How To Care For A Baby Who Rarely Sleeps At Night
Do you have the espresso machine firing at all hours? Are the bags under your eyes carrying luxury bags of their own? Does your baby seem to have a knack for crying right as you enter REM sleep?
Parents are often told that having a baby means sacrificing sleep. But hearing advanced warnings and actually dealing with a baby who rarely sleeps at night are two different things. In this article, we’ll dive into what’s considered “normal” sleep for babies, address some common sleep problems and offer advice on how to help your little one sleep better so you can finally catch more z’s yourself.
What is Considered "Normal" Sleep for Babies?
If you’re constantly popping in and out of your baby’s room at night to soothe their crying, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Is this normal?” The truth is, every baby is unique and their sleep patterns constantly evolve over their first year of life.
Newborns, for instance, sleep in short 20-50 minute bursts and can’t tell the difference between day and night. Whereas, babies aged 6-12 months start to understand the difference and (usually) begin to sleep mostly at night.
It’s important to remember that, as much as we may want them to, babies’ sleep schedules don’t often sync up with adults. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with their health. In fact, not having a regular sleep schedule is the norm for babies.
Of course, we understand that you still want to ensure your baby gets the best sleep possible. Let’s take a closer look at some reasons why babies of different ages may have trouble sleeping and how you can help.
Causes of Poor Sleep at Night in Babies
From hunger to reflux to teething, there are plenty of reasons why your baby may struggle to sleep soundly. Your baby’s age is a key factor in how they sleep and which problems may impact their sleeping patterns. Here’s a breakdown of common causes of poor sleep in babies ages one day to one year.
Poor Nighttime Sleep in Babies Age 0-3 Months
Babies aged 0-3 months sleep on average 16 hours or more daily. However, babies at this age don’t know the difference between day and night, so they often wake and sleep at random (and often inconvenient!) times. These are a few reasons your baby may have trouble falling or staying asleep.
Your baby is hungry
Babies need to be fed every 2-4 hours in the first few months, even if they’re asleep. Very young infants can only take in about 2.5 ounces of milk or formula per feeding, but they need about 17-20 ounces daily. This means you’ll need to feed your baby frequently in order to keep them full and satisfied.
If your baby isn’t sleeping well, they may simply be hungry. Try to establish a set day and nighttime feeding routine. Feeding your baby on a consistent schedule makes their sleep less likely to be impacted by hunger.
Your baby is overstimulated
If your baby is fussy or squirming around a lot at night, they may be overstimulated from all the activity they had that day. Newborn wake windows are about 45-60 minutes, and if your newborn is kept awake much longer than that, they may become overtired and have difficulty falling asleep.
When taking your baby out of the house, try to give them opportunities to nap every 45 minutes. Look out for your baby’s sleep cues that tell you they’re getting tired. Newborn sleep cues include:
- Droopy or unfocused eyes
- Excessive yawning
- Tugging of the ears
- Flailing limbs
Remember that in order for babies to get quality sleep, they must have a safe sleeping environment. Check out our blog on safe sleep practices to learn the best ways to keep your baby safe while they sleep.
Poor Nighttime Sleep in Babies Age 4-6 Months
Once your baby moves to 4 months old, their sleeping time starts to consolidate. They’ll likely sleep for longer periods of time but sleep for fewer total hours than they did in their first three months of life. Here are some common reasons your baby may struggle with sleep at this age.
Your baby is experiencing sleep regression
It’s very common for babies to go through sleep regression at the 4-month mark. Signs of sleep regression include trouble falling asleep, waking up frequently and excessive irritability upon waking.
Sleep regression can be frustrating and disheartening to parents, especially if you have a baby who slept relatively well over their first three months. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help a baby with sleep regression, including:
- Establishing a consistent sleeping routine for naps and bedtime
- Speaking in a calming voice
- Gently rubbing their head
- Keeping the room dark and blocking out any incoming light
- Reading a book together to help your baby unwind
Your baby needs a diaper change
If your baby is up and fussy at night, one of the most common culprits is a dirty diaper. Your baby is likely uncomfortable with the wetness in their diaper, and leaving it too long could cause rashes or infections.
Try to limit overnight diaper changes by changing your baby’s diaper immediately before their last nighttime feeding. When changing their diaper at night, try to do it in a calming way that won’t rouse your baby too much. Keep the lights low and your voice soft to make it easy for your baby to fall back asleep.
Poor Nighttime Sleep in Babies Age 7-12 Months
At 7-12 months of age, your baby is likely sleeping mostly at night and taking fewer daytime naps. Around two-thirds of babies are sleeping through the night (6-8 hours in a row) after 6 months of age. Here are some common sleep problems your child may experience in this age group.
Your baby is teething
Most babies start teething around 6 or 7 months old. Teething can be very uncomfortable for your baby and cause them to stay up when they should be sleeping. Symptoms of teething to look out for include chewing on objects more, swollen or red gums, flushed cheeks and sometimes even a mild temperature.
You can help your baby sleep better by easing the pain of their teething. Some helpful strategies include massaging your baby’s gums with a clean finger, offering a cold pacifier and providing teething crackers.
Your baby is having trouble self-soothing
Self-soothing is when a baby is able to fall back asleep on their own without attention from a parent. If your baby has all their basic needs met but still has trouble falling back asleep at night, your baby may have difficulty self-soothing.
In order to help your baby sleep better, try to reinforce self-soothing with these techniques:
- Don’t enter your baby’s sleeping area immediately when they start crying; wait at least five minutes to see if they calm down.
- Try a progressive method where you don’t pick your baby up right away. Instead, start by looking into your baby’s eyes, then move on to talking aloud, then move on to light touch, and eventually move onto picking your baby up if necessary.
- Put your baby to bed when they’re drowsy rather than already asleep so they become used to lulling themselves to sleep.
How To Communicate With Your Baby's Child Care Provider About Sleep Issues
It’s important to talk through any sleep issues your baby has with their child care provider. This way, your provider can look out for any problems and provide personalized care to your child during nap times.
It’s also a great idea to make sure your child care provider is keeping up with safe sleep guidelines. When visiting a child care provider, here are a few steps to take to ensure they prioritize sleep safety:
- Ask to see their safe sleep policy and compare it to the latest AAP guidelines.
- Ask if the child care staff is trained in safe sleep and if they have a Safe Sleep Certificate on file.
- Examine the cribs to make sure they’re safe to sleep on with tight, fitted sheets.
Additional Resources for Parents
We hope this article gave you some ideas on how to properly care for a baby who rarely sleeps at night. Sleep is crucial to the development of babies, and safe sleep practices are essential both at home and in child care settings.
We’ve put together a health and safety checklist to help you choose a provider that prioritizes safety in child care, including safe sleep.