Everything You Need to Know About Baby Sleep Problems

Babies need a great deal of sleep to maintain healthy growth and development. As well as giving their body the time to recuperate, establishing strong and independent sleeping habits early on will set the foundations for their future health and wellbeing. Poor sleep as an infant could result in a number of health conditions as an adult. 

However, for new parents already faced with a number of fresh challenges, it can be hard to implement good sleeping patterns and avoid the many common baby sleep problems that most babies will encounter at some point. 

To help relieve you of any concerns you might have about your baby not sleeping properly, or to learn what is to come if you’re still expecting, we’ve outlined some of the most common causes of baby sleep problems, as well as some top tips and solutions. 

Babies need sleep to maintain healthy growth and development.

 

What Does Normal Sleep Look Like?

One of the first things you’ll learn about baby sleep is that it’s nothing like adult sleep. Your little one’s ability to sleep for long periods of time through the night won’t actually develop until at least 3 to 6 months, and you may witness many periods of patchy or irregular sleeping patterns far beyond this point. 


Sleeping behaviors and baby sleep problems change as children progress from infancy to adolescence and you should view the whole thing as a “working progress”, where setting the right foundations can have a huge impact on long-term sleeping capabilities. 

Also, before we start talking about the various issues and problems that might be preventing sleep, it’s important to realize that insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality may simply manifest as changes in mood, behavior, cognitive development, and attention occur over time.

However, to offer you some kind of benchmark about what normal baby sleep looks like, here’s a table of usual nighttime and daytime sleep needs for different ages, according to Stanford Children’s Health.

 

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

 

 

The ‘total’ sleep indicated here can be spread over multiple sleep sessions. If your baby drastically falls outside of these patterns suffering from constant restlessness, you may want to speak to your doctor, pediatrician or GP. 

 

Signs Your Baby Is Having Trouble Sleeping

As a parent, you’ll quickly pick up signs that your baby isn’t sleeping well. Aside from the obvious, where you can visibly see your child is wide awake in their crib, other indicators include.

  • Crying and general unhappiness when you try to put your baby down to sleep
  • Waking up consistently more than three times a night
  • Taking more than 45 minutes to settle down 
  • Restlessness or signs of stress for long periods of the night
  • Your baby wakes up crying regularly

Do Different Baby Cries Mean Different Things? Yep! 

 

Causes of Common Baby Sleep Problems

Some causes of sleep problems are quite obvious, but others may be a result of poor or insufficient sleeping conditions. 

 

Non Sleep-conducive Environments

Your baby’s room is a huge factor in their ability to sleep well. It's important to create a cool, dark, and quiet space with no distractions or external stimulation to disrupt your baby at night. Even subtle sounds, smells, movements, and changes in temperature or lighting conditions can stop your baby from sleeping properly

 

A few best practices to follow include:

  • Keep external stimulation to a minimum, especially sounds and lighting. If you can’t stop outside noises from penetrating, consider using white noise to minimize disturbances.
  • Make sure your baby’s room is as dark as possible with the use of black-out curtains or blinds.
  • Leave any electronics or technology outside and avoid any TV or screen time during the evening. 

 

Moro Reflex

The Moro reflex is an infantile reflex that lasts until your baby is between 3–6 months of age. Characterized by a sudden spreading of the baby’s arms and legs, followed by a retraction of their limbs inwards towards their body, it is a response to a sudden loss of support or reaction to a specific trigger.

When this happens, the baby will experience a feeling similar to free-falling, causing them to wake up suddenly in some cases, or startle from a drowsy state and start crying

It’s completely normal for all babies and a sign that their nervous system is developing. However, to reduce your little one's Moro reflex kicking in, stopping them from sleeping, pay attention to these triggers: 

  • The removal of the parent holding position
  • Movement of the cradle (shaking or wobbling)
  • A change in the intensity of light in the room
  • A loud noise
  • A sudden touch
  • A change in the position of the baby’s body

Ultimately, babies are much more sensitive to slight changes in the environment, which can evoke the Moro reflex and reducing these triggers from your baby’s nighttime routine and sleeping space can help them sleep better.

If you want to learn more about the baby startle reflex, take a look at our popular blog: Moro Reflex: How to Stop It so That Your Baby Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep.

 

Improper Baby Sleepwear

Some clothes are too itchy or stuffy. You should be extra sensitive to things like materials during days and nights that are warmer or colder than usual. Making sure that clothes are 100% comfortable, practical, and safe can help your baby relax and sleep much better. 

Many parents choose to swaddle their kids, which provides a warm, enclosed, womb-like environment that soothes babies and helps them sleep longer. However, some babies don’t like being swaddled and will try to break free from it.

If this is the case,  there are a number of effective transitioning products to help your baby be as comfortable as possible while they’re sleeping. For instance, our popular transitional Zipadee-Zips offer greater freedom and flexibility for your child while still keeping them warm and cozy. 

For advice on how to choose the best baby sleepwear for your little one, take a look at our blog: What Should My Baby Wear to Sleep? — The Right Products for the Right Time

Browse Our Full Collection of Zipadee-Zips!

