10 Reasons Why Babies Don’t Sleep….

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… and how you can help!

There is an expectation that babies sleep a lot, 12 hours at night, 4 or 5 hours during the day, that they will start ‘sleeping through the night’ from 6 weeks old, that they can be popped in their cot and they will happily drift off to sleep with a yawn and a sigh. If you have a baby like this then you got the exception and not the rule; you might have been told you have a ‘text book’ baby? The people who wrote the text books generally dont have babies/are men/are scientists/live in a fantasy land….

Babies do generally NEED a lot of sleep, yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will easily get as much as they need; its up to parents to work with our babies to help them get the sleep that they do need. So often I hear people struggling with bedtimes, night wakings and nap times; at a loss as to why their baby is waking up, so here are 10 reasons why babies wake up or struggle to fall asleep, and some tips to help overcome them.

In addition to the reasons listed below, babies (and adults) all wake up during the night as we shift through sleep cycles. Most of us just turn over, adjust our pillow and fall back to sleep, but babies can have sleep associations; meaning that if your baby falls asleep snuggled up in your arms, and then wakes up alone in a cot he will probably get upset and want to be back in your arms to fall back to sleep, or if they fall asleep breastfeeding they will need that sensation to get them back to sleep when they wake during the night. For more information on this I highly recommend the No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.


1. They’re hungry
Its the most common reason given for a baby waking up and sometimes it will be the actual reason. Whether a baby is formula fed or breastfed, fed every 4 hours or completely on demand a baby (up until 18 months in some cases) can feel hunger during the night or right before they go to bed; they may be going through a growth spurt and need more food than normal for a couple of days, they may just be having a hungry day (don’t you ever have them?), teething may be changing their appetite, or they might just need to be fed every 2 or 3 hours (this is especially true for younger breastfed babies; they have teeny tiny tummies and breast-milk is digested very quickly so they need small and frequent feedings)… whatever the reason never rule out hunger as a reason for night waking, but equally don’t try to control ‘behaviour’ with food as they are lots of other things that can cause sleep difficulties.


2. They’re thirsty
This seems to be entirely overlooked a lot of the time. I sleep just fine most of the time but there are occasions when I wake up in the night thirsty, particularly when its hot. I always keep a bottle of water next to my bed. 12 hours is a long time to go without anything to eat or drink, especially when you’re tiny! Try to keep your baby hydrated through the day and don’t be afraid to offer a drink of water (check with your health care professional if under 6 months) during the night instead of, or in addition to milk, you’re not going to get into bad habits!


3. They’re over-tired (or over-stimulated)
Babies need a lot of sleep and can only cope with a certain amount of awake time (this varies depending on age but a 6 month old will probably only cope with about 2 or 3 hours at most before needing a nap). They also need a decent amount of sleep at night (this may be broken stretches) of about 11 hours. If baby misses a nap, or has a bad night’s sleep, or is over-stimulated by toys or noise or anything else they will probably be find it very difficult to fall asleep and will become irritated, fussy, cry-y or hyperactive if they are older. Some skin to skin contact, a relaxing bath, a cuddly feed, darkness, being carried in a sling or in your arms, or another way that your little one likes to calm down before attempting a nap or bedtime may help. Create a consistent peaceful bedtime routine, be patient and keep calm; baby will overcome the over-tiredness and settle down to sleep with your help and love.

4. They need movement 
Babies and young children need gross sensory interaction, which is essentially being carried, moved and held in different ways. Babies have a lot to get used to as they transition from womb to world, they’re nervous systems are fragile and they do not have the emotional or physical capacity to cope with big feelings like hunger, tiredness and pain. Pressure, weightlessness and movement can ease the irritation on the nervous system and soothe physical anxiety. Imagine you have a back ache, or go back to the aches of pregnancy; if you ever went swimming during either of these you will probably remember the relief of pain and discomfort as the water supported your weight? Its a similar feeling for babies; they need you to take over their bodies and calm their nerves. Using a sling or wrap can be really useful as they hold baby tightly and securely to you.


