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What are split nights?

Split nights are lengthy periods of wakefulness in the night. Some children will appear as though they are ready to start their day whereas others may be frustrated or upset. If you need to make adjustments to your child’s sleep routine, it is important to allow about a week for their body clock to adjust.

What causes split nights?

Sleep pressure:

Children need enough sleep pressure before bedtime to help ensure your little one can stay asleep until the morning.

Suggested awake window guide for various ages:

  • 0-6 weeks: 45 mins – 1 hour
  • 6 weeks – 3 months: 1 hour – 1.5 hours
  • 4 months: 1.5-2 hours
  • 5 months: 1.75 hours – 2.5 hours
  • 6-7months: 2.5-3 hours
  • 8-9 months: 3-4 hours
  • 9-11 months: 3-4 hours
  • 11-13 months 3.5 hours (2 naps) and 5-5.5 hours (1 nap)
  • 14/15 -18 months: 5-6 hours
  • 18 months – 2.5 hours: 5-6+ hours

n.b. If your child has a short nap (less than 1 hour), you’ll need to reduce their next awake window suitably.

Daytime sleep

One of the most common causes for split nights is linked to the timing and duration of a child’s daytime sleep. Each child can only sleep a certain number of hours per 24 hours, if they are getting too much daytime sleep then this will negatively impact on their total amount of night-time sleep. For a child that is regularly having split nights, allowing them to have extra sleep elsewhere (having a long lie in or an extra-long nap) will likely cause the split nights to continue.

Conversely, if a child is overtired (due to a lack of daytime sleep or poor sleep quality), the resulting increase in adrenaline and cortisol can also wreak havoc with the nights. The key sign of overtiredness will be a miserable child during the wakeful period. In this scenario, an earlier bedtime or increase in daytime sleep should help. You may want to consider helping your child with their independent sleep skills if you want longer naps in the cot.

Here is a general guide of total sleep in 24 hours (based on age):


    • 0-6 weeks: 15-18 hours

    • 6 weeks – 3 months: 12-16 hours

    • 4 months: 12-15 hours

    • 5 months: 12–15 hours

    • 6-7 months: 12-15 hours

    • 8-9 months: 12-14 hours

    • 9-11 months: 12-14 hours

    • 11-13 months: 12-14 hours

    • 14/15-18 months: 12-14 hours

    • 18 months – 2.5 hours: 11-14 hours

Nap frequency:


    • 0-6 weeks: 6-4 naps

    • 6 weeks – 3 months: 4 naps

    • 4 months: 4 naps

    • 5 months: 3 naps

    • 6-7 months: 3-2 naps

    • 8-9 months: 2 naps

    • 9-11 months: 2 naps

    • 11-13 months: 2-1 naps

    • 14/15-18 months: 1 nap

    • 18 months – 2.5 hours: 1-0

Remember. Every child is unique, some will deviate from these averages.

How can we use the circadian rhythm in our favour? You may want to aim for a set morning time (obviously this will be out of your control if your child decides to wake earlier!). It can be useful to have a set time for meals and consistent awake windows too. Exposing your child to natural sunlight at 10am and 3-4pm can aid in regulating your child’s body clock.


Sometimes children will have split nights due to a new skill they have learnt (and want to practice!). For example, rolling, crawling, sitting or standing. Stay at a low level (children like to be at their adults level!), occasionally patting the mattress and saying “lie down”. Offer plenty of opportunities for your child to practice their newfound skill during the daytime.


Another common cause of long awakenings is illness. Once they are feeling well again, review the daytime timings as these may have changed during the illness period.

If you are struggling with split nights or your child’s independent skill sleeps, click here to book in for a free 15-minute call.

Do you need help or support with your child’s anxiety at bedtime? Click here to book a free 15-minute consultation to chat about any challenges you’re facing and to discuss how to move forward.

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