Baby Won’t Sleep? Potential Causes & Solutions

Published on May 10th, 2021

If there was an Olympic category for sleep, your baby would take home the gold. Newborns clock in as many as 17 hours of sleep per 24-hour cycle. But sometimes, your little one may have trouble drifting off. If your newborn baby won’t sleep, there may be a number of potential reasons why—from a noisy room to an itchy blanket—and identifying them is the first step to ensuring your little one gets all the z’s she needs. 

How much sleep should my child be getting? 

Not only could your little one win the sleep category at the Baby Olympics, but she’s also a contender for the growth competition! Babies grow faster in the first few months of life than they ever will after that, increasing in length by about 0.5 to 1.5 inches every month. Growing so fast takes a lot out of a baby, which is why your little one needs so much sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation breaks down a baby’s sleep needs by her age group:

  • Newborns (0 to 3 months) – 14-17 hours
  • Infants (4 to 11 months) – 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1 to 2 years old) – 11-14 hours

Keep in mind that these are broad guidelines that parents should use as a moving target rather than a hard and fast rule. Every baby is different, so don’t worry if your child needs a little more or less sleep than the guidelines say.

If your baby is having trouble sleeping soundly through naps and bedtime, there may be developmental or environmental factors keeping him up. We’ll take a look at some of the common causes and potential solutions to restless nights.

#1 Your Baby’s Environment Isn’t Ideal for Sleep 

Your baby may have trouble adjusting to her sleep space after saying goodbye to her first favorite bedroom best—Mom’s womb. The womb had everything she needed—it was dark, warm, quiet, and Mom’s body made for an amazing ambient noise machine. No matter how decked out your nursery is, it can be a tough adjustment for your baby.

How do you go from womb to room?

Solution: Start by making the room as womb-like as possible. Install shades or blinds to keep the room dark when it’s time for sleep. You can also try to keep the room at the ideal temperature for babies, 68° to 72°F (20° to 22.2°C). A white noise machine can help recreate the soft, soothing ambient sounds of the womb and muffle the other sounds of your home (like the sounds of you and your partner oohing and aahing over your serenely sleeping child). 

#2 Your Baby is Too Tired to Sleep 

The more tired your baby gets, the easier it should be to get him to fall asleep, right? Wrong. It’s actually more difficult to get your baby to sleep if he’s been awake longer than he can tolerate. Unlike adults who keel over immediately when tired, overtired babies react to their exhaustion with a stress response. Their brains flood their bodies with the stress hormone cortisol, making them tense and fussy, the opposite of what your baby needs to feel before taking the express train to Snooze Town. 

As with many things, the best sleep solution is a proactive one. You can help your baby learn when to sleep by doing the following:

  • Establishing a regular bedtime routine, such as lullabies, a bath, or storytime
  • Avoiding overstimulation 30 minutes before your baby’s bedtime

Keeping your baby from getting overtired by keeping an eye out for the first signs of tiredness to signal sleep time is another thing to try. Your baby may be giving you sleep cues if he’s:

  • Rubbing his face
  • Yawning
  • Getting clingy
  • Whimpering

If your baby is already overtired, try:

  • Dimming the lights
  • Using a white noise machine

Most importantly, be patient both with your baby and yourself. The process of calming an overtired baby can be tough, but with time and experience, you can make sure your child gets his rest before he goes beyond his limit.

#3 Your Baby Is Experiencing Sleep Regression 

If your child was a champion napper who’s suddenly refusing to close his eyes no matter how many times you read Good Night, Moon, he might be going through baby sleep regression.

Sleep regression describes a period when a baby who has been sleeping well suddenly experiences poor sleep. Signs of sleep regression include:

  • Frequently waking at night
  • Shorter or skipped daytime naps
  • Fussiness at bedtime

Sleep regression can happen for many reasons and can occur several times in your child’s development. The 4, 8, and 12 month-periods are common timelines for your little one to experience disruption and affect your baby’s sleep pattern.

Sleep regression can be caused by two kinds of changes:

Physical and developmental changes like…

  • Growth spurts that disrupt his body’s sleep rhythms, causing his sleep needs to change
  • New developmental milestones, such as when the child learns to crawl or starts teething

Environmental and mental triggers like…

  • A change in his nap schedule or environment
  • Separation anxiety (from you!) as your child’s emotional and social awareness grows.

Solution: Luckily, sleep regressions usually only last 3-6 weeks. But in the meantime, you can adjust your child’s schedule to help him get used to the changes. 

