We explain why babies cannot sleep with our compilation of 9 reasons from extensive experience and research here.
Now, we know time is of essence. Every moment spent reading could have been better spent catching some shut-eye. So, for you, the exhausted parent, we will keep this article as concise and to-the-point as possible.
TLDR; here are 9 reasons why your baby is not sleeping:
- Day and night confusion
- Baby is not tired enough
- Baby is too tired
- Baby is undergoing sleep regression
- Baby is ill or was recently ill
- Baby is teething
- Changes to sleep environment
- Changes to sleep routine (or lack there of)
- Lack of ability to fall asleep independently
First Things First
Before you dive deep into the reason listed here, it definitely helps if you check out the reasons why your baby might be crying (and not sleeping).HERE. In general, babies do not cry for no reason. If you have looked through all 8 reasons why your baby is crying, and still cannot figure out why he or she is wailing and refusing sleep, then we might just have your answers here.
1) Day and Night Confusion
From birth, babies are not immediately aware of the differences between daytime and nighttime. Thus, parents and guardians should help babies adjust accordingly. Ensure that during the day, your baby is exposed to light, sounds, and stimulating activities just like a normal human being (without nocturnal lifestyle). Then, during the night, keep things lower key, quieter, and darker gradually as the time gets late. Additionally, ensure you limit the durations of daytime naps and establish a sleeping routine for your baby.
From as early as 6 weeks old, your baby will start to get used to day versus night patterns. However, some babies may take longer. Also, babies may still mix up day and night, from time to time, especially with further factors as mentioned below (eg. changes in environment, travelling, overstimulation, etc). Keep up your efforts via our advice aforementioned to reduce day and night confusion. This way, you increase the chances of your baby falling sleep, and staying asleep as appropriate.
2) Baby is not tired enough
This means your baby is “undertired” and has either had too much rest before nighttime (bedtime), or has had too little activities in between her rest periods. Nonetheless, before you decide definitively that this is the cause, ensure that you have considered the other more important reasons elucidated in this article first. This is because babies do sleep much more than adults, and it may not necessarily be true that your baby has had “too much sleep”. Hence, try to rule out other causes first.
If, indeed, you have found this to be true, then the simple solution is to line up more activities and play time, as well as ration out sleep durations appropriately for your child. For instance, avoid unplanned nap times during the day time (eg. your baby falling asleep during long car rides). Depending on your child’s age and health condition, it may vary, but here are some general rules of thumb:
How much sleep should my baby get?
0 to 2 months old: 14 to 17 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, with 8 to 9 hours during the night and 7 to 9 hours during the day. Each sleeping period should last between 3 to 8 hours typically. If your child is consistently sleeping shorter (eg. 2 or less hours) or longer (eg. 8 or more hours) hours during each sleep cycle, do consult a medical professional for advice.
3 to 4 months old: 14 to 16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, with 8 to 9 hours during the night and 7 to 8 hours during the day. The typical sleeping period and duration is almost the same as 0 to 2 months old, but may be a bit more extended.
4 to 5 months old: 12 to 16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, with 9 to 11 hours during the night and 3 to 6 hours during the day. The typical sleeping period and duration is almost the same as 3 to 4 months old, but should become even more extended.
5 to 6 months old: 10 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, with 9 to 11 hours during the night and 2 to 4 hours during the day. The typical sleeping period and duration is almost the same as 4 to 5 months old, but should become even more extended.
6 months and older: Kids of these ages should be able to get 9 to 11 hours of sleep nightly and nap 2 or more times in the day time (with each nap ranging 1 hour or more). The exact duration of rest in older kids varies depending on their routines, habits and activities.
First World Problems Related to Why Babies Cannot Sleep
Yet another reason why you baby cannot sleep is if he or she has been exposed to overly-stimulating activities. Besides music and sounds, your handphone, tablets, computer and TV screens are all big no-no’s when nearing bedtime. In addition, the screen time and blue light from such devices have proven to cause adverse effects on your baby (and your) well-being. Thus, it is helpful to set a rule not to use any IT devices (handphones, tablets, PCs, TVs) 1 or 2 hours before bedtime. Put them as far as possible in airplane mode – out of sight and out of mind.
3) Baby is too tired
This means your baby is “overtired”. This concept may be something parents do not immediately understand. To help you comprehend, think of how our body produces and gets affected by adrenaline. Basically, when one is overly tired and not provided rest early or in time, their body and mind may go into “overdrive”. Thus, it actually becomes harder to fall asleep from then on.
You would know your baby is too tired when he or she becomes very irritable and cranky, yet not interested in your pacifying and playing attempts. Often, your baby would cry on and off and show drowsiness in his or her body language or eyes.
While there is not one good way to overcome this, except for letting your child cry it out amidst soothing, and eventually knock out to sleep, you can prevent this. So, do be alert to the signs of your child being ready to go to bed. Follow a sleep routine and regular nap time. Doing so will help prevent future recurrence of your baby not sleeping well due to over-exhaustion.
