Unfortunately for parents, newborns won’t always sleep on command. However, cause for concern can arise in any parent if their child isn't displaying behaviors they're expecting. A restless baby can cause enormous stress in the form of lack of sleep and their deviations in behavior.
A baby that won't sleep isn't much fun, although there may be perfectly normal reasons why your tot is having trouble. In this article, we'll discuss a variety of causes that could lead to a sleepless tyke and how you can mitigate those so your family can finally get some rest.
How Much Should Newborns Sleep by Month?
Infants need a tremendous amount of rest because their tiny bodies are developing at a rapid pace. Their muscles and brains need fuel to sustain these changes, and that fuel includes rest.
When tots are first born, they'll need about 16 hours of sleep per 24 hours period. It may seem like a lot; however, if you're already a parent, you probably know by now that these come in short bursts. (Pro-tip: sleep when your baby sleeps, so you don't miss out on too many zzz's yourself.)
As your munchkin grows and ages, they'll need less and less. Once they hit the three-month mark, they'll need about 15 hours of sleep per day, and at one year, they should be sleeping somewhere around 11. Keep in mind that, this is merely a jumping-off point, as each child is incredibly unique and some need more or less sleep than others.
Find out more in this guide: Parent's Guide to a Child's Sleep
Why Do Sleep Regressions Occur?
The topic of sleep regression in children often incites feelings of dread. However, regressions in rest are, overall, a positive occurrence. These seemingly backward movements in development are actually progressive. In fact, these events indicate your kiddo is progressing and growing at a healthy pace.
While frustrating, they're ultimately indicative of enormous developmental bursts. Since growing up so quickly takes a tremendous amount of energy, they can feel overly tired and cranky as a result.
Have you ever been so tired you couldn't sleep? It can be likened to that same phenomenon.
Coping With This Issue
Struggling with a setback in your kid's rest habits can be exhausting for any parent. However, there are ways to cope. First of all, it helps to remember regressions are temporary, your and your child's sleepless nights will not last forever, and bedtime will get easier.
Ways to mitigate these issues involve sticking with a schedule and keeping a nighttime routine, as deviations can cause stress or anxiety. Additionally, make sure your tyke is getting plenty of naptime during the day, as an overtired baby will be more difficult to settle come nightfall.
Common Reasons Why Your Newborn Won't Sleep
If you're struggling to sort out why your infant won't close their eyes, it can be due to an array of issues, not because they enjoy seeing you pull your hair out. Your child needs zzz's just as much as you, and it's usually due to feelings of frustration caused by an issue that can often be helped. Below we discuss what you can do.
Baby Has Skipped a Nap
Skipping a nap is a big indicator your newborn will express more difficult behavior later in the day. Not only are tired babies more cranky but they're more challenging to settle when it comes time to put them down for another nap or bedtime as well.
If you're out and about and they do miss a nap or take a short one in the car, just keep in mind that they may be cranky later in the day and have a harder time settling down. If you can't get home, extend that car nap by running through the drive thru or taking the long way home to avoid a meltdown later in the evening.
They Don't Know Day From Night
When infants are born, their circadian rhythm lacks development because for nine months your child was bundled up inside of a dark womb. Night and day mean nothing to them because in the womb, it didn't matter. When they emerge they have no concept of this and, as a result, will take a bit of time to adjust.
To help develop this cognitive function, it may help to employ a few tricks to encourage sleep. Things like darkness and soft noise can help children to sleep and spur the adjustment of their internal clocks.
It can help to keep their bedroom (or yours if you're co-sleeping) very dark so when they're inside it's easier to sleep. Investing in blackout curtains may sound like a pain, but they come at a variety of prices and can be installed by even the clumsiest of humans. (It's easier than it looks, and if I can do it, anyone can.)
Additionally, white noise machines for babies are known to help as well. You'd be surprised how loud the inside of a womb is, and it can remind them of this cozy time inside.
Growth spurts or “wonder weeks,” while terrific for overall development, can be a nightmare for parents trying to get their kiddo to bed. Due to the fact that infants are so little, they're growing constantly and often go through developmental bursts. When this happens, they may become overly tired or easily fussy because their body is exerting so much energy to process their growth.
Feeling Cold or Hot
It's easy to want to bundle up your babe warm to ensure they don't get chilly through the night; however, they may be uncomfortable and need a few layers taken off. A good way to check is to feel their chest—if it feels hot to the touch, take off a layer. If they're cold, throw on another.
One of the most common culprits of restlessness is overtiredness. Despite sounding counter-intuitive, when your kiddo is exhausted, they become more cranky and irritable, leading to difficult behavior. When children become fixated on something or inconsolable, it can be challenging to settle them upon bedtime.
A good way to combat this is to ensure they get proper naps every day. It can be tempting to skip a nap if you're running errands with your munchkin in tow, but doing so could result in a more difficult evening and even following day. Following a set sleepytime routine can help your little one know when it's time to close their eyes.
Babies eat a lot, and it's important to feed them as needed. As caregivers, we naturally want to make sure our newborns are not being overfed or underfed. If your tyke is waking up in the middle of the night despite the ability to self-soothe, they may be waking up due to hunger.
If you think this may be the cause, try encouraging your tot to snack or nurse a little longer during the day to squeeze in more calories. If they're not hungry during the day, another technique to get them to eat more is called “dream feeding,” when you gently feed them after they've fallen asleep. However, it's important to use caution and hold them properly.