 

Illnesses

All children are bound to catch a cold or suffer from another illness during the course of their first year. Identifying the problem and finding the best and fastest remedies is one of the easiest ways you can ensure your child isn’t suffering from sleepless nights. 

Common cold

Colds come with mild fevers, snotty noses, congestion, coughing, and a sore throat.  

Respiratory syncytial virus

RSV affects the lungs and in most cases symptoms mirror those of a cold. But for those with a low immune system, it can become more serious.

Gastroenteritis (stomach bug)

Better known as a stomach bug, this illness causes vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. 

Influenza

The flu comes with a high fever that quickly sets in and creates body aches and chills, a headache, sore throat, cough, and sometimes also vomiting and diarrhea. 

 

Most childhood illnesses play themselves out without you needing to see a doctor or pick up medication from a pharmacy, but some symptoms certainly require a visit to a professional who can advise you on the best course of action.  

All children are bound to catch a cold or suffer from another illness during the course of their first year. 

 

Other Reasons for Baby Sleep Problems

A few other potential, albeit less obvious, reasons your child may be having difficulty sleeping include:

Vitamin deficiency 

Certain vitamins like B6 aid in the production of serotonin and melatonin, which are important for achieving good sleep. Also, is your child getting enough vitamin D from the sun?

Food allergies 

If you haven’t done so already, check with your doctor whether your child is allergic to any food types and eliminate them from their diet. 

Certain food ingredients may be the cause of upset stomachs. 

Hungry at night

Even if you’ve just fed your child before putting them to bed, they could still wake up because they’re hungry again. 

Teething pains

All children will suffer from teething pains that could stop them from being able to relax and sleep, as well as cause loss of appetite and extreme fussiness. 

Growth spurts

Infants experience around 5 growth spurts before the age of one. This involves a significant period of growth when they quickly gain size and weight. It can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful for your child so don’t be surprised if they can’t sleep at night. 

Napping during the day

Don’t let your child sleep too much during the day. Too much or inconsistent nap times can disrupt their natural sleep cycles. 

 

Infants aged 4 to 12 months should get between 12 and 16 hours of sleep per 24 hours, According to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

What Is Infant Sleep Disturbance (ISD)?

ISD is characterized by babies waking up usually crying and unable to return to sleep until they are comforted by their parents. One major cause of this is an irregular or unmatured circadian rhythm. As adults, our bodies know when we should be awake and when we should start to get ready to sleep, and release different hormones to help us with those processes.

However, babies are not born with the same biological clocks as we are, and must develop set patterns as they mature. Eventually, with enough sleep training, every child develops the ability to fall into the same kind of regular deep sleeps that we as adults take for granted. 

 

How to Identify Baby Sleep Problems?

An inability to sleep is a normal part of baby development. It’s sometimes impossible to tell why exactly your child is not sleeping well, even when armed with our list of the most common baby sleep problems. However, you can look out for the following:

  • Awakening and crying multiple times in the night after previously sleeping through the night
  • Crying when you leave the room when they didn’t before 
  • Unusually fussy and restless behavior
  • Clear signs of distress when you put them down to sleep
  • Refusal to go to sleep without a parent nearby
  • Clinging to the parent at separation

If you can do your best to identify what is not “normal” this can help you figure out what your child needs. However, if distress and baby sleep problems continue even after you’ve done all you can to give your little one everything they could possibly need to be able to fall asleep, don’t be afraid to consult your baby's doctor. 

 

Solving Common Sleep Problems

One of the best ways to improve your baby’s ability to sleep is to train them to be sleep independent. This means giving them the skills to soothe themselves to sleep rather than coming to the rescue all the time. 

By providing the right environment and regular routine before bedtime, they’ll start to develop more natural sleeping patterns and strong sleeping skills.

Once your child has mastered the basics, identifying actual health issues and problems will become much easier as you’ll be able to distinguish between specific causes of pain and a general inability to get to sleep without the help of an adult. 

A few more ways you can help your baby sleep better and overcome certain baby sleep problems are:

  • Make them feel secure by cuddling and comforting them during the day so they don’t feel lonely or needy at night time
  • Plan naps carefully and don’t let your baby oversleep
  • Avoid overstimulation and too much lively activity close to bedtime, especially anything that involves electronics and screen time
    • Put your baby to bed when they are drowsy, but not actually asleep (this will improve self-soothing and sleep independence!) 
    • Establish a regular bedtime routine, such as baths, reading books, and playing gentle music
    • Play soft music or white noise to drown out any loud or unpleasant noises nearby
    • Comfort and reassure your baby when they seem scared or afraid
    • If your baby cries, don’t always rush to help them immediately. They may be able to settle themselves after a short time

    Designing the Perfect Evening Routine? Here’s Our Advice

     

    Final Thoughts

    Whether you’ve just been blessed with your first child or are still expecting, it’s okay if your baby finds it hard to sleep. Most periods of poor sleep will figure themselves as long as you put out any of the serious fires, like addressing illnesses quickly or removing distracting sounds or lighting from their room. 

    If you implement regularity and healthy sleep practices as much as possible, your little one should have the necessary skills and experience to sleep alone without much help from adults. Until this point, usually around 12 months or over, don’t be surprised or scared if you encounter more than a few patches where your child is having trouble sleeping. 

     


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