5. They need to suck
For similar reasons as above babies have a physical need to suckle, be it on the breast, bottle or dummy.  Lots of helpful relatives will tell you that your baby doesn’t need to breastfeed more than every 4 hours… they’re wrong basically. They might want to comfort suck or they may be suckling to increase your supply, particularly through a growth spurt. Some babies benefit from sucking a dummy/pacifier to release cranial pressure, or if they struggle to comfort suck at the breast due to wind, reflux or over-supply of milk. Allow your baby to suck when they need to, and ignore any unhelpful advice. Babies need what they need.


6. They are teething 
Teething is awful. Some lucky children don’t appear to notice, others really struggle. Teething is also much worse at night when there are no distractions and baby is lying down, causing all the pressure to go to the head and jaw making discomfort worse, so even if your baby seems fine during the day they maybe suffering during the night. Teething can also cause restlessness, tummy ache and nappy rash, and can affect appetite, so try to help all possibly symptoms. Teething powders which contain Camilia can be really helpful. Suckling can also soothe toothache, cold milk or water, ice (for older babies), teething toys to chew on, movement, distractions, and medicines can also help.


7. They are learning a new skill 
Is your baby learning to sit up, roll over, crawl, chew, grab, wave, talk, stand, walk or something else? Some babies when learning new skills will wake up in the night to practice or process the development. If your baby is waking up but not crying and wanting to play and talk with you its quite possible this is the reason. They might also find it hard to switch off at bedtime, wanting to practice walking, interacting with you or their siblings, etc… There isn’t a lot you can do about it really; a calm bedtime routine can help, and make sure that your baby has lots of opportunity during the day to explore their new world and just remember this too shall pass…


8. They are in pain or are poorly
Babies are sensitive little things; teething pain, tummy ache, trapped wind, acid reflux, colds and coughs, and many more aches, pains and illnesses can cause discomfort for your baby. Obviously if you suspect an illness consult your doctor and follow up with any prescribed treatment. For colds and coughs you can use baby vapour oil to help, baby massage, create a steam room in your bathroom, try raising the head of the cot a little, extra feeds, and lots of cuddles can help. For more prolonged cases of wind or reflux consider cranial osteopathy or cranial-sacral therapy. Don’t forget that babies cant tell us that they have a head ache or a sore throat, so if baby is fussy there is always a reason; just do your best to soothe them with the things that help your baby.


9. They need a change of routine 
At about 6-9 months your baby will likely go from 3 naps to 2 naps, perhaps they will start waking up at 6am instead of 7am, or be very over tired at 8pm and need an earlier bedtime? All babies are different, but they do all go through changes as they get older, so try to be aware of any changes they are making in their routine, or lead the change yourself. If your 5 month old suddenly wont go to bed until 10pm perhaps they need to drop their early evening nap? If baby is waking up at 5am they may need an earlier (true) bedtime. Or consider shifting meal times for an earlier dinner, add supper time before bed. Do what works for your family, but dont be afraid of change.


10. They want to be close to you 
Babies want to be close to their parents, especially mummy. For millions of years humans slept with their babies and children close to them, it was only with the invention of the bed and cot that this started to change. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH CO-SLEEPING! (safely). Your child will not stay in your bed until they’re a teenager, they won’t become clingy and you won’t “make a rod for your back” (Blah blah blah). It is natural for you and your baby to want to be close to each other. And you don’t have to co-sleep, you could just cuddle your baby to sleep and then pop them in their own bed. Babies are so little, but for such a short time; enjoy your snuggles.

I hope you find this list helpful. Remember whatever sleep struggles you’re going through it wont last forever and your baby isn’t not sleeping just to piss you off; there’s ALWAYS a reason. Please don’t leave your baby to cry on their own for any length of time… even if nothing is wrong they are just tiny people that probably need a cuddle.

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Post Author: Kat

Katherine has a background in special education, early years childcare, and has a BA and MA in the creative and performing arts. She blogs at Creative Playhouse about her children’s activities and interests, including offering an Ecourse on Connecting Family through Creative Play, she also runs parent communities, is a designer and a work at home mum to Jake (3.5) and Poppy (15 months).

57 thoughts on “10 Reasons Why Babies Don’t Sleep….

    sara

    (August 30, 2012 - 3:22 pm)

    Great article.

