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How to use the wake to sleep method for early wakers

Medically reviewed November 2022
wake to sleep method Naytal

The wake to sleep method is a gentle, effective way to help your baby transition into a deeper sleep stage and reduce habitual waking. The key to using this method effectively is to be gentle, observing and patient.

Here we share how the wake to sleep method works and tips for practising it successfully at home with your little one.

What is the wake to sleep method?

The wake to sleep method was developed by Tracy Hogg, a world-renowned baby sleep expert, registered mental health nurse and author of ‘Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to calm, connect, and communicate with your baby’.

It involves waiting until your child is in a light sleep state (REM or rapid eye movement), then lightly touching or patting them to wake them up just enough so that they can drift back off into a deeper, restorative sleep stage (non-REM).

The wake to sleep method can be used with babies from 6 months or older to address short naps, or early morning wakings.

Is the wake to sleep method successful?

The wake to sleep method works because it takes advantage of your child's natural sleep cycle. By lightly rousing your child up during the transitions from a light sleep stage into a deeper sleep stage you can help ease them into this new part of their sleep cycle.

As with many sleep strategies, you should always ensure that your baby is not waking because of an unmet need such as hunger, a wet nappy, feeling unwell or general discomfort.

How do I know if my child is in a light sleep state?

There are a few telltale signs that your child is in a light sleep state and ready to be roused using the wake to sleep method:

  • Your baby's eyes will be fluttering or half-open
  • Your baby may make little sounds or jerky movements
  • Your baby's breathing will be regular and not as deep as it is in a deeper sleep state

How does the wake to sleep method work?

The wake to sleep method is based on the premise that it is easier for your baby to transition into a deeper sleep stage if they are only lightly roused from a light sleep stage.

How to use the wake to sleep method:

  1. Enter your baby's room about 5 to 10 minutes before your baby's nap normally finishes, i.e. if your baby normally naps 30 minutes, this would be at 20 to 25 minutes.
  2. Lightly and very gently rouse your baby. You can, for instance, rub their back, place your hand on their chest, pat their shoulder or stroke their hair.
  3. Whilst you're rousing them, make shushing sounds until you notice your baby breathing deeper and slower. Some babies also start to turn their heads to one side or change sleep positions.
  4. Don't be alarmed if they make little noises or winges slightly during this time. This is normal.
  5. Once you notice your baby's breathing has deepened and their movements have slowed down, leave the room.
  6. If your baby doesn't fall back asleep within 10 minutes, it's likely they might be done with their nap and you can try again with the next one.

Can the wake to sleep method be used for early wakings?

The wake to sleep method can be used to address early morning waking babies. You will need to adjust the timing so that you enter your baby's room about 10 minutes before their scheduled wake-up time, i.e. if they normally wake up at 5am, you would go in at 4.50am.

You can follow the same steps outlined above and stay patient as it may take a few days or even a week for your baby to adjust to their new wake-up time.

However, be aware that our natural sleep hormone is low at this time and could be difficult to rouse your baby without them waking fully. Use your own judgement and observe your child's sleep patterns to decide if the wake to sleep method could work for early morning wakings in your family.

Wake to sleep method tips:

  • It can be helpful to keep a sleep diary to track your child's sleep patterns and progress using the wake to sleep method
  • Make sure to set your baby's sleep environment up for success by making the room as dark as possible, even for naps
  • Keep the room temperature between 16°C and 20°C; 18°C is ideal
  • Try white noise for naps & bedtime to help mask any household or external noises

Get more advice on how to help your little one sleep including how to manage split night sleeping and overcome common cot to bed transition problems.

Do you have a question about infant sleep? Book an appointment with one of our baby sleep consultants to receive specialist advice on any issues you may have.

Miriam, Sleep Consultant

Miriam is a qualified Baby and Child Sleep Consultant who feels passionately about helping other mums experience the benefits of good sleep. Her approach is gentle, relationship-centred and research-informed.

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