New parents may discover that the notion of “sleeping like a baby” may not always be true. Sleep noises in babies are common and often accompanied by erratic sleep schedules. In most cases, sleep noises are caused by underdeveloped digestive and respiratory systems in newborns.
Although baby sleep noises are often strange and unusual, they are not detrimental to the baby. However, if the sounds are accompanied by indicators of troubled breathing or other symptoms, it may necessitate medical attention. Read on to know the causes, types, and tips to reduce sleep sounds in babies.
Causes Of Sleep Sounds In Babies
The following factors may cause sleep sounds in babies.
- Restless sleep: Immature nervous system and reflexes can cause movements and sleep sounds in babies. Lack of circadian rhythms can also contribute to sleep sounds in babies younger than six weeks (1).
- Active REM sleep: Babies may spend more time in active sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM), until six months of age (2). Babies can have faster breathing and heart rate during REM sleep.
- Sleep transitions: Babies have more sleep transitions than others. Their sleep cycles last about 50 minutes, and they may often make a sound while the sleep cycle changes (2).
- Hunger: Babies are frequent eaters, and hunger can drive various sounds while they sleep. They may tend to smack lips or suck fingers in the night before they fuss and cry for food.
- Immature digestive and respiratory systems: Although the baby is sleeping, they can have digestive and breathing sounds due to developing systems.
Many sleep sounds, such as smacking of lips, can be hunger cues and lets the caregiver or parent know that it is the time for feeding.
Newborn Breathing Sounds
Newborns are noisy sleepers since they may have respiratory noises when they sleep, and they are not a cause of concern in most cases.
Normal breathing sounds may include (3):
- Gurgling: This is a throat sound due to the gurgling of milk or saliva since their swallowing mechanisms are not fully developed.
- Stuffy nose: Babies can have a stuffy nose without actual cold because they breathe out their nose rather than their mouth while feeding. Nasal breathing can be noisy in babies due to narrow airways or nasal secretions.
- Coughing: Newborns may cough in sleep to clear milk, saliva, or mucus from their throat. Burping the baby can reduce cough if it is due to digestive reasons.
- Snorting, sneezing, or whistling: Babies can sneeze, snort, or whistle more frequently than adults since they are nose breathers and have narrow nasal passages.
Babies can have irregular and noisy breathing patterns during sleep. Although these irregular breathing sounds are not considered normal breathing sounds, these are usually present due to an incompletely developed respiratory system. As this system matures, these sounds decrease and disappear on their own.
Normal irregular breathing sounds in newborns may include:
- Periodic breathing: Babies go through sleep cycles wherein breathing is deep and rapid, sometimes shallow or slow, with a short pause between breaths at others. These pauses usually last less than ten seconds and do not affect the baby. Periodic breathing resolves typically within the first month of life.
- Seesaw breathing: This is a periodical expansion of the abdomen (belly) and chest contraction. This lasts for brief periods, and babies continue to breathe normally.
- Transient rapid breathing: These are periods of rapid and deep inhalation and often last less than a minute or two and return to normal breathing pattern.
Most irregular breathing sounds disappear as the lungs mature. Seek medical care if your baby has irregular breathing sounds lasting for a long time and with breathing troubles.
Newborn Digestive Sounds
You may notice that many sounds are coming from your baby’s tummy and chest. This is because digestion can be noisy in babies since their digestive system is still developing. Also, newborns are frequent eaters, and they have frequent bowel movements in the initial days of life.
The following digestive sounds are usually heard in babies (3).
- Passing gas
These sounds are normal and not a cause of concern in most babies. You may consult a pediatrician if your baby has increased digestive sounds with other symptoms such as vomiting, spitting up frequently, diarrhea, or crying.
When Do The Sleep Sounds Resolve?
Baby sleep sounds resolve gradually as the baby grows. It may take a few weeks to a few months. Most babies’ circadian rhythm becomes regulated by six weeks of life, and they tend to have a longer duration of deep sleep. By six months, the noisy and restless sleepers tend to sleep calmly since they have less active sleep compared to newborns.
Also, as the baby grows, their respiratory and digestive systems mature, and their sounds also resolve.
Tips To Reduce Sleep Sounds In Babies
Encouraging healthy sleep habits to help your baby sleep better could reduce sleep sounds. The following tips may help the baby sleep well (4).
- Using dim or no lights and keeping the room quiet at night helps the baby understand the difference between night and day. It helps their body prepare for sleep better.
- Know your baby’s sleep cues such as looking sleepy or glazed over, rubbing eyes, being fussy, or tired. Lay them in the crib for sleep when they show these cues.
- Encourage daytime naps to prevent excess tiredness and exhaustion by night but avoid naps in the late evening.
- Follow bedtime routines to help the baby relax and fall asleep.
The following tips may help to avoid digestive problems and digestive sounds in babies.
- Feed the baby on demand.
- Burp the baby often and for a duration of a minimum of 15 minutes after each feed.
- Treat acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux) since this may cause nighttime wheezing and grunting sounds.
- Change formula or change maternal diet if breastfeeding if the baby has gas-related digestive sounds.
A stuffy nose can cause breathing problems during the night. The following measures may help.
- Use a newborn nasal aspirator
- Try a saline nasal rinse
- Clear mucus by gently wiping
If there is no nasal obstruction or stuffiness, there is no need to clean the nasal secretions often since this protects the baby from breathing in dust. Seek a pediatrician’s advice to clean the baby’s nose; they can demonstrate the best and safe methods to clear the baby’s nose.
When To See A Doctor?
Sleep sounds are normal in most babies. Seek immediate medical care if your baby has breathing troubles. The following signs require prompt medical care.
- Inability to feed or latch properly
- Bluish skin (cyanosis)
- Breathing pauses for a longer time
- Chest retractions
- Nasal congestion with breathing difficulty
- Fever with digestive or respiratory symptoms
- Rapid breathing lasting more than usual
- Grinding at the end of each breath
Although sleeping on the tummy may reduce certain digestive sounds in babies, it is not recommended due to the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Your baby should have tummy time while awake and under supervision.
Baby sleep noises are normal if no concerning symptoms accompany them, and most babies outgrow them. However, babies experiencing breathing difficulties or other symptoms along with sleep noises require prompt attention from a pediatrician to identify and treat the underlying cause before it worsens. Treating respiratory problems such as a stuffy nose with saline nasal rinse and digestive issues with appropriate feeding practices may help relieve sleep noises. Ensuring they follow a sleep time routine and get comfortable sleep can also help resolve this issue.
- Restlessness, active REM, transitions, hunger, and the growing digestive and respiratory systems contribute to baby sleep noises.
- Regular newborn breathing sounds are gurgling, stuffy nose, coughing, snoring, sneezing, or whistling, whereas odd sounds may be periodic, seesaw, or rapid breathing.
- You may notice digestive sounds such as grunting, burping, or growling, and most baby sleep noises reduce by the time they are six months old.
2. Sleep; Raising Children Network
3. Newborn Reflexes and Behavior; Seattle Children’s Hospital
4. Light & noise: better baby and toddler sleep; Raising Children Network