New parents often complain about their baby not sleeping well through the night. Newborns need to sleep more than adults for proper growth and development. As a result, some babies may sleep more during the day and lesser during the night. This habit is called day-night reversal, and it can be challenging for parents (1).
Several factors may affect a baby’s inability to sleep enough. Read this post to learn more about the common reasons babies do not sleep during the night and some tips to help them do.
12 Reasons Why A Baby Isn’t Sleeping Enough
Sleep problems in 0-3-month-olds
Newborns usually sleep for 14-17 hours per day (4). The sleep hours are scattered throughout the day with frequent breaks. Therefore, it may sometimes seem that your baby is not getting enough nighttime sleep because they wake up frequently. However, this is nothing to worry about as it is completely normal. Some common reasons why your baby might not be sleeping throughout the night are:
1. Frequent night feedings
Newborns need to be fed frequently through the night, which causes sleep disruptions.
Solution: Check with your pediatrician about how frequently your baby needs to be fed during the night and whether you can reduce the number of night feeds. Ensure that you feed your baby properly during the day so that they do not have to be fed frequently during the night. You can also try and increase the gap between nighttime feeding gradually.
2. Mixing up day and night
Sometimes, newborns sleep for several hours throughout the day and only a few hours at night. This happens due to day-night reversal syndrome. Babies eventually learn to differentiate between day and night as they get older.
Solution: You can help them differentiate between day and night by introducing some changes in their schedules. Do not introduce any sleep-inducing activities, such as swaddling during the day. Limit daytime sleeping to a maximum of four to five hours, so the baby sleeps for longer during the night. Then, make a clear distinction between the day and the night by letting sufficient natural light enter the baby’s room during the day and keeping the room as dark as possible during the night.
3. Resisting back sleeping
When you try to put your baby to sleep on their backs, they resist and start being fussy. This happens because they do not feel safe sleeping on their backs and may feel vulnerable.
Solution: Help your baby through this phase by swaddling them and gradually increasing their time on their back by holding them. Also, put them down on their crib or bassinet after they fall asleep. This reduces the chances of waking up by startle reflex.
Sleep problems in 4-5 month-olds
When babies are around three months old, they almost get into a regular sleep schedule and, for most days, sleep at nighttime. However, as they reach four to five months of age, this schedule might change as they might start waking up frequently. Some common reasons why this might happen are:
4. Four-month sleep regression
A four-month sleep regression is a period when your baby’s sleeping habits change. Research states that at around 10-12 weeks, babies start to develop the body’s circadian rhythm (5). At around four months, babies’ sleep schedule improves, and they become more like adults. This is when they start to go into lighter phases of sleep and wake up more often.
Solution: There is no need to introduce special routines to overcome the period of sleep regression. Eventually, putting your baby into a set bedtime routine and sleep training them could help.
Sleep problems in 6-month-olds and up
The six-month growth period marks a major milestone in the growth spurt as they start showing noticeable changes in their overall development and sleep schedules. Around six months, babies require about 12-15 hours of sleep per day.
5. Six-month sleep regression
With an increased mental and emotional ability, babies can undergo sleep regression during this time, and multiple factors can affect it (6).
Solution: There are no set guidelines for curing sleep regression in babies. Some common tips to reinforce healthy nap schedules for babies are:
- Following a set sleep schedule
- Encouraging baby to fall asleep in a crib
- A clear distinction between night and day
- Minimizing sources of distraction while putting baby to sleep
- Following safe sleep guidelines
6. Sleep problems after recovering from illness
When your baby falls sick, parents will do anything and everything possible to make them feel better. There will be more snuggles and a higher probability of co-sleeping. But after the period of illness has passed, it might be difficult for your little one to go back to the old routine again.
Solution: It will take your baby some time to fall back to their old routine. But it is alright to start the process from the beginning after they have recovered completely.
Other reasons for baby not sleeping
The other reasons why your baby might not be getting enough sleep or waking up frequently during the night are:
- Discomfort: Your baby might wake up frequently if not feeling well or uncomfortable due to tight-fitting clothes.
- Hunger: If your baby fell asleep while feeding, there are chances they wake up in the middle of the night because they feel hungry.
- Separation anxiety: The anxiety of being separated from the parent might cause disrupted sleep in infants. During this time, comforting the baby back to sleep can help reduce anxiety.
- Overtiredness or under-tiredness: If your baby is over exhausted and has passed their normal bedtime or is not sleepy enough, it can be not easy to put them to sleep.
- Change in sleeping schedule: A sudden change in the baby’s sleeping schedule can cause disruptions in sleep.
- Teething: While your baby is teething, it would be difficult for them to bear the pain, resulting in constant crying and less sleep. A few studies have also found that less sleep can lead to increased sensitivity towards pain in babies.
Tips For Getting Your Baby Safely To Sleep
Following a few safety guidelines while putting your baby down to sleep can help reduce the chances of suffocation or other circumstances leading to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Here are a few tips on how you can maintain a safe sleep environment for your baby (7) (8).
- Always put your baby on their back while putting them down for sleep until they reach one year
- Put them in comfortable clothing to avoid discomfort
- The safe sleep guidelines given by the AAP do not recommend sharing the same bed with the baby but instead suggest sharing the same room (9)
- Put your baby in the crib or bassinet while they are still awake and not after they fall asleep
- Follow a proper bedtime routine
- Avoid distractions near the baby’s sleeping area, such as bright light or loud noises
- Avoid the use of a sleep tracker
Signs You Should See A Doctor
It is normal for babies to show some signs of resistance while falling asleep in the initial months as their body needs some time to adjust to the circadian rhythm. However, if you notice the following signs and symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider or pediatrician at the earliest.
- Baby shows signs of sickness
- Introducing a set sleeping schedule does not seem effective
- Crying more often than normal
- Delayed growth and development
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do babies with higher intelligence quotients sleep less?
A study examined children with higher intelligence for five consecutive nights and found that the sleep pattern does not differ significantly from the others (10).
2. Does the lack of sleep affect a baby’s development?
The lack of sleep may affect a baby’s development because the body releases many healing hormones during sleep that help in cell repair and muscle growth. If babies do not sleep well, these functions may be hampered. A study found that sleep deficiencies during childhood may lead to decreased mental functioning during adolescence (11).
Usually, babies fall into a regular sleep schedule within three to four months of birth. However, this may vary from one child to another. If your baby is having trouble falling asleep, try following a soothing bedtime routine to help them sleep better and improve their sleeping pattern. On the other hand, if you are worried about the baby’s sleep schedule, it is advisable to get your pediatrician’s opinion on the matter.
- The reasons for disturbed sleep in babies may vary depending on their age.
- A three-month-old may have an irregular sleep due to frequent feeding, whereas a four-month-old may experience sleep regressions.
- Follow certain safety measures while getting your baby to sleep to avoid complications.
- Consult a doctor If your little one shows alarming signs of sickness or frequently cries.
- Reversing day-night reversal.
- Sleep 0-3 months.
- Common sleep disorders in children.
- Max Hirshkowitz Kaitlyn Whiton et al. National sleep foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary.
- The 4-month sleep regression: what parents need to know.
- 6-month sleep regression.
- Safe sleep for your baby.
- Infant sleep.
- How to keep your sleeping baby safe: AAP policy explained.