4) Baby is undergoing sleep regression
What is “sleep regression”? Basically, it is a term that mummies and daddies use to describe a transient period of time that their baby has their routine sleep pattern disrupted. The exact cause(s) of sleep regression are aplenty. In fact, all these reasons are described right here in this article. For purpose of clarity, we shall focus on the reason of sleep regression to be a “normal, healthy and purposeful” reason – such as developmental changes and milestones.
Thus, when your baby is undergoing sleep regression, there is nothing to worry about fundamentally. Just know that it is a transient period, which may last a few days to a few weeks. Although experts say sleep regression usually happen at 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 months old, they can actually happen any time. If you believe that your child does not have reason to not be sleeping properly, given the other reasons mentioned in this article, and your child has recently achieved certain critical milestones in life, then the disruption in his or her sleep pattern could very well be just due to “sleep regression” – a transient and non-worrisome cause.
5) Baby is ill or was recently ill
Babies fall sick, and this is perfectly normal as part of their journey in life. Well, if you are lucky enough such that your baby has not fallen ill at all, then good for you. For the rest of majority of parents, it is only a matter of time before your little one catches a flu bug, or stomach upset, or itchy rash. Whether it is a minor viral infection, or major bacterial attack, anything that makes your baby feel discomfort may very well disrupt their sleep pattern too.
First of all, remember to seek medical attention. Get the right treatment for your baby. Then, stay calm knowing that tackling such obstacles is all part of parenthood. Also, your baby may face problems sleeping or falling asleep more than once. Even if your child has already recovered, a recent illness is a likely cause for why your baby cannot sleep.
To solve this problem, recall what you did to soothe your baby and re-train them to develop their old sleeping habits again. Often, shushing your babies, patting them, singing them a song, or hugging and kissing them will bring them enough comfort to aid their return to their regular sleeping habits.
6) Baby is teething
Unfortunately, even with all the other plausible factors causing babies not to sleep well, nature has it such that babies develop their teeth during this stage of life too. Yes, teething issues are a major cause of sleep pattern problems (and some say sleep regression).
Check out page 54 (of the virtual PDF file) to see what set of teeth develops during which age HERE.
During the time that your baby starts teething, you may notice your child becoming more fussy, or start to develop mild rashes near the area of teeth development or cheeks area. In order to help your child sleep better, provide your child some comfort with a teething toy or teething ring. If required, you may also obtain paracetamol medications to help your child subside the pain. If all else fails, just know that it is a normal progression of life and keep your child comforted as best as you can.
7) Changes to sleep environment
To begin, this may very well be a top cause why babies cannot sleep. Often, this reason is overlooked. A change in the sleeping environment is a common cause why babies cannot sleep. From moving houses, to travelling, having a new sibling or adult in the surroundings, these affect babies’ sleep.
Adults may not be aware, but babies are actually sensitive to light, sound, smell and other arousing factors to their sense. Whilst certain change in environment may not be avoidable, try your best to minimize it. Of note, do try to establish a regular sleep environment with these conditions:
- Dark Room (minimal or no lights)
- Cooling Temperature (not to warm or cold)
- Quiet Surroundings (no traffic, TV, radio or loud conversations near the room)
- Optional: Soothing lullabies or white noise may help your baby fall asleep
- Habitual Routines: follow the pattern you wish such as showering, then feeding warm milk, changing diapers, singing a song, swaddling, and then patting to sleep with a consistent duration for each.
8) Changes to sleep routine (or lack there of)
Now that you know quite a few tricks to get your baby to sleep well, the difficulty is in maintaining it!
As our family lives’ inevitably undergo changes from time to time, these present episodes where your baby’s sleep routine may be broken.
For instance, when mummy returns to work after her maternity leave, baby would sense that mummy is no longer around as often during the day time. Also, baby would sense that mummy returns home every evening at a certain time. These events may affect your baby’s daily routine and thus result in a ripple consequence to sleep cycles.
To deal with this, try your best to keep up with the sleep routine established with your baby. If there must be an adjustment, do it gradually. Without doubt, any break in sleep routine will result in some sleepless nights. Take it in your stride, and always remember to fall back on your previous techniques to help your baby sleep again.
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9) Lack of ability to fall asleep independently
Last but not least, this reason is applicable if your child is at least 4 to 6 months old. This is the specific reason why parents and certain professionals would recommend “sleep training” or “sleep teaching”.
To elaborate, babies are born to be reliant on their adult carer(s) for their basic human needs – whether it is feeding, micturating, defecating, sleeping or more. Hence, it would only be between the age of 4 months and upwards, that babies can become suitable to be learn how to fall asleep (and stay asleep) by themselves.
Luckily for some parents, their babies adapt themselves and learn without much issue. For others though, the situation of babies not being able to fall asleep independently can persist for months and years. Again, this is a rather frequently encountered problem and there are many ways to tackle it. However, the discussion of “sleep training” is beyond the scope of this article.
Conclusion on Why Babies Cannot Sleep
All in all, there are many many reasons why babies cannot sleep. No wonder parents end up frustrated and tearful with their frequent sleepless nights. We hope our collation of research and experience into these 9 easy-to-understand and easy-to-remember reasons why your baby is not sleeping, will help you stay sane and get more sleep soon.
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