Sleep problems are super common when you have a new baby – and not just for your little one! When your newborn is having trouble falling asleep, all kinds of worries might run through your head, all of which can result in you being up all night as well!
There are a multitude of reasons that your baby might be having difficulty falling and staying asleep. Most of these reasons aren’t anything to worry about and can be solved with some quick and easy fixes.
However, there are occasionally times when sleeping issues have more serious underlying causes – and these issues may need to be addressed by a medical professional.
In this article, we’ll go over 5 of the most common causes of sleep problems in a newborn, and what you can do about them – including the instances when you should get help from a doctor or pediatrician. We’ll also cover some methods of helping them drift off, which should have your baby sleeping peacefully in no time.
5 Reasons your Newborn may not be Sleeping
It can be tempting to bundle your little one up at night in an effort to keep them from getting too cold, but this can be a mistake – especially in warmer months! Just like us, they can easily get uncomfortably warm if they’re wrapped up in too many layers, and this discomfort can keep your baby awake.
The issue comes from how babies aren’t born able to regulate their body temperature. They can’t sweat to a great degree, remove clothing themselves, and they can’t communicate that they’re too hot – combine this all together and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an overheated baby!
Luckily, this problem has an easy fix – removing a layer of their sleepwear. A simple way of checking whether your baby is too warm is to feel their chest – if it’s hot, removing a layer of their clothing is the best course of action. In more serious cases, they may also have red or flushed skin, rapid breathing, a fast heartbeat, heat rash, or vomiting.
Removing clothing is one of the easiest ways to cool them off, but there are other solutions, such as:
Increasing their fluid intake
Giving them a lukewarm bath (ensuring it isn’t too cold)
Applying a cool washcloth to their forehead (ensuring it isn’t too cold)
Ensuring their room is well-ventilated, and at the right temperature (between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit)
If you’re concerned at all, the best option is to contact a pediatrician or other healthcare professional. If your baby is unresponsive, contact emergency services or take them to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible.
It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes babies can’t sleep because they’re too tired! The longer a baby stays awake, the more likely they are to have a stress response, where their bodies are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. This combination of hormones is just the right mixture to keep them awake even longer!
Overtired babies will give certain cues and signs – these are sometimes obvious, and sometimes less so. Some of the signs of an overtired baby include:
Difficulty settling down to sleep
Taking very brief naps
Falling asleep on random or unusual non-naptime occasions
Irritability and fussiness
Decreased tolerance for pain or frustration
If you recognize any of these signs in your little one, you may have an overtired baby on your hands. The best way to deal with overtiredness is to prevent it from happening in the first place by paying close attention to your baby’s sleep cues and setting them down to sleep as soon as possible after noticing them.
Preventative action may be the best medicine, but it isn’t going to help an already overtired baby get to sleep. Here, your best option is to try and calm them down and reduce their stress. Swaddling with our gently weighted Zen Neo, tightly holding, rocking or bouncing, and breast or bottle feeding are great methods of helping them wind down to a point where they’re sleepy, but still awake. This is when it’s time to put them down to bed, where they should now have an easier time falling asleep.
Nobody likes going to bed feeling hungry, and the same is true for our little ones! It may feel like babies eat a lot, but since their tummies are so small, they really don’t eat a great amount in one feeding. Additionally, they digest milk very quickly, meaning it doesn’t take long for them to need to feed again!
Hunger is a common reason babies struggle to sleep and wake up when they should be sleeping. When they were in the womb, they were being fed all day every day, and now they’re having to adapt to a whole new feeding pattern while growing bigger all the time!
Thankfully, the solution to a hungry baby is straightforward – you just need to ensure that they’re eating enough during the day to prevent them from feeling too hungry later on when it’s time to go to sleep. A good feeding pattern is essential here, and you can check out our blog to learn more about how much your baby should be eating!
Pediatrician and baby sleep expert Harvey Karp, M.D. (writing for Forbes) recommends feeding your baby 8 to 10 times a day. Sometimes this necessitates waking your little one from daytime naps, so ensure they remain calm and not too stimulated while they’re being fed!
4. Lack of Circadian Rhythm
When inside the womb, the concepts of day and night are meaningless to a baby – and this continues once they’re out! It can actually take up to 3 months for a baby to develop their circadian rhythm, consistently going to sleep and waking up on a cycle that repeats around every 24 hours or so.
