It can be confusing for many parents or caregivers when their baby cries in their sleep. You may scoop them up and soothe them back to sleep. But in some situations, the baby may go back to sleep without soothing.
It can be normal for babies to cry during sleep without any reason.
An adult’s sleep cycle lasts for 90 to 120 minutes, whereas babies may have a 50-minute sleep cycle for the first nine months of their lives (1). Shorter sleep cycles when compared to adults,could cause babies to cry during sleep or wake up and cry. However, there are other reasons, too.
Read this post to know more about babies’ sleep patterns, the causes of crying while sleeping, and how to soothe a baby who cries while sleeping.
Why Do Babies Cry In Their Sleep?
Crying can be a way for a baby to communicate with parents or caregivers. Babies may cry during sleep due to various reasons(2).
- Hunger can cause a baby to cry during sleep. It may occur when the baby is inadequately fed before bedtime. Prompt feeding may calm the baby and soothe them back to sleep.
- Dirty diapers can irritate babies and make them cry while asleep.
- Babies may cry if they feel too cold or hot. Changes in room temperature and inappropriate dressing could be a reason for it.
- Separation anxiety or fear of being alone may make some babies cry in their sleep.
- Physical illness, pain, or teething may cause crying during sleep.
- Pacifier falling out of the baby’s mouth may disturb the baby and make them cry during sleep.
Some may believe that babies cry while sleeping due to nightmares. However, it is not fully known if nightmares and night terrors cause babies to cry during sleep. Also, these conditions are usually more common among toddlers and preschoolers(3).
How To Soothe A Baby Crying In Sleep?
Listen to your baby’s crying sound while they are sleeping. Some babies who cry to communicate may cry loudly and not stop crying until you respond. Babies who cry due to room temperature changes, soiled diapers, hunger, or sickness may fall asleep only when the problem is addressed.
You may soothe the baby in a low voice and ensure there’s less light in the room to make the baby feel it’s nighttime. Bright light, loud conversations, or playing may make them think it’s not bedtime, and they may tend to repeat the same thing on the next day (3). This may quickly become a habit.
Babies who cry due to sleep cycle changes may have a low cry and often appear to be in a semi-conscious state. You can wait and watch. If they stop crying and continue with their sleep, then there is no need to soothe them.
If you don’t notice any apparent reason for crying, you may soothe the baby by singing or humming in a low voice.Avoid turning on the lights in the room since it can awaken the baby. You can also place the baby’s crib next to your bed to make it easier for you to attend to the baby (4).
What Are Normal Sleep Patterns By Age?
Newborn babies can sleep for 16 hours a day,divided into multiple naps across daytime and nighttime(5)(6). A newborn is likely to wake up every three to four hours, even at night, for a feed. If the baby does not wake up on their own, you may have to wake them, especially during the initial weeks when you need to feed them eight to 12 times a day(7). It is essential to wake and breastfeed your baby as per recommendations for adequate growth and development.
Babies may have two to five hours of continuous sleep for the first three months. Most babies tend to sleep for eight to ten hours at night with a few hours of daytime naps for the first three months. As they grow, the total hours of daytime sleep may reduce, while the total hours of nighttime sleep may increase.
Stages of sleep in babies
In babies, there is usually an equal division across active sleep or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. You may notice movements or jerking of legs and arms, and side to side eye movement beneath closed eyelids during the REM stage of sleep. Some babies may show periodic breathing, that is, the cessation of breathing for five to ten seconds during this stage. Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep or deep sleep is the other stage of sleep in which babies may not move and have deep and regular breathing.
Crying during sleep could be a common occurrence in babies, and the phase eventually goes away. Check for any likely causes, such as soiled diapers or hunger. If your baby is crying in sleep due to teething pain or illness, or if there has been a drastic change in the baby’s sleep routine, speak to a pediatrician. Babies eventually develop a more predictable sleep pattern and outgrow the behavior of crying during sleep.
2. Baby Crying in Sleep – What Does It Mean and How Should You Handle It?; The Baby Sleep Site
3. Nightmares and Night Terrors in Preschoolers; American Academy of Pediatrics
4. Why does my baby cry in their sleep?; National Childbirth Trust
5. Infant Sleep; Stanford Children’s Health
6. Newborn sleep: what to expect; Raising Children Network(Australia)
7. Sleep in Your Baby’s First Year; Cleveland Clinic