Are your baby's sleep habits keeping you up at night? You're not alone. Sleep can be a loaded issue, particularly for parents of young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that sleep issues affect up to 50 per cent of children.
Unfortunately, research shows that not getting enough shut-eye can impact everything from learning and memory to mood and immune function. For adults, fragmented or poor sleep can make it harder to be the kind of parent you want to be—namely patient, stable, and resilient.
In other words, a lot is riding on your child's ability to sleep through the night and your ability to do the same.
Well, that’s great advice if your little one is getting some rest. But what if you spend more time pacing the halls with a wide-eyed newborn than you do catching some Zzz’s?
Read on to learn common reasons why some babies like the nightlife and what you can do to get back on the sleep train.
Baby Nursery FAQs
Your baby has a lack of bedtime routine. By going through the same actions every night, you can help your baby's brain learn when it is time to sleep. For instance, you may bathe your baby, put them in pyjamas and feed them before putting them down to sleep. You may also read or sing to your baby before bed.
In short, dealing with nighttime disruptions is often simply a part of new parenthood. Most issues related to a baby not sleeping are caused by temporary things like illness, teething, developmental milestones or changes in routine — so the occasional sleep snafu likely isn't anything to worry about.
A baby sleep aid is any object that makes falling asleep easier without your presence or assistance. For older babies, a favourite stuffed animal or blankie may serve as a sleep aid. For newborns, a night-light or noisemaker (outside their crib) may lull them to sleep better than anything else.
Mommy's Bliss Gripe Water contains fennel and ginger to help soothe nausea and discomfort caused by gas, hiccups or colic symptoms. Organic chamomile, lemon balm, and passionflower promote restful sleep. Gentle and effective, gripe water helps bring baby relief.
Often seen anywhere from 8 to 18 months, your baby may fight sleep because they don't want you to leave.
Reasons Your Baby Won't Sleep and How to Cope.
Sleep. No one in your home is likely getting much of it, especially during the first few months. And even once your little one is sleeping through the night, baby sleep problems can still crop up from time to time.
In short, dealing with nighttime disruptions is often simply a part of new parenthood.
Most issues related to a baby not sleeping are caused by temporary things like illness, teething, developmental milestones or changes in routine — so the occasional sleep snafu likely isn’t anything to worry about.
Still, persistent sleep problems that make it hard for your baby (and you!) to get the rest you both need could be a sign of a bigger issue.
Some babies, especially older ones, can have a hard time breaking sleep habits they’ve come to like and expect, like being rocked or fed to sleep at bedtime or waking up in the middle of the night.
That’s why it’s helpful to know the possible reasons why your baby won’t sleep. Here are some of the most common baby sleep problems during the first year and solutions to help your restless little one get her Zzzs.
Sleep problems: 0 to 3 months old
At the newborn stage, babies are still adjusting to a regular sleeping pattern.
Newborns generally sleep about 14 to 17 hours in 24 hours, waking up frequently for feedings daily and night.
A 1- and 2-month-old should get about the same amount of sleep, 14 to 17 hours a day, broken into eight to nine hours of nighttime sleep and another seven to nine hours of daytime sleep throughout several naps. A 3-month-old needs 14 to 16 hours of sleep in 24 hours.
Even with all that sleeping, it can feel like your baby isn't sleeping all that much. Very young babies often sleep in short, catnap-like spurts, in part because they need to eat so often.
So if it seems like your sweetpea is constantly bouncing back and forth between dozing and waking, hang in there. It’s completely normal right now, and it will soon start to change.
Some challenges can make sleep harder for newborns to come by. At this age, two of the most common issues are:
- What it looks like: Your baby fusses or won’t settle when laid on her back to sleep. Babies feel more secure sleeping on their tummies, but that sleep position is linked to a much higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). So experts recommend always putting your baby on her back to sleep.
- How to solve it: If your baby doesn’t settle down on her back, talk to your pediatrician, who may want to check for possible physical explanations. Much more likely is that your baby doesn’t feel as secure on her back. If that’s the case, there are a few tricks you can try to encourage back-sleeping, including swaddling your baby and giving her a pacifier at bedtime. Just skip the sleep positioner, and stick with a consistent routine. Eventually, your baby will get used to sleeping on her back.
Mixing up day and night
- What it looks like: Your baby sleeps all day but then stays up all night long (not such a party for you!).
