during the night

What are Split Nights?

Split nights refer to instances when a child wakes up during the night and remains awake for extended periods. These awakenings can vary in duration, ranging from shorter blocks of 30 minutes to prolonged stretches lasting hours. Commonly dubbed "night parties," these episodes disrupt a child’s sleep and can leave parents feeling exhausted and perplexed.

During these awake periods, your child may be happy and awake, chatting to themselves. Or they may be distressed, upset and needing your comfort. Whether it be in the earlier part of the night, or in the early hours of the morning, night parties are not for the faint hearted!

The good news is that split nights can be resolved! But it’s not a quick fix with the simple application of sleep training. The key to stopping split nights is to identify the real cause; the interruption to your child’s biological ability to stay asleep at night, or resettle when they do wake.


Understanding the Causes

Split nights can stem from various factors, each requiring a different approach for resolution. Identifying the root cause is crucial for implementing strategies for effective outcomes. The three leading causes of split nights are over tiredness, under tiredness and underlying issues.

Over tiredness: When a child's daytime sleep is inadequate or irregular, it can lead to over-tiredness. The lack of sleep causes a rise in cortisol levels and a release of adrenalin into your child’s body. This leads to excess energy, but nowhere to burn it, making it challenging for them to settle into a deep, restful sleep at night. 

Common triggers of over tiredness include:

  • not enough day sleep

  • inadequately balanced naps, in timing and duration

  • late bedtime

an over tired baby spending long periods of time awake overnight

Under Tiredness: Under tiredness is when a child has had too much sleep leading up to that point and has reduced drive to sleep during the night. If your child has 1 hour additional sleep than what their body needs during the day time period, then they may begin to experience split nights as they balance out their sleep requirements. 

Common triggers to under tiredness include:

  • too many naps

  • extended naps

  • unnecessarily maintained day sleep

  • early bedtime

Split nights occurring in the first half often correlate with under tiredness or over tiredness. Ensuring your child has adequate balance of day sleep is key to prevent long periods of time awake. You can assess your child's sleep balance on the blog: How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?

Underlying Issues: Split nights that occur after midnight may signal an underlying problem. You can find out more on Underlying Issues on the blog: Underlying Issues Affecting Children's Sleep. Identifying these issues is essential for addressing the night parties and restoring uninterrupted sleep. Underlying issues affect sleep quality, and can lead to long periods of time awake overnight. 

Managing Split Nights

Resolving split nights involves a two-fold approach: identifying the cause and implementing appropriate strategies which reflect the root issue . Here's how you can tackle this challenging sleep pattern:

  1. Establish a Consistent Routine: Consistency is key to promoting healthy sleep habits. Establish a regular day sleep routine and bed time so the body clock, known as the circadian rhythm, knows the regular sleep times

  2. Monitor Daytime Sleep: Ensure your child gets adequate daytime sleep by establishing a consistent nap schedule. Avoid late-afternoon naps, particularly after 3pm, or overly long naps exceeding 3 hours, or too many naps, as these can interfere with nighttime sleep.

  3. Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment: Make your child's bedroom conducive to sleep by ensuring it's dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Consider white noise machines or blackout curtains to minimise disturbances.

  4. Stay Calm and Consistent: Respond to your child's night awakenings with reassurance and a calm demeanor. Avoid engaging in stimulating activities or prolonged interaction, as this may reinforce the waking behaviour.

  5. Address Underlying Issues: If split nights persist despite your best efforts, your next step is to assess for any underlying issues. Addressing these concerns may require a specialised assessment which I offer a service for: Sleep Quality Assessment. However, you can start with my free Underlying Issues Check List to see if there are any other presenting symptoms.

While split nights can be challenging, the good news is, they can be resolved. By understanding the underlying causes and implementing appropriate strategies, you can help your child establish healthy sleep patterns and restore peaceful nights for the entire family.

If you’d like to chat about your situation to determine what may be the cause of your child’s night parties, and discuss your options around one on one support, schedule a free 15 minute Discovery Call to speak with me.

Shereen xx

I'm Shereen Nielsen, a certified Sleep Consultant specialising in infants and children from birth to 15 years old. With over seven years of experience, I've assisted over 4000 families in achieving better sleep. Additionally, I serve as a lecturer and mentor, guiding aspiring sleep consultants on their path to certification through my internationally recognised online Sleep Consultant Course.

Phone: +61419820474

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