  • Try setting an earlier bedtime to help your child (and you!) catch up on sleep until things settle down.
  • If your child is going through a growth spurt, he may be a little more snacky than usual. Increase his feedings to help fuel this growth and also to help make him a bit more drowsy. Also, maybe try to span the time between nighttime feeding to avoid restless nights. 
  • Continue to follow whatever sleep training methods you’ve been using and allow your child time to adjust to the new changes in his life.

Sleep regression can definitely be difficult for parents, but a few tricks will help your child return to the baseline more quickly. Check out our blog to learn more about sleep regression.

#4 Your Baby’s Mixes Up Day and Night 

A baby circadian rhythm may be off if your baby sleeps the day away but is active and awake at night. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are a part of the body’s internal biological clock. They tell our bodies when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to rest. Sunlight plays a big role in setting our internal clocks since blue light from the sun’s rays sends “stay awake” signals to the brain. 

In the first 6 to 8 weeks, it’s normal for newborns to mix up their days and nights. After having just left a cozy dark womb after 9 months, newborns haven’t developed their internal rhythms yet. But as a new parent, you might want to look into newborn sleep schedules and see what you need to know.

Once she hits the 3 to 6 months period, your little one’s circadian rhythm has developed enough so that she may be able to start sleeping through the night. The trick then is to help her associate night time with sleep time.

How do you reset your baby’s internal clock, so it matches yours instead of the friendly family of nocturnal raccoons down the street? 

  • Expose your baby to indirect, natural light during the day. When light enters the eye, it sends signals to your child’s brain that it’s time to wake the rest of your body up.
  • Keep your baby away from artificial light and overstimulation close to bedtime.
  • Involve your baby in the bustle of your day so she can associate daytime with activity.
  • Keep the room dim during nighttime feeds. Save post-feeding playtime for when the sun is up to help your bright-eyed little girl set her inner clock.
  • Once your baby hits the 4-month mark, you can try implementing a basic sleep schedule so she can associate regular times of the day with activity or sleep.
  • The 4-month mark is also the time to start sleep training if your child can’t fall asleep without help from you or can’t fall back asleep by herself after waking up in the night.

Get an Express Ticket to Dreamland with SneakPeek Traits 

Your baby’s sleep habits may be unpredictable as he grows from a newborn to a toddler, but building a good foundation for your child’s sleep schedule can start at any time. Learning about your baby’s genetic proclivities can help inform sleep training strategies and build sleep schedules that work with your child’s body. With a little help from SneakPeek, you can get an inside look at your child’s sleep habits as predicted by his genetics!

SneakPeek Traits is a simple at-home DNA test that just requires a quick, painless swab of your baby’s inner cheek. Pack up the sample and ship it off to SneakPeek Labs, and soon enough, you’ll receive incredible insights about your baby’s sleep habits according to his genetic traits, including:

  • Sleep latency –How long it usually takes your child to fall asleep.
  • Sleep efficiency – How much time your child spends trying to sleep versus the time spent actually sleeping.
  • Ideal sleep duration – The optimal amount of sleep his body needs to feel at his best.
  • Sleep chronotype – Whether he’s genetically inclined to be an early bird or night owl.

With SneakPeek Traits, you’ll receive a sleep profile with tips and advice tailored to your baby’s unique genetics needs so you can both drift off to dreamland.

Rest easy (both you and your little one!) with SneakPeek Traits!

Sources: 

Sleep Health. National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Time Duration Recommendations: Methodology and Results Summary. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/

National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Circadian Rhythms. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx

What to Expect. A Guide to Your Baby’s Sleeping Patterns. https://www.whattoexpect.com/baby-behavior/infant-sleep-patterns.aspx

Healthline. What is the Best Room Temperature for Baby? https://www.healthline.com/health/baby/room-temperature-for-baby

Healthline. How to Recognize an Overtired Baby. https://www.healthline.com/health/baby/how-to-recognize-an-overtired-baby

What to Expect. 11 Reasons Your Baby Won’t Sleep and How to Cope. https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/baby-sleep-problems.aspx

Sleep Foundation. Light and Sleep. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/light-and-sleep

Healthline. Why Won’t They Sleep? Dealing with the 8-Month Sleep Regression. https://www.healthline.com/health/baby/8-month-sleep-regression#what-can-you-do

Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2018 October. Perspective: The Long-Term Effects of Light Exposure on Establishment of Newborn Circadian Rhythm. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6175794/

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SneakPeek aims to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information to help our readers make informed decisions regarding their health before, during, and after pregnancy. This article was written based upon trusted scientific research studies and/or articles. Credible information sources for this article are cited and hyperlinked.

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