While it's great to wear your infant out so they sleep soundly at night, they can become overly excited if they're exposed to too much stimulation. Passing a sociable baby around and getting them acquainted with new family members is excellent for social conditioning; however, stopping before they're so overstimulated that they can't settle is key.
Try to notice their sleep cues—this could include yawning, rubbing their eyes, fussiness, or nodding off. When they're visibly tired, try to lay them down so they can rest immediately. In addition, putting your newborn down while they're still awake will help with sleep training.
Can Mother's Diet Be a Potential Cause?
Generally speaking, mothers don't need to modify their diet while breastfeeding. However, drinking significant amounts of alcohol and caffeine are discouraged. If your newborn is having trouble sleeping, try avoiding coffee as a way to rule it out as a culprit.
Your Newborn Doesn't Feel Well
Unfortunately, the only means of communication before our kiddos learn to speak is crying. Due to their still-developing cognition, they aren't able to articulate their precise needs, and sometimes we may not guess correctly.
If your munchkin is having trouble sleeping, it may be due to an illness. Running a fever, or colic can be common in little ones, and they aren't always easy to spot. Make sure you check their temperature and look for symptoms if they're sleeping irregularly.
Lack of Routine
Routine can play a significant factor in children's wellbeing and sleep regulation—even adults like to know what to expect. Implementing a stable schedule can assist in establishing a secure relationship regarding activities and will help to ease any stress, allowing them to snooze easily.
Additionally, doing the same activities in the same order every day will assist in muscle memory. Your little one will grow accustomed to dinner, bath time, reading a book, and singing softly before going down for bed. Associating certain things with night time can also prompt them to grow drowsy as the routine goes on.
If your tot is having trouble sleeping, try implementing a comfortable yet firm routine, and stick with it for a few weeks. They should improve with time as it will give them a sense of security and trust.
Baby Wants to Play
They may have excess energy they need to express, and if this is the case, they'll need a bit more attention and playtime before nightfall. Laying in bed wide awake with pent up energy isn't fun for adults, and it's certainly not fun for babies either.
Inability to Transition From Active to Passive Sleep
Infants don't have the same sleep cycles as adults because their brains haven't had time yet to develop fully. As time goes on they'll gain this ability, but until then, much of their snoozing hours will be spent in active sleep, which is similar to REM.
During this stage, newborns are more likely to wake up, making them more prone to sensitive sleep habits. Infants endure about 50% of their dream time in active sleep, and adults only spend about 20%.
As a result, this allows for more chances to wake up due to a disturbance. While it's not encouraged to keep quieter than you normally would when your babe is asleep, it does explain any sensitive wakings.
They Need a Sleep Prop
We all enjoy our comforts, and newborns particularly enjoy something that brings them a sense of familiarity. Having something in bed with them that signifies nighttime can help prompt them to doze off. Many children have special blankets or stuffed animals they tote around, and even a piece of cloth that smells like a parent can provide additional comfort.
How to Get Your Newborn to Sleep: Problems and Solutions
Figuring out how to get your babe to sleep can feel like a never ending puzzle. However, luckily, many parents have already gone through similar issues, creating countless resources and tips on how to solve these problems. Below are a few ways to get your little party animal to bed.
Baby Refuses to Sleep on Her Back
Some newborns don't enjoy sleeping on their backs from the beginning, which can seem tricky to solve, as everyone's got personal preference. However, babies who sleep in other positions are correlated with a higher rates of SIDS. If this is the case, there are a few ways to mitigate this issue without compromising their health.
You can try rocking them before setting them down, placing your hand on their chest, and rocking them back and forth (in their swaddle) to comfort them. Additionally, swaddling tykes can help enormously in creating a secure, cozy environment for your little one, reminiscent of the womb.
If they still don't like sleeping on their back, it's wise to consult a pediatrician to rule out any physical or medical conditions. Keep in mind, research has shown that sleeping on the back is still the safest position—even with acid reflux—and does not cause choking in newborns.
Restless Sleeping Caused by Night Feedings
Just like anyone else, babies love to eat and cuddle, and when they're being fed, they're also being held securely, offering comfort and security. Being that they digest food so quickly, they're often hungry in the middle of the night when they're young, and they can grow attached to the idea of a midnight snack.
A good way to wean your tot off this habit is to dream feed them. This is when you feed your infant after they've gone down for bed and are asleep. You gently rouse them but don't wake them up. Be sure to position them correctly so they're ingesting safely, and let them sleepily nurse while they're half-asleep.
Doing this should top them off and allow them to sleep soundly through the night and prevent mid-night wakings due to hunger.
Teething tots have it rough—not only are their teeth beginning to come through their soft young gums but they don't have the communication skills to express what they need either. This can cause a lot of stress and exhaustion for a small child and equally as much for parents.
If your little one is enduring teething pains there are a few ways to help. Try giving them a soft wet washcloth to gnaw on, this is not only malleable and appropriate for babies, but gives them something to distract themselves from the pain of their emerging teeth.
Additionally, you can always consult your pediatrician. Although teething pain should not disrupt sleeping patterns, if it is particularly bad, there is pain medication appropriate for infants to relieve teething pain and hopefully grant them the comfort to sleep.
Struggling with an infant who doesn't want to sleep can be exhausting for any parent; additionally, it can become worrisome as well. Naturally, we want to give our little ones the best care possible, and if we're up all night trying to get them to sleep, it can feel like an uphill battle.
You're not alone. There are countless other caregivers out there dealing with similar issues. As a result, there is a world of knowledge at our fingertips to help guide us through this journey. Keep up the good work, rockstars! You've got this.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.