While we dream of having a little love bug of our own, we often don’t envision the inevitable sleepless nights and crying fits while wondering why a baby won’t sleep. If you’re feeling frustrated, you’ve got company. There are likely many other parents in the same boat, struggling with similar baby woes.
Deciphering what your baby needs can be challenging when there is a buffet of possibilities. In this article, we’ll break down the potential ways in which your little one might be needing some additional care or guidance. And hopefully, with a bit of finesse, your little one will be counting baby sheep in no time.
Common Reasons Your Baby Won't Sleep and How to Fix It
Ages 0-1 Months
When your child is a newborn, due to their tiny size, they need to eat frequently. There is not much they’ll be doing besides eating and sleeping when they’re this young.
You're Still Working on Getting a Schedule Down
When babies are first born, while incredibly intelligent and instinctual, they are still developing many of their essential human functions. An important one, in particular, is their circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is what regulates your body’s internal clock and lets you know when it’s time to be awake, when to eat, and when to sleep.
Without a routine in place for your little one, they won’t have a clue as to the proper time to be awake versus when to go to bed. Additionally, if our circadian rhythms aren’t functioning as they should, this can lead to sleep disorders, obesity, depression, and other severe conditions.
It can feel near impossible to keep a schedule with a baby who’s wake every other hour; however, even the smallest adjustments can make a big difference. Sometimes they can still pick up on cues like reading, bathing, or singing before bedtime. Studies have shown that merely hearing a parent’s voice fosters bonding and growth.
Your Newborn Won't Sleep on Their Back
Babies have what’s called the Moro reflex, which is an involuntary reflex and causes them to have sporadic physical spasms. When putting your infant down for bed, laying them on their backs could cause this reflex to be activated and make them feel as though they're falling, triggering them to startle.
Interestingly, little one’s under the age of three or four months old, typically don’t have control of their limbs yet. Putting a child down from being held to a position flat on their backs can sometimes initiate this reflex, and once their arms or legs being to flail, your little one can feel out of control or insecure.
We can deal with this reflex in a few different ways. Swaddling them can be a great tool, as this keeps their limbs tight and snuggled in their bundle, and makes babies feel more secure. Additionally, you can take their arms and gently move them to their sides to increase their bodily awareness. Lastly, holding them close until they calm themselves works excellent as well.
Ages 2-3 Months
At two to three months old, your infant is still young, and with your help, will settle into the routines of their childhood.
Baby Could Have Started Teething
Teething can cause a lot of issues with sleep in more ways than you might think. When babies begin to have teeth sprouting through their little gums, as you can imagine, it’s extraordinarily painful for them.
Sleeping and teething don’t always appear to be related to each other. However, the two are often intertwined. Teething newborns can frequently develop a mild fever as the result of developing teeth. Temperatures can bring about regressions in sleep, causing them to snooze more to combat the illness, or, less, out of discomfort.
If your little bugger is hurting, you can offer them a damp washcloth to gnaw on to relieve tension. Additionally, if it’s particularly painful, you can consult your medical professional about treating it with painkillers suitable for children. Just like adults need care when they’re ill, our small babes need the same attention.
It Could Be a Sleep Regression
As our children grow, they will experience a multitude of stages, bringing about shifts in their behavior as well as their needs. Sleep regressions often occur every few months, but most notably around the age of four months, eight months and, 10-12 months.
Regressions in sleep usually happen because our babies are going through a growth spurt. These bursts in development, while challenging at times due to complex shifts in behavior, are beautiful phenomenons. These indicators mean our infant’s minds and bodies are growing and developing at a rapid pace.
While this may ultimately be a positive effect, in the long run, it doesn’t help that this causes our tiny munchkins to be extremely fussy, fight sleep, nap less, and wake more frequently during the night.
Your Baby Might Be Hungry
Knowing what’s right for your child can be challenging as every kiddo offers new opportunities for learning and understanding. What’s normal for one baby might not be for another. Feeding schedules can change dramatically from one little one to the next, even within the same family.
If you’re feeding your little hungry hippo well before bedtime with the good intention of not letting them associate bedtime with eating, we commend your efforts. Doing so is wise in regards to self-soothing. However, being that infants are so tiny, their tummies are unable to hold much food at a time and need to eat or nurse frequently to satiate their seemingly constant hunger.
As our youngsters swiftly grow and develop, they’re digesting food continuously and turning their nutrients into fuel. Digestion stimulates their ability to evolve, and because it happens so quickly, they need to feed often. If your little one seems to be hungry after going down for bedtime, it may be a good idea to feed them closer to bed, or even do a “dream feed” after they’ve gone down, topping them up before the night.
Ages 4-6 Months
Every stage in our youngster’s evolution will be unique and, as a result, keep us on our toes in terms of adapting to their needs.
You Might Need to Adjust Their Nap Schedule
Humans are capable of extreme adaption; it makes us highly capable of surviving in various environments. Our babies are no different and are miraculously intelligent, even right out of the womb. However, when they’re new to the world, they need a lot of attention and care, and as adults, we often need to adapt to their schedules if we want them to get proper rest.
Tweaking your child’s routine to better suit their needs might be just the ticket to smoother days and nights. Some youngsters may prefer napping straight after breakfast, although others might not need a nap until later in the morning. Try to tune in to their cues to pick up on their preferences.
If they’re jazzed up after eating and want to play, let them wear themselves out before nap time; if they’re drowsy after lunchtime, let them go down when it suits them. Eventually, our babes will need to adapt to the real world, but when they’re little, it might be easier to adjust to theirs.