      Kat - Creative Playhouse and My-ology

      (August 30, 2012 - 3:28 pm)

      thank you Sara

      Carolina

      (August 22, 2015 - 4:32 pm)

      I did the sleep sense program HIGHLY recommend it. Here’s the program http://www.sleepsense.net/share.html?p=sleepbabysleep&w=buynow

      Andrea Lane

      (March 19, 2016 - 1:13 pm)

      My baby never slept well (especially through the night) until I started using http://www.InstantBabySleep.org – by far one of the best things I’ve ever got my hands on to get him to fall asleep quickly. Best time is 45 seconds from awake to asleep! Can’t imagine life without it! I heard about it through a kindergarten teacher who uses it to put to sleep a group of 30 children.

      Andrea Lane

      (March 19, 2016 - 1:14 pm)

      My baby never slept well (especially through the night) until I started using InstantBabySleep -dot- org – by far one of the best things I’ve ever got my hands on to get him to fall asleep quickly. Best time is 45 seconds from awake to asleep! Can’t imagine life without it! I heard about it through a kindergarten teacher who uses it to put to sleep a group of 30 children.

      Melissa

      (March 17, 2017 - 2:07 pm)

      I actually had a sleep consultant help me. I had such a hard time with my LO, he was waking about 6-8 times a night!!! He’s sleeping about 11hrs a night now, after the first we started. And its gentle methods, I was agains CIO. Highly recommend my consutlant http://violetsleepbabysleep.com/baby-sleep-consultant/

    Kara

    (August 30, 2012 - 3:35 pm)

    Agree agree agree!!!

    Cydney

    (August 30, 2012 - 6:50 pm)

    Great! It’s amazing how many people (mainly Americans it seems) think this way of thinking is wrong. I love it. I practice this with my little man and it’s been great! Thanks for this concise and heartfelt “explanation” of this approach.

      Kat - Creative Playhouse and My-ology

      (November 10, 2012 - 10:42 pm)

      thank you Cydney. It is amazing how many people and professionals preach the cry it out method. I hope this does help people to think otherwise…

      Boon

      (November 26, 2012 - 5:02 am)

      “Mainly Americans” comment is strange. Do you have any data to back this statement up or are you just generalizing for the fun of it?

    Diana

    (August 30, 2012 - 11:41 pm)

    I found this on Pinterest today, and was thinking “oh no..another ‘sleep training’ article”. I am very pleasantly surprised!! More people need to think this way, I love your ending phrase “even if nothing is wrong they are just tiny people that probably need a cuddle.”. Thank you!!

    Gina

    (August 31, 2012 - 12:26 am)

    Thanks so much for sharing this article! We are in the process of adopting a newborn (our first little guy was 9 months old and slept through the night when we adopted him!) and we just don’t know what to expect. Having these thoughts all in one place will surely help me keep my sanity and help me understand my little one when he or she comes into our lives. 🙂

    Bethany

    (August 31, 2012 - 1:07 am)

    What a great article, Joanna. My first child had “colic” and screamed for hours a day, and after doing some research I came to a lot of these conclusions with our next baby. It has made a world of difference.

      Anonymous

      (September 1, 2012 - 1:00 am)

      Our first baby was colicky as well and several adjustments on our part and our second child is a DREAM!!

      Anonymous

      (March 28, 2013 - 7:45 am)

      please tell me what these adjustments were! we’ve had sleep issues with our child from day 10 and he is now 14 months old. we’ve tried everything. i live in fear of having a second child….

    Melitsa @ Play Activities

    (August 31, 2012 - 5:28 pm)

    Thanks for linking your article to Friday Finds.
    We love the No cry sleep solution. Really gave us some direction.

    Anonymous

    (September 2, 2012 - 5:13 pm)

    I have 4 children and have seen so many of my family and friends care for their babies this way, and all the frustration and headache they have trying to get the toddler, not the baby out of the bed. Also they can’t seem the end the nursing when they are ready to, my friend nursed for 2 extra years because she did what advice is being given here. They had no schedule to do are ends or have any time to themselves because the baby wouldn’t take a bottle. I did not sleep train my children on purpose but I did have a bed time reutine that we had and I nursed every 3 hours which was my babies schedule. I did not let my baby use me as a pacifier. Everything fell into place and at 4 weeks they where sleeping through the night. Oh, and I did have 2 babies that had acid reflux and colic.

