Baby sleep is something that many parents struggle with. How do I know? I know a lot of people with kids, every parent I’ve spoken to has had trouble with sleep at some point. Some having more trouble than others. I also read a number of forums and am part of a number of parenting groups. When your baby won’t sleep at night, the struggle is real!
Please don’t think that having sleep trouble with your kid is something that only new parent’s struggle with, on the contrary, all children are different and respond in different ways!
The honest truth of it is, that there isn’t a one size fits all. All we can do is our best and try to do right by our children.
That being said, there are a number of books or articles you could read, even speak to a number of different parents to see how they would deal with it.
Why listen to us? We have done lots of reading, spoken to numerous parents and experienced it ourselves with our strong-willed daughter. We have compiled what we’ve learned into this post and others to help you get what you need in a single location – waterfilledwellies.com.
We’ve even created our own FREE downloadable sleep schedule and created a guide to baby’s day and night routine. These will help struggling parents figure out what they can do with their routine to help their baby maximise the amount of sleep their getting. Allowing parents to get some well-deserved rest! These are part of our positive parenting solutions, you can find out more here.
Why your baby won't sleep at night
Let’s first identify what we mean by ‘baby won’t sleep at night’.
For most of us, our baby falling asleep isn’t the problem – it’s the staying asleep that causes us so much trouble!
It’s so difficult to function on a normal lack of sleep or even broken sleep, but when you compound this for months and in some cases years it feels catastrophic!
Being a stay at home parent, working full or even part-time, the challenges are vast when you haven’t slept! These include but are not limited to short-term memory loss, decreased reaction time, vigilance, and even negative mood changes. It can even lead to weight gain…
The other massive challenges of broken sleep and/or sleep deprivation are how are you meant to be an engaged and active parent? How are you meant to focus on your physical and mental health? How can you participate in your hobbies or even spend time with friends?
This post will give you some understanding of why your baby won’t sleep at night and different positive parent strategies on how to overcome them.
So why do they have so much trouble sleeping?
When a baby is first born, everything is different, new. They have only been alive for 9 months, had an excruciating experience, then had everything they’ve known taken from them. At this point, there is very little to comfort them other than the sound of their mother’s voice or heartbeat.
Then throw in that they now experience a physical change in day and night, faces, people, smells, eating and learning new things every day. It’s no surprise that babies cry so much at the beginning. They miss their warm cosy, quiet sack…
When they finally start to settle and things then start to be normal for them, parents want to start sleep training their child…
Ideally, you wouldn’t start any form of sleep training before 6 months, then I’d personally go with a no cry positive parenting method. This will encourage a good relationship with sleep and a better one with you and your child, who will show you when they no longer need you to comfort them.
We are a carrying species according to Dr Peter Cook, so it is natural for us to be with and comfort our children, usually through closeness or with milk, not leave them to cry until they stop.
Remember – setting up a routine with young children will help them associate times of the day with sleep, which will in turn greatly affect their nighttime sleep.
There are a number of reasons why your baby won’t sleep at night, below are the 10 that we’ve come up with.
10 reasons why your baby won't sleep at night
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This can be something incredibly distressing for your baby, especially with certain teeth. Extensive pain throughout the day and sleepless nights are dreadful for you both.
How to spot teething – some babies cry uncontrollably, others display teething through excessive dribbling or through the redness of the cheeks that could also resemble a rash. It may manifest through pulling on their ears, biting things (including you) and occasionally slapping themselves. Some of these things can be hard to deal with as a parent, like heartbreaking crying or biting while feeding!
Teething is a very common reason why your baby won’t sleep at night, the pain is usually worse in the evening.
How to help
There are a number of different products we used with our daughter, some are better than others but all were effective. Each child is different and you’ll need to find what works with yours.
Ashton & Parsons teething salts. Pour some of that into their mouth and this should make a significant difference. We’ve been using this in our house since our daughter’s first tooth! She loves it.
The Ashton & Parsons can be quite fiddly… I have wasted many a sachet trying to pour it into the mouth of a little wriggle. Some of the best techniques we’ve found are to use a spoon or tear the pack open width ways to avoid waste. I always end up buying the 30 sachet pack in case of waste. The plus side is that they’re not expensive.
Teething toys are incredibly useful alongside the Ashton & Parsons. Our daughter’s favourites were Sophie la giraffe, Matchstick Monkey and Boo the Bunny! She loved Sophie so much that she bit off her ear!
We’ve had a wide range of teething toys, but these were her go -tos. It may even be worth getting some that are made of rubber with liquid in them. These can be refrigerated and help to soothe your baby’s sore gums.
2. Separation anxiety
Separation anxiety could be a major factor when considering why your baby won’t sleep at night. It can be the cause of many sleepless nights.
Why does it happen?
Your baby misses you! They can’t stand to be away from you! The very thought of you not being near them fills them with dread and despair!
Possible causes – going back to work after your maternity leave, starting nursery, no longer nursing, fear of losing you or being lost to name a few.
Is separation anxiety normal?
Yea, it is. According to Stanford Children’s Health, “Nearly all children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old have separation anxiety and are clingy to some degree.” One of the most common results of separation anxiety is refusing to sleep alone!
This is an incredibly challenging time for families as there is little we can do to get past this. Take solace in knowing this is temporary and will pass!
How to help
Stay strong, separation anxiety can be really troubling for you both, try to be there for your little one and give them the attention they crave. Let them know what you’ll both do in the morning when they wake up. Be positive with them and let them know their feelings are ok.
This is short-lived in the grand scheme of their childhood, so try to be as supportive as you can.
For some, the cure for this is to start sleep training. Read this before you even consider sleep training! When you’re lonely or frightened what do you want? In most cases, it will be attention, love or feeling safe.
It’s great that you’re able to communicate that or seek those things. Your baby can’t… You’re their lifeline, the one they need and trust to look after them. The one they’re seeking to give them attention, love and make them feel safe.
By having your baby, you’ve made a commitment to them. You had to know it wasn’t going to be easy; you had to know you were going to have sleepless nights; it may well just be harder than you expected.
Don’t let them cry it out. Don’t ignore them while they’re alone in their big dark room helpless. They need comfort and someone to rely on, they