- How to solve it: Your newborn’s nocturnal ways should correct themselves as she adjusts to life on the outside. Still, there are a few things you can do to help baby differentiate between day and night, including limiting daytime naps to three hours and making clear distinctions between day and night (like keeping baby’s room dark when she naps and avoiding turning on the TV during nighttime feedings).
Restless sleep due to frequent late-night feedings
- What it looks like: Most 2- to 3-month-old babies, particularly breastfed ones, still need to fill their tummies at least once or twice during the night. Waking up every two hours for middle-of-the-night chow-downs, on the other hand, is typically too much of a good thing by this point — and for most babies, not necessary.
- What to do about it: First, talk to your child’s pediatrician about how often the baby should be eating overnight. If you get the go-ahead to cut down on overnight feeds, ensure the baby’s eating enough during the day by offering a feed every two to three hours. Then, work on slowly stretching the time between nighttime feedings.
Sleep problems: 4 to 5 months old
By four months, your baby should be sleeping about 12 to 16 hours a day, broken up into two or three daytime naps totalling three to six hours, and then another nine to 11 hours at night.
How many hours should a 5-month-old sleep? These days, 10 to 11 hours of sleep at night is the norm. Your baby should also take two to three naps during the day.
- What it looks like: At four months old, your formerly sleepy baby may be ready for anything but bedtime — even though you're ready to drop. Welcome to sleep regression — a perfectly normal blip on the sleep radar that many babies experience between around four months, then often again at six months, 8 to 10 months, and 12 months (though it can happen at any time). Why is this happening right now? The 4-month sleep regression typically strikes as your little one starts to wake up to the world around her. With all this fascinating new stuff to play with and see and people to encounter, life is just too much fun at this stage to waste time sleeping. There’s no official way to “diagnose” sleep regression — but chances are you’ll know it when you’re dealing with it. If your baby is starting to develop a pattern of sleeping for predictably longer stretches but is suddenly fighting sleep or is waking up a lot more often, you likely have sleep regression on your hands.
- How to solve it: Stick with or start your baby's bedtime routine — the bath, the feeding, the story, the lullabies and the cuddles. Also, be sure your baby is getting enough sleep during the day to make up for lost sleep at night since it’s even harder for an overtired baby to settle down at night. Keep in mind, too, that sleep regression is temporary. Once your baby acclimates to her new developmental abilities, sleep patterns should return to baseline.
Changing nap routines throw a baby off at night
- What it looks like: As babies get older, they napless. If your baby seems happy with her changing schedule and sleeps well at night, embrace this milestone and carry on. But if your little one is napping less but fussing more or having trouble going to bed at night, she may be overtired and need some naptime encouragement.
- How to solve it: Try an abbreviated bedtime routine before each nap (some quiet music, a massage or some storytelling) and be patient — it may take her longer to settle into a routine, but she’ll get there.
Sleep problems: 6 months old and up
These days your baby’s sleep pattern likely looks a whole lot different than it did just a few short months ago.
At six months, your baby should clock 10 to 11 hours of sleep at night and take two or three naps during the day.
By nine months, she’ll start sleeping for a little longer at night — around 10 to 12 hours — and take only two naps during the day. Around 12 months, your baby might show signs of being ready to drop to just one long midday nap (though for most babies, that happens at around 14 to 16 months)
What’s more, babies who are six months old and up are completely capable of sleeping through the night. And yet, there are still plenty of things that can disrupt their snooze time.
Not falling asleep independently.
- What it looks like: Almost everyone wakes up a couple of times during the night — adults and babies alike. A lifetime of good sleep habits depends on knowing how to fall asleep alone, both at bedtime and overnight, a skill babies need to learn. If your 6-month-old still needs to be fed or rocked to sleep, you might want to consider sleep training (also known as sleep teaching or self-soothing training).