      Kat - Creative Playhouse and My-ology

      (September 2, 2012 - 5:39 pm)

      thanks for your reply, its good to hear varied opinions. We have really strong bedtime routines too and our 2.5 year old is in bed and asleep by himself (by choice) by 7.45 each night, and sleeps all night long, yet did all the things in this article. All children and families are different, as you’ve illustrated. 🙂 I have posts planned for toddler sleep and bedtime routines; I hope you come back to read them. 🙂

    Samara Kiser

    (September 11, 2012 - 2:45 am)

    People and my daughters pediatrician say to let her cry and not to pick her up or feed her when it’s bed time, or in the middle of the night. I don’t know of its just me but I feel like letting her cry for a long time is wrong and that she needs me. It has not worked and she doesn’t self-soothe so I just go with my gut. I hope she can learn to sleep through the night soon since she’s almost ten months but she needs me to comfort or feed her to sleep.

      Kat - Creative Playhouse and My-ology

      (November 10, 2012 - 10:46 pm)

      Samara – read the no cry sleep solution – it will help you, without a doubt. Sorry for the late reply, and I hope your little one is sleeping better now.

    Anonymous

    (September 13, 2012 - 6:10 am)

    I am not a doctor, but I don’t imagine that in those few
    Precious moments you have to help build a child’s psychological strength, and when it is developing neurologically, that you should express to them, with ignoring, that you will not meet their needs, and that they can not depend on you. So I agree with you samara 🙂

    Haily Roswell

    (September 23, 2012 - 5:35 am)

    You have a really great article here and I totally agree with you. I especially like the last part, just being close to your baby really helps, it’s a great way to bond too.

    Anonymous

    (September 23, 2012 - 7:39 am)

    It’s nice to hear about other people out there doing almost the same things as I am doing with my 9 month old. The “cry it out” method just seems a little drastic to me.. We co-sleep (im very conscious of her while sleeping) and its been great so far because she eats when she’s hungry without really waking up so it allows her to sleep 10-12 hrs a night. So many people try to discourage me, but if you’re safely able to I see nothing wrong. 🙂 they’re only a baby once in their life. Take advantage of little moments!

    Anonymous

    (November 10, 2012 - 9:44 pm)

    Good for you for writing this! And for all the mothers who will read and be helped by this!

    erin

    (November 11, 2012 - 2:54 pm)

    Finally! An article about sleeping babies that I agree with! Fantastic, thank you. 🙂

    Tristan Neider

    (November 28, 2012 - 10:31 pm)

    Love it! Thanks you for sharing this opinion. I think some people feel like they need to keep co-sleeping a secret. I’m excited to check out the rest of your site.

    Mandy and Paul

    (December 4, 2012 - 4:34 pm)

    Lovely article. When we began co-sleeping, my daughter became happier during the day and slept better at night. As long as you do safely, co-sleeping is wonderful thing.

    Amy the Mean

    (December 28, 2012 - 8:22 am)

    First, let me say that the over- or under-stimulation point was excellent. Having a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (and knowing that most people have no idea what that is), I wish I knew more about stimulation issues when my son was an infant.

    That being said, there are two points that I want to make. First is that you said, “even if nothing is wrong….”. For a child under about 10 or 11 months, if they are crying, something is wrong. We may not be able to identify it or what is wrong to an infant may not be something that we would consider wrong, but infants don’t cry when everything is ok.

    Also, I’m not a fan of co-sleeping, but not for the reasons that most people aren’t fans of co-sleeping. The kids in a co-sleeping situation generally aren’t the problem. The parents are. Parents tend to be the ones who are unable to let go of the kids when it is in the kids’ best interest to sleep on their own. That’s where the problems come in for the kids. I’ve found that this is especially true for single mothers or mothers whose significant others travel a lot. As long as parents are truly doing what is in the best interest of the child, and not what is in the best interest of themselves, I agree that co-sleeping can be beneficial. As soon as the parents put themselves first, there can be a lot of issues that happen with kids due to co-sleeping.

