All small children from early infancy to toddlers will face difficulty sleeping at some point. While this is completely natural, some babies will find it more difficult than others, even when you’ve introduced the best sleep promotion and evening wind-down routines.

Most of the time you’ll find that baby sleep problems phase out over time, or disappear completely once you get your child used to a consistent pattern. However, in some unfortunate cases, sleep problems will continue to persist for several weeks and months and you may start to question whether your child has an underlying problem, such as insomnia.

In this article, we’ll cover exactly what baby insomnia is, how you can identify it, and the best practices for handling it to improve your baby’s ability to achieve long and restful sleeps.

 

What is Baby Insomnia?

When parents refer to their children having baby insomnia, often this is just a way to characterize frequent lack of sleep or broken sleep patterns that their children may be experiencing, rather than referring to a serious underlying sleep disorder.

The truth is, diagnosing insomnia in infants, babies, and toddlers is extremely difficult. With adults and adolescents, you are able to use benchmarks and an idea of what “normal sleep” looks like, to assess whether sleep irregularity can be classified as an actual sleep disorder, or baby insomnia.

Diagnosing baby sleep insomnia can be incredibly difficult when they are still learning the basics when it comes to sleep.

With young babies on the other hand, everything is new and they’re still learning the basics when it comes to their ability to sleep. Therefore, it can be too difficult to characterise insomnia, which is always relative to a child’s normal individual sleep requirements, development stage, and daily activities.

 

Baby Sleep Routines — What’s Normal? 

In the first six months of development, it’s normal for your little one to wake up regularly at night. Whether they’re searching for their next feed or disturbed by slight changes in their environment, they’ll usually need some support to help them get back to sleep at night when they wake up.

Even when sleep patterns become more regular after the six month mark, your baby’s sleep routine could still vary a lot, making it hard tell exactly what “normal” even looks like.

Nevertheless, we’ve included some usual nighttime and daytime sleep needs according to Stanford Children’s Health as a benchmark to help you gauge whether your baby is sleeping properly.

AGE

TOTAL SLEEP HOURS

TOTAL HOURS OF NIGHTTIME SLEEP

TOTAL HOURS OF DAYTIME SLEEP

NEWBORN

16

8 to 9

8

1 MONTH

15.5

8 to 9

7

3 MONTHS

15

9 to 10

4 to 5

6 MONTHS

14

10

4

9 MONTHS

14

11

3

1 YEAR

14

11

3

1.5 YEARS

13.5

11

2.5

2 YEARS

13

11

2

 

If your baby drastically falls outside of these patterns suffering from constant restlessness, or if they suffer from trouble sleeping for periods of between three to six months, it could be a good idea to talk to your doctor, pediatrician or GP.

Trouble sleeping could involve:
• Waking up consistently more than three times a night
• Taking more than 45 minutes to settle down at night
• Feeling stressed or unhappy for long periods of the night, preventing them from sleeping

 

Most Common Baby Sleep Problems

Before you start worrying about your baby’s sleep problems, consider the most common causes of sleep issues that many children face.

 

Getting Hungry at Night

Many babies will wake up simply because they’re ready for a feed. Even if you think they’ve already received an ample amount of milk for the day, they may still need more. To check this is the case, simply pick your baby up out of the crib and observe whether they lean in toward your breast. This is a sure signal that they’re hungry.

A great idea to reduce this type of problem at night is to introduce a dream feed where you wake your baby up momentarily between 10.30 pm to midnight and let them have a small feed before letting them drop off back to sleep.

 

Sleep Environment

We’ve covered this extensively in other articles on our blog so feel free to browse away, but in summary, creating the perfect environment for sleep involves more than you might first think. Babies are highly sensitive to noise, light and other external factors that you may not be able to pick up on at first.

Do your best to optimise your baby’s room (and your home) for a better wind-down time and nighttime sleep. This includes turning off screens well before you start your bedtime routine; adjusting temperatures and eliminating any bright light sources from the room.

Small adjustments to your baby’s environment like lighting and temperature can make a huge difference to their ability to sleep.

 

Startling/Moro Reflex

The moro reflex is a completely natural reaction that babies experience when they are subjected to a slight change in their environment or position that causes them to experience a sensation similar to free falling. This could be a sudden noise or removing your arms from a supporting position.

We’ve covered more on the moro reflex in our blog: Moro Reflex: How to Stop it so that your Baby can get a Good Night’s Sleep.

