Sleep. No one is getting much of it, especially during the first few months after bringing baby home. And even once your little one is sleeping through the night, baby sleep problems can still crop up from time to time. Most issues related to a baby not sleeping are caused by temporary things like illness, teething, developmental milestones or changes in routine — so it isn’t anything to worry about.
That’s why it’s helpful to know the possible reasons why your baby won’t sleep. Here are some of the most common baby sleep problems and solutions to help your restless little one get enough sleep time.
Mixing up day and night
What it looks like: Your baby sleeps all day, but then stays up all night long.
How to solve it: Your newborn’s nocturnal ways should correct themselves as the baby adjusts to life on the outside, but there are a few things you can do to help baby differentiate between day and night, including limiting daytime naps to three hours, and making clear distinctions between day and night – like keeping baby’s room dark when naps and avoiding turning on the TV during nighttime feedings.
Restless sleep due to frequent late-night feedings
What it looks like: Most babies, particularly breastfed ones, still need to fill their tummies at least once or twice during the night. Waking up every two hours for middle-of-the-night chow-downs, on the other hand, is typically too much of a good thing by this point — and for most babies, not necessary.
What to do about it: First, talk to your child’s pediatrician about how often baby should be eating overnight. If you get the go-ahead to cut down on overnight feeds, ensure baby’s eating enough during the day by offering a feed every two to three hours. Then, work on slowly stretching the time between nighttime feedings.
Changing nap routines throw baby off at night
What it looks like: As babies get older, they nap less. If your baby seems happy with changing schedule and sleeps well at night, embrace this milestone and carry on. But if your little one is napping less but fussing more, or having trouble going to bed at night, then may be overtired and in need of some naptime encouragement.
How to solve it: Try an abbreviated bedtime routine before each nap (some quiet music, a massage or some storytelling) and be patient — it may simply take baby longer to settle into a routine, but baby’ll get there.
Not falling asleep independently
What it looks like: Almost everyone wakes up a couple times during the night — adults and babies alike. A lifetime of good sleep habits depends on knowing how to fall asleep alone both at bedtime and overnight, a skill babies need to learn. If your baby still needs to be fed or rocked to sleep, you might want to consider sleep training (also known as sleep teaching or self-soothing training).
How to solve it: Start by revamping the bedtime routine. If your baby’s dependent on a bottle or breast to sleep, start scheduling the last feeding 30 minutes before usual bedtime or nap. Then, when baby’s sleepy but not asleep, make your move and place the baby into crib. Sure, baby’ll fuss at first, but give it a chance. Once baby learns to soothe herself — perhaps by sucking on thumb or a pacifier (harmless, helpful habits for babies) — baby won’t need you at bedtime anymore.
What it looks like: Your baby is waking up early — and staying awake, sometimes as early as the crack of dawn.
What to do about it: If your baby is at least 6 months old, there are a few tactics you can try to get to sleep in later, like adjusting the baby nap schedule, experimenting with different bedtimes and making room more light- and sound-proof.
Teething pain keeps baby up
What it looks like: If your baby is showing signs of teething during the day — such as drooling, biting, feeding fussiness and irritability — teething pain may also be waking up at night. Keep in mind that teething-related sleep issues can begin almost any time during the first year: Some babies get their first tooth by the time they’re 6 months old with teething pain starting as early as 3 or 4 months, while others are toothless until their first birthday.
How to solve it: While you shouldn’t ignore your baby, try to avoid picking the baby up. Instead, offer a teething ring, some gentle words and pats, or maybe a lullaby. Baby might settle down on its own, though you might have to leave the room for that to happen. If tender gums seem very painful night after night, ask your pediatrician about offering some baby acetaminophen at bedtime for babies 2 months and older or baby ibuprofen for infants 6 months and older.
Disruptions in routine
What it looks like: It doesn’t take much to turn a baby’s sleep routine on its head. A cold or an ear infection can wreak on sleeping patterns, as can emotional challenges such as mom returning to work or getting used to a new babysitter.
Traveling is another surefire sleep-schedule disrupter, and major milestones — like mastering crawling or learning to walk — can also temporarily interfere with sleep.
How to solve it: Although babies with changing sleep routines can be a little fussier, you’ve got to cut your baby some slack in the snoozing department during these transitions. Do what you can to comfort your little one through the disruptions to her schedule.
Then try to get back into your regular groove as soon as you can — following the same comforting bed routine in the same order as usual (a bath, then a feeding, then a story and so on).
Trouble settling down to sleep
What it looks like: What happens if babies don’t get enough sleep? They can become overtired — where they’re exhausted and moody but also too wired to relax.
It’s a classic case of what can happen if babies don’t get enough sleep: Your baby is cranky and showing other signs that she’s more than ready to take a nap or go to bed. And yet, she won’t actually power down.
Younger babies might fight the soothers that normally help them nod off, like rocking or feeding. And babies over 5 or 6 months who are capable of falling asleep on their own struggle to doze off when they’re put in their crib, or wake up and have a hard time falling back to sleep.
How to solve it: Put your baby down for her nap or bedtime when she’s tired, but not too tired. When you start to spot signs that she needs a rest like rubbing her eyes, yawning, looking away from you or fussing a lot, that’s your cue to get her into her crib or bassinet.
Resist the urge to get baby to stay up later – chances are it will cause to become overtired and ultimately make it harder for baby to fall asleep.
Also, try to ensure that your little one is logging the total hours of sleep that are needed. If baby wakes very early from last nap of the day, for instance, consider putting to bed a little earlier to make up for the lost shut-eye. If baby has a rough night or wakes extra early in the morning, offer more naptime that day.