    Anonymous

    (March 12, 2013 - 4:41 am)

    Love this article! I am American and did everything on here with my infant he is one now and sleeps whenever my husband and I lay down and eats when we do as well never listened to peoples advice very much I always went with my gut with my child and hes always slept with me but now has no problem sleeping in his own bed and actually prefers it which kinda breaks my heart :/ thank you for this article really great!!

    Mese

    (March 28, 2013 - 9:50 pm)

    I love your list, but I’m missing an other simple reason: they wake up to pee. I do elimination communication with my 26 month old daughter. Ir she wakes up and wants no bobos, she falls asleep easier if I let her on the potty. We started EC, when she was 1 month old and she gás been seu most of the nights since she was 8 monts old.

    Get Your Baby to Sleep

    (April 6, 2013 - 4:51 am)

    Aw, this is a nice list! I personally feel like hunger, the change in routine, and teething pain are the big culprits for when babies fight sleep… especially when they’ve normally been good sleepers. Mese makes a good point about the diaper, too, which is often a problem (even when you’re using overnight diapers).

    Anonymous

    (May 11, 2013 - 3:23 am)

    I was afraid to click on this and was very relieved at what I found. Anytime I read about a cry it out method I cringe for the babies out there being put through that because of something some bonehead wrote. And sad for the mommies that are heartbroken listening to their babies cry. Love the comment about parents cosleeping for millions of years! We live in a time when women are somehow convinced not to follow their instincts, the best advice available! Don’t rely on someone selling a book. Do what you think is right for you and your family!

    Allie

    (June 9, 2013 - 9:20 pm)

    This is very informative and reassuring! My 10 month old daughter also wakes up to poo though lol! I’m also convinced she has bad dreams sometimes. Interesting too about putting them to bed earlier if they tend to keep waking up earlier, as this may insure they sleep later. Strange how that works but I know that it does from experience!

    Stephanie

    (June 10, 2013 - 8:30 pm)

    I disagree. I think after 6 months babies should learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own. Often times moms want to help their babies when they are crying in the middle of the night, so they assume it’s for the any number of reasons you listed above. But really it’s just because the baby hasn’t learned how to go back to sleep on his own. When mom goes in to comfort a crying baby all night long she is just re establishing bad sleep habits. As long as baby is kept fed and hydrated throughout the day he/she won’t need a bottle or nurse in the middle of the night.

    Beth

    (October 9, 2013 - 11:44 pm)

    This is a really great article and it has some awesome pointers. But what if your baby just decides they don’t want to sleep ever again? And they fight you for an hour straight for any nap and for bedtime, and you already do everything you possibly can to make them comfortable enough to sleep? Seriously, I’ve done everything on the list and he still fights me to no end for every nap and for bedtime. He will NOT sleep. Have any pointers for that?

    Chris Jefferson

    (June 24, 2014 - 7:00 pm)

    I have not tested a lot of different ideas. But my mother recommended this http://bit.ly/1iudIaW and it works like a charm. Our son went right to sleep and stayed asleep the rest of the night.

    Elise

    (April 20, 2015 - 3:15 am)

    My baby was not sleeping well at night, we alter found out from his doctor that it was caused by some tummy problems, he prescribed babies magic tea which was very helpful

    […] Are you worried there’s a reason baby isn’t sleeping?  This list helps you check through common reasons to see if there’s a need – or if it’s a habit.  Via Mummyology […]

    Naty

    (January 20, 2016 - 12:51 pm)

    I agree! But what about when you are over tired so sleep deprived because of so many night wakings? Plus a toddler during the day? I feel I cant take it anymore people!! Mine is 7 mo. And I totally dislike the idea of letting her cry but if I sleep train in any way theres obviously gonna be some crying specially because she is EBF.