 

Uncomfortable Clothing

One of the most underestimated aspects of the sleeping process and a huge cause of restlessness is the clothes that your baby sleeps in. You may not realize, but what you put your baby to sleep in could be the primary cause of their regular wakefulness.

Each baby is different and will have their own preferences about what is and isn't comfortable. Some babies will prefer an enclosed swaddle position when they’re sleeping while others will want more freedom. 

Also, what might work at one stage might not at another phase of development. For instance, many parents are shocked when they’re little ones appear wide awake and night while trying to struggle and free themselves from the swaddle position they used to love so much. And when it is removed they look equally troubled. This is clearly a difficult predicament, but one that has a few smart solutions if you browse baby swaddle transition clothing such as the Zippy-Swaddle or Zipadee-Zip.

Items like this will offer your baby a certain amount of freedom and mobility that they crave, while also giving them the warm and enclosed comfort of the swaddle that they’re so used to, counteracting restlessness and encouraging long, peaceful sleeps.

 

What Is Infant Sleep Disturbance (ISD)?

ISD is another term that parents commonly use when talking about their children’s regular wakefulness at night. It is characterized by babies that wake up usually crying and unable to return to sleep until they are comforted by their parents.

Many experts attribute this to the same reasons that cause the moro reflex or environmental conditions. Others place focus more on the fact that children are not yet working to our normal Circadian Rhythms, meaning they’re unable to fall into the same kinds of deep sleep that adults are able to.

 

Potential Reasons for Sleep Anomalies

Below are a few causes of potential sleep problems that you can also consider when trying to figure out the cause for your baby’s sleep troubles. They might be less obvious to identify at first but can have a big impact on sleeping ability.

Vitamin deficiency 

Certain vitamins like B6 aid in the production of serotonin and melatonin, which are important for achieving good sleep.

Breathing problems 

Your baby might be having trouble sleeping because they are finding it hard to breathe at a sufficient rate. Observe this carefully and consult a specialist if you are concerned.

Food allergies 

Certain food ingredients may be the cause of irritation or upset stomachs. Check with your doctor whether your child is allergic to any food types and eliminate them from their diet.

Sickness 

A number of illnesses or colds could be preventing your child from sleeping. Addressing the underlying issue may help them sleep much better.

Colic 

Increased fussiness and crying for babies that are otherwise perfectly healthy can prevent many infants from sleeping.

 

How to Identify Baby Sleep Problems

Before you make any drastic changes, or call your doctor for some urgent help, it’s a good idea to try and figure out what’s causing your baby’s sleeping problems. This will let you tailor your future sleep strategy to be more effective and help you get to know your baby’s sleep patterns and characteristics better — including what triggers them to wake up suddenly at night.

• Identify potential triggers of a bad sleep pattern
• Phase out these triggers one by one
• Observe your baby’s ability to sleep carefully
• Implement a positive bedtime routine that eliminates any and all sleep prevention triggers
• Encourage your baby to sleep independently

A good way to identify the reason your baby isn’t sleeping is to carefully observe their behavior at night.

 

Should I Use the Ferber Method?

The Ferber method is an approach designed to guide an infant to a natural sleep cycle by applying “progressive waiting” periods. This means letting your baby cry for longer intervals of time before you offer any support.

The idea is that you nurture your little one's ability to master their own sleep cycle and develop their own coping strategies for wakefulness. While this might sound tough, many people have claimed the Ferber method has a substantial impact on creating strong and stable sleep patterns for the future.

Best practices for creating a healthy baby bedtime sleep routine
• A consistent bedtime routine
• Transition to the right environment (eliminate external stimulants)
• A relaxing bath and skin care routine
• A soothing massage
• Proper clothing for sleep
• Put your baby into the crib while still drowsy (not asleep)
• Introduce a dream feed

 

Still Concerned?

Remember, every infant is different and most periods of poor sleep tend to phase out with enough time and healthy bedtime routines. However, if you are still concerned about whether your baby’s sleep problems are a cause of an underlying health condition or sleep disorder like baby insomnia, the best thing to do is contact a child nurse, GP or pediatrician who should be able to give you complete peace of mind about whether there is anything to worry about.


Sources:

https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/sleep/solving-sleep-problems/baby-sleep-problems
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/getting-baby-to-sleep
https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=infant-sleep-90-P02237