The Dad’s Guide to the Middle of the Night

  by Erik Wolgemuth

From (roughly) the moment your child was born onwards, you’ve found that fatherhood demands nocturnal activity. For some fathers this requires a tremendous behavioral shift while for others such a routine is a bit less taxing. But regardless of your respective sleepitude, as a good dadcraftsman you will find yourself awoken at all (terrible) hours of the night in a state of mild consciousness and general confusion.

You hear a baby crying or are stirred by a kid suffering with an upset stomach. A kid awakens and then…? You’re on.

Once awakened, one encounters questions muddied by sleepy, slow-firing neurons: What possible demands does the child have? What’s her level of rationality? Should you call for backup? How does one get her back asleep as quickly as possible? These are questions with no easy answers. Instead, here are a few general approaches to guide your middle of the night endeavors:

  1. Clear the way.

In the warm light of dusk that pathway between your room and your kid’s room may appear straightforward to traverse, but things get tricky in the middle of the night. If there’s a chance to run into, trip over, or step upon, you will. Preemptively, make sure your path is clear.

  1.      Have a plan.

My ability to pull together strong, logical thinking in the middle of the night is low to quite low. Therefore, I need late-evening-self to do as much thinking for middle-of-the-night-self as possible. Before anything else, establish SOPs with your wife about who is on duty and when. Late-night wakeups can cause marital strife in the morning, so establish ahead of time who is on point. Then, buckle up. Kid goes to bed sick? Get medication out and easily accessible, with thermometer at the ready. Kid often wakes up hungry? Have a bottle / sippy cup / etc. prepped and ready for action in the fridge. Don’t leave your thinking for 2am.

  1. Get your tools.

Don’t go into things alone. Have your toolbox at the ready…

It’s winter? Slippers, hoodie, blanket.

Nighttime feeding? Smartphone, earbuds, audiobook / podcasts queued.  

Lost pacifier? Smartphone flashlight, spare pacifier.

Possibility you might not be able to get your child back to sleep without sleeping beside him? Pillow, blanket, makeshift floor bed.

  1.      Use your nose.

The bedroom threshold in the wee hours represents a critical moment. As the door swings open, you can either check a couple nasty causes for awakening off the list or, if odors suggest that such causes are likely, grit your teeth about what’s to come. The calming and, perhaps, bathing of the distressed (soiled) child, changing of bed sheets, and assessing the health situation is a heroic solo effort…so if the scent is right (and by that I mean, oh so wrong), don’t be afraid to call in backup.

  1. Five more minutes.

You’ve changed a diaper, soothed some tears, gently rocked, and sleep for your young one has arrived. In these moments, the siren song of your own pillow reaches its peak volume. Don’t give in…give it five more minutes. Is there much that’s more frustrating that depositing a sleeping child into bed and returning to yours only to hear the crying crank up once again? No, there is not. Those five additional minutes are often exactly what’s needed to get that kiddo deeper into slumber so you can get back to bed and stay there.

One of the great inevitabilities of parenting is a child suddenly awake and upset in the middle of the night. As a result, there’s potential for a series to be written on the innumerable promptings for such awakenings, but hopefully these five strategies will get you on your way to quickly assessing the situation and restoring sweet, sweet sleep.


Diaper-changing skills are rarely more important than when they’re deployed in the middle of the night; snag some pointers from 5 Dads. And for an unusual pre-bedtime activity that may help you avoid mid-night shenanigans, consider the face smoosh.