Your Baby Doesn't Like Sleeping Alone
As babies can’t fend for themselves and feel more safe and secure when they have your attention, they naturally would sleep in your arms every night if you allowed them. Alas, we all need sleep to function, even parents.
Additionally, being inside your womb isn’t nearly as quiet as you may imagine it to be. It’s full of amniotic fluid, and babies are always being bounced around while growing inside of an adult human all day. All that movement and fluid makes a constant whirring noise that’s much louder than you’d think.
Our children become accustomed to this cozy, loud environment before they emerge into our world, so softly shush-ing your little munchkin or setting a white noise machine near their crib can remind them of the home they once knew so well, and make them feel less alone.
Further, your little angel doesn’t have to sleep alone, there are multiple ways you can safely co-sleep when they are newborns, and then it’s a win-win for everybody.
Other Reasons Your Baby Isn't Sleeping Well
Figuring out why your child isn’t sleeping well can feel like a wild goose chase that never ends. Read on as we explore possible issues and solutions to get your family a solid night’s rest.
Your Little One is Restless from Being Overstimulated
Exposing your children to various scenarios and different groups of people to acclimate and socialize them to the world is wise. It allows your little one to familiarize themselves with locations outside the home, practice being social, and explore new things. However, keep in mind your little adventurer probably has a sociability limit, so It’s essential to keep tabs on how they’re feeling.
Many of us have seen a kid who’s thrown a tantrum at the end of a birthday party, and it’s probably not because they had a terrible time. Just like adults, kids get worn out too.
Passing around your love bug at a gathering may sound splendid, as everyone will likely want to hold and bounce the baby; however, be careful your little one isn’t overstimulated. Too much fun can leave kids feeling overwhelmed and anxious, with crying fits. When your tiny party animal becomes overwhelmed, it’s challenging to put them down for naps or relax at bedtime if they start crying, keeping your baby, and you awake much longer.
Irregular Feeding Schedules
If your hungry little hippo seems unhappy yet she’s continuously fed, it may be because she’s unable to count on the regularity in which she’s feeding. Our little cuddle bears need routine and stability to feel secure and safe in the world, and when they’re feeling uncertain, things go awry.
Infants can’t feed or fend for themselves, so they count on their caregivers to do that for them. When they’re insecure about when their next meal or nap time will happen, they may get anxious, leading them to become fussy and needy around bedtime.
With this said, we all know how difficult it is to keep a regular schedule with a baby in tow, and when infants are very young, they can’t tell time. When they are hungry, they’re hungry and want to eat immediately.
In the beginning, you’ll probably just have to go with the flow, but as they grow up, it’s wise to keep things moving at a regular pace. The more routine days are, the more baby can expect, and the less anxious they should be as a result.
Your Baby is Learning to Self Soothe
Teaching your newborn to self-soothe can be stressful and confusing. It’s difficult to know how much to leave them on their own when they’re just starting to learn, and how often to offer parental support.
If you’re looking to raise your child to self-soothe, it’s important to discourage your little one not to associate anything like feeding or in bed or being rocked to sleep. Naturally, doing both of these things before being put down is fair game.
Both of these are great ways to soothe your child before sleep. However, becoming reliant on any external stimuli can lead to them becoming dependent on these things to do so. If they wake in the middle of the night, they may not be able to go back to bed without their necessities of codependency.
Uncomfortable Sleep Space
When you’re nesting and anxiously awaiting the arrival of your new little bundle of joy, it’s only natural to want to decorate baby’s new nursery. However, it’s crucial to prepare it to feel comfortable and cozy to sleep in as well.
Before being born into the world, your little bean will have been floating in a pod of amniotic fluid being constantly wooshed around, and it’s surprisingly loud in there. Additionally, when your munchkin is born, they have yet to develop their circadian rhythm, meaning they won’t know the difference between night and day. As a result, it’s up to caregivers to provide the cues.
It’s a great idea to invest in some blackout curtains to make their room dark without any bright or distracting stimuli that could keep them awake. Also, because it’s so noisy inside a tummy, a white noise machine can work wonders as well. With the comforts of their cozy womb-like environment, they’ll likely have an easier time nodding off.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I let my baby cry it out?
Letting your baby “cry it out” until they settle to sleep is a technique commonly employed by many parents. However, there are gentler ways to go about this, and a whole spectrum of variations in between. The “cry it out” method became popular in the 1880s when the medical world at the time was concerned about germs and the risk of mothers infecting their babies.
Clearly, times have changed, as have parenting methods. Kiddos from all family varieties grow up and survive just fine, albeit with characteristics and personalities representative of their youth.
What’s most important is doing what feels natural and instinctual to you. Whether you want to be strict about sleep training, or co-sleep for years, it’s up to you. Different folks want different things for their little ones, and in the end, parents usually know their children best.
Babies come with a laundry list of joys and challenges, and getting them to bed and sleep through the night is often at the top. If you’re having difficulty with your little sleep monster, know that you’re not alone. Many parents are probably struggling with the same issues.
Read more: Parent's Guide to a Child's Sleep
What’s important to remember is that whatever stage your munchkin is at, it’s only temporary. What seems to be the trend this week could be wildly different the very next. When you’re at your wit’s end during a sleepless night, remember, tomorrow could be a completely new experience so try to enjoy your sweet baby’s needy cuddles while they last.