- How to solve it: Start by revamping the bedtime routine. If your baby's dependent on a bottle or breast to sleep, start scheduling the last feeding 30 minutes before her usual bedtime or nap. Then, when she's sleepy but not asleep, make your move and place her into her crib. Sure, she'll fuss at first, but give it a chance. Once she learns to soothe herself — perhaps by sucking on her thumb or a pacifier (harmless, helpful habits for babies) — she won't need you at bedtime anymore. As long as your baby can drift off on her own, it's fine to go into her if she wakes up at night. That doesn't mean you need to pick her up or nurse her, however. Once she's mastered the art of comforting herself, your voice and a gentle stroke should be enough to get her settled into sleep once more. How you tackle sleep training is up to you. Letting your 6-month-old (or even 5-month-old) cry for a bit before going into her (or cry it out) usually works. Here’s why: By six months, babies are well-aware that crying often results in being picked up, rocked, fed or potentially all three. But once they understand that Mom and Dad are not buying what they’re selling, most will stop crying and get some rest, usually within three or four nights. Keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends sleeping in the same room as your baby (but not in the same bed) for at least six months and possibly a year. But even if you encounter this problem when you’re still room-sharing, the basic idea behind sleep training remains the same: At the end of your bedtime routine, say goodnight and mean it — even when you hear protests and tears as you leave the room. If your baby wakes up during the night while you’re room-sharing, it’s fine to assure your little one that everything’s okay, but have a plan in place as to how (and how often) you’ll respond to her cries. Don’t have a plan yet? There are many sleep training strategies, so decide what you think might work best for you and give it a chance to work.
Restless sleep due to frequent late-night feedings (again)
- It looks like: By the time many babies are six months old, they don’t need middle-of-the-night feedings anymore. So if your baby is not sleeping without nursing and rocking first, she still gets up multiple times throughout the night. She won’t go back to sleep without the same send-off. She may have become wise because crying often results in being picked up, rocked and fed — pretty good motivation to keep right on crying. (Talk to your baby’s pediatrician before cutting out night feeds.)
- What to do about it: If you’re comfortable trying sleep training, it can be a good option for babies who wake up frequently to feed throughout the night. Either way, your little one needs help learning how to self-soothe to fall back to sleep on her own.
- What it looks like: Your baby is waking up early — and staying awake, sometimes as early as the crack of dawn.
- What to do about it: If your baby is at least six months old, there are a few tactics you can try to get her to sleep in later, like adjusting her nap schedule, experimenting with different bedtimes and making her room lighter- and sound-proof.
Teething pain keeps the baby up.
- What it looks like: If your baby is showing signs of teething during the day — such as drooling, biting, feeding fussiness and irritability — teething pain may also be waking her up at night. Keep in mind that teething-related sleep issues can begin almost any time during the first year: Some babies get their first tooth by the time they're six months old with teething pain starting as early as 3 or 4 months, while others are toothless until their first birthday.
- How to solve it: While you shouldn’t ignore your baby, try to avoid picking her up. Instead, offer a teething ring, gentle words and pats, or maybe a lullaby. She might settle down on her own, though you might have to leave the room for that to happen. If tender gums seem very painful to her night after night, ask your pediatrician about offering some baby acetaminophen at bedtime for babies two months and older or baby ibuprofen for infants six months and older.
Putting it all together: A checklist for coping with infant sleep problems
- Establish regular daytime cues. Make sure your baby is exposed to natural daylight and daytime activity. Include babies in the daily hustle and bustle.
- Establish regular night-time cues. As bedtime approaches, shift from stimulating activities to more passive, sleepy, sedate activities. Dim the lights. And consider introducing special bedtime rituals, like reading bedtime stories or singing lullabies.
- Tank up before bedtime. As noted above, babies may sleep for longer stretches at night if you feed them shortly before bedtime.
- Keep your nighttime interactions calm and low-key. Be responsive but boring. Avoid making noise, avoid moving your baby around, and avoid eye contact. Some infant sleep problems are caused by parents making too much fuss.
- Watch out for intervening too quickly when you think your baby has awakened. You might end up awakening a sleeping baby or preventing your baby from falling back to sleep spontaneously.
- If your baby is over six months old, consider these
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- gentle sleep training programs. Because they don’t require babies to fall asleep alone, they minimize distress for both parents and infants.
- If you’re worried about a possible medical problem or something doesn’t seem right, talk to your doctor. Most infant sleep problems aren’t caused by medical conditions, but some are.
In most cases, your newborn is awake at night during short phases of those early months of life. It can seem like an eternity when you’re exhausted, but it often lasts for just a few days or weeks.
It’s also likely that most of the reasons your little one is awake are temporary and not emergencies.
But there’s an increasing call in the medical community for pediatricians to pay attention to parents when they say their babies don’t sleep.
If you think your child is experiencing an undiagnosed illness or allergy, push your doctor to take your concerns seriously. It could be the key to both you and your baby getting some much-needed rest.