Until this stage in a baby’s development, their sleep schedule can be a little all over the place, as we’re sure you’re aware! They can even end up getting their days and nights confused due to how in the womb, they sleep when you’re awake, and their movement increases at night when you’re settled down and sleeping. This all adds up and can contribute to your baby struggling to sleep.
If your little one has difficulty sleeping for any good length of time during the night but can manage longer stretches during the day, they may be sleeping on a day/night reversal schedule. Fixing this requires similar steps being taken as those that encourage the development of a normal circadian rhythm, which include:
Taking them outside so exposure to natural light resets their internal clock (remember sunscreen!) – this can also be done by placing their crib close to a well-lit window
Keeping them awake just a little longer during the day – a good way to do this is by gently playing with them post-feeding, instead of immediately setting them down to sleep
Avoiding activities that make them sleepy during the day – this isn’t to say you should ignore their sleep cues (that’s how babies end up overtired!) but as long as they’re awake and non-sleepy, letting them remain that way helps keep daytime awake time.
Swaddling them at night – this helps ensure they aren’t woken up by the movements of their own arms and legs, and the comfortable, secure crib helps them fall asleep
Turning the lights right down, or off completely, at night – this helps them associate nighttime and the dark with a calm lack of distractions and sleeping
Being unwell can do a number on your little one’s sleep patterns. Just like with us, illness can make your newborn sleep more due to tiredness. However, it can also interrupt their sleep, causing them to wake up with increased frequency during the night, or whenever else they should be sleeping.
Something as simple as a cold can cause issues with sleep because a stuffy and blocked nose can be incredibly uncomfortable, enough to make anyone struggle to peacefully nod off. The same goes for a sore throat or a fever.
The solution to soothing a sick baby comes in various forms; sometimes they’ll respond well to feeding, or even just being held upright as they sleep, as this can improve any congestion they may be dealing with. In some cases, a pediatrician may also prescribe medicine (or recommend an over-the-counter solution) to reduce their fever.
Some babies struggle with a condition known as reflux. If their digestive system is having trouble dealing with the introduction of milk (whether that’s breastmilk or formula) to their diet, this sometimes results in them bringing that milk back up, or vomiting. Some of the symptoms of reflux include:
Vomiting or bringing up milk soon after feeding
Unsettled behavior, coughing, or hiccuping during feeding
Swallowing or gulping after feeding or burping
Not gaining weight
Crying and struggling to settle down
Sometimes reflux goes away on its own, but it’s never a bad idea to contact a pediatrician as they may prescribe or recommend medication to help. If you suspect your little one has reflux, make sure you don’t set them down to sleep immediately after they’ve been sleeping, as this can exacerbate the issue.
When to Speak to a Doctor
Sleep problems aren’t usually caused by anything serious or threatening, but there are cases where their difficulty drifting off is due to something more worrisome. For this reason, there are numerous circumstances where the best course of action is to speak with a doctor or pediatrician to ensure your little one is in good health.
You should always contact a healthcare professional if you experience any of the following:
Your baby’s lack of sleep is having a big impact on their day-to-day life. If their difficulty sleeping is affecting their mood, general well-being, or concentration if they’re a little older, it’s important to find the underlying reason so that their well-being can be improved.
Their sleep struggles don’t go away. Generally, most causes of sleeping difficulty aren’t anything serious, and as such they can easily be remedied – some will even simply go away on their own. If the problem persists though, there may be a more serious issue that needs to be addressed.
They are having difficulty breathing. Though your little one may seem to be absolutely fine during the day, any sign of breathing trouble at night must be addressed by a healthcare professional. Asthma and sleep apnoea (where breathing stops and starts during sleep) are both significant health conditions that cause trouble breathing at night.
You’re unsure of what steps to take. It can be distressing when you’ve tried numerous methods of helping your little one get to sleep only to find that their struggles persist. If you feel like you’re at your wits end, speak to a medical professional – it’s more than likely that they’ll be able to help!
You’re worried about your baby. Though you may feel as though you’re being overprotective, there’s no sense in ignoring feelings of worry. It may be unlikely that your little one is suffering from any serious issues, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you feel as though something’s off, trust your gut, and speak to someone in the know.
Helping your Baby Fall Asleep
Every baby is different, and as much, sleeping habits vary from child to child. Though it’s common for babies in the newborn stage, at one point or another, to have trouble sleeping, babies of any age can develop sleeping difficulties for a wide range of reasons. Thankfully, there is also a wide range of methods that you can utilize to encourage your little one to peacefully drift off to sleep – and then stay asleep!