    Does Teething Make Babies Tired |

    (January 20, 2016 - 10:26 pm)

    […] 10 Reasons Why Babies Don’t Sleep…. – … – 4 Reasons to Love Baby Wearing What to do when you’ve had no sleep! 10 reasons we LOVE babies Attachment Parenting is Easy Confessions: I love my kids … […]

    Andrea

    (March 3, 2016 - 10:13 pm)

    So nice to read this. Like many have already written, I dreaded clicking on this but am so glad I did. There is so much pressure to do CC these days and it’s almost like of you are struggling with sleep issues and you don’t believe in CC then it’s your fault as a mother and you are ‘digging your own grave’.
    Many of the ‘experts’ seem to disregard the individual temperament of babies and I just know my daughter wouldn’t just be whinging if I left her to cry alone, she’d be heart broken.
    My 6 month girl is waking hourly this fortnight and it’s been a very long 6 months of on abs off sleep issues but I simply can’t justify leaving her to cry herself into hysteria.

    Ashley

    (April 6, 2016 - 1:58 am)

    Great article! So glad it’s not another CIO post! Applause! I think CIO is creating the rampant mental illness crisis we are seeing today. Thank you to all you moms and dads who are actually not neglecting your children 1/2 the day! You are helping to combat this CIO nonsense the AAP is pushing based on flawed studies and behavioristic theory. Kudos to you! Keep it up!

    Jyoti

    (July 4, 2016 - 6:47 am)

    Great article it changed my thinking

    katie

    (August 28, 2016 - 12:38 am)

    Im cuddled up nursing my 5 month old now…..he jus fell asleep at the brest. Reading this article as he’s close and falling asleep, I couldn’t agree with u more. Its comforting to know that co sleeping is jus fine. U r absolutely right, ” they r only babues for such a short time.” Its prinal ro be “attached” to our offspring.Thank you for the reassignment that I am doing everything right.

    Sabrina

    (October 20, 2016 - 4:52 am)

    Lovely article! Well worded and supportive. Despite advice from well-meaning family I could never leave my baby to “cry-it-out” to teach them a lesson about bedtime . Your last line was perfect in that they are tiny people who need cuddles! And honestly, even if I am exhausted at the end of the day, I’m totally spent and my patience is thin, a cuddle to help soothe my baby to sleep is medicine for him and for me. I think moms and babies need those cuddles, there’s nothing better in the whole world. A hard day melts away when my baby is close – which is why I don’t care if people get on my case for co sleeping . I don’t know why it’s so frowned upon here in North America? I love it 🙂

    Lisa

    (November 21, 2016 - 6:14 am)

    I know I am responding years later, but I am 25 yrs old with a one year old and I do everything in this article. My daughter sleeps through the night and she is a lot of fun during the day. The cry it out method is definitely not my choice. I love to show my daughter that I am always here for her. Neglecting at a time of need, is probably hurtful to the baby. But anywho, I am a happy mama and co-sleeping is amazing. Everyone has an opinion and each opinion is respected. But I will not change how I do things with my daughter and for my future children as well. =) Love this article! !!!

    Sonya

    (April 25, 2017 - 9:43 am)

    I have a ten month old that only has 5-7 hrs sleep of a night, goes down at 6.55 and wakes up so many times during the night then he’s up at 5am. I’m so tired and feeling down all the time. Advice welcome.

    steve

    (May 12, 2017 - 12:39 am)

    Thanks for such a great article… as a new Father of a 5mo old co-sleeper, I know from experience that this is not always easy and I am ashamed to say I’ve reached my point several times and was willing to let him “just cry it out” . Thankfully for him, my wife’s tenacity exceeds my own.
    steve recently posted…Coeliac Disease and the Gluten Free DietMy Profile

    Sara

    (July 9, 2017 - 9:46 pm)

    Excellent article and miraculous advice. I had been going through other articles and writings on this topic as ive been struggling with night wakings,

    I think all of your points are very precise and relevant. Ive tried regular night feeds , applying pressure with a blanket on top , giving panadol for pain and a little leg massage and tiredness before bedtime, and my baby is sleeping through the night.

    Jay

    (July 13, 2017 - 8:15 pm)

    FYI – The best sounds machine I have ever purchased was from Amazon (Link below!) It works amazing and has lasted for years now.. my three years old STILL asks to use it at night. I was pretty impressed by its durability and quality. Great purchase!
    https://www.amazon.ca/HoMedics-SS2000G3PK-CA-Relaxation-Machine-Nature/dp/B000F3QG0U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499972687&sr=8-1&keywords=white+noise+machine/sffortlesntree-20

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