Here, we’ll go over some of the best ways of helping your baby fall asleep, and prevent them from waking up too quickly.
Establish a Consistent Bedtime Routine
A consistent routine at bedtime can do wonders for a little one who struggles to settle down to sleep. Establishing a good bedtime routine is the perfect way to let your baby know its time to wind down, get settled, and fall asleep. Once a routine is established, you’ll be able to perform it at different times, depending on what is necessary.
Get them used to the Ideas of Day and Night
Establishing clear boundaries between daytime and nighttime helps encourage the development of your baby’s circadian rhythm, with a 24-hour sleep/wake cycle that lines up with your own. When it’s daytime, make sure they’re exposed to daylight and noise, and are receiving a good amount of stimulation. At night, keep the lights as dim as possible, limit the amount of noise they’re exposed to, and make sure they don’t get too excited or overstimulated.
Make Sure they’re Comfortable
Everyone finds it easier to sleep when they’re comfortable! Keeping the lights down low, dressing them in comfortable sleepwear, and ensuring their room is at the right temperature so they don’t overheat or get too chilly, are simple ways of ensuring your little one’s comfort.
Safely swaddling them is a great way of increasing their comfort and keeping them calm and in the mood to sleep, which helps your baby sleep longer. However, swaddling is not recommended for babies who have started to show signs of being able to roll over – if your baby can roll over, their arms need to be free to move!
Ensure they’re Getting Enough Food in the Daytime
Much like with a bedtime routine, a good daytime feeding routine is essential to keeping your little one full and satisfied. Feeding them 8 to 10 times during the day, even if this requires waking your baby up from daytime sleep, is the best way to ensure they aren’t struggling to fall asleep, or waking up during the night, due to hunger.
Sleep in the Same Room as them
If your baby is under 6 months old, it is recommended that they sleep in the room with you, during the day and overnight. This both increases their safety and helps keep them calm – as you’ll know, they find your presence soothing. It’s not uncommon for a baby to only fall asleep in your arms, or at least with you nearby! Setting your baby down to sleep when they’re sleepy but still awake – or a little while after feeding them – is a good way of getting them used to falling asleep without you comforting them.
Try out baby sleep training
The term “sleep training” encompasses quite a large array of methods all geared towards teaching your little one how to sleep without you, encouraging healthy sleep habits. The “Cry It Out” method – in which you leave your baby to cry without going to see them – is often recommended and has become very associated with sleep training, but really that’s only one technique. In this article, we go over all you need to know about sleep training, including when you should start, and how exactly it is done!
Commonly Asked Questions about your Newborn not Sleeping
What causes lack of sleep in newborns?
Many babies struggle to sleep – newborn babies especially! There are many reasons that your baby is struggling to sleep, the majority of which are non-serious.
Some of the causes of lack of sleep in newborns include overheating, overtiredness, hunger, lack of a circadian rhythm, and illness.
Though most of these causes are non-serious and easily remedied, if your baby is showing signs of illness, or you’re worried at all, always contact a pediatrician or other medical professional.
How can I get my newborn to sleep?
If your baby is struggling to get to sleep, there are numerous things you can do to encourage them to settle down. These include:
Establishing a bedtime routine – the consistency of a routine is a great way to calm down your baby to get them in the mood to sleep
Ensure they’re comfortable – this can be done with some comfy sleepwear, low lighting, and making sure their room isn’t too hot or cold
Swaddle them – up until the point where they’re showing signs of being able to roll over, swaddling with sleepwear like our Zen Neo is a simple way to keep them cosy and calm
Get them used to day and night – a clear divide between day and night lets them know when it’s time to sleep, so ensure that during the day they’re getting lots of light and stimulation, with the opposite at nighttime
Sleep in the same room as them – this adds to their safety as well as helping keep them calm
Make sure they’re eating enough during the day – this reduces the chances of them waking up hungry
Try sleep training methods – these techniques are designed to teach babies good sleep habits, and how to sleep without help from you
How long should newborns be awake?
Most babies sleep for somewhere between 10 and 18 hours a day, with several moments of wakefulness between naps. Generally, babies under 8 weeks old can only stay awake for 45 minutes to a little over an hour, but some can stay awake for up to 3 hours if they’re getting enough sleep at night. Every baby is unique, so take these timeframes as general guidelines, and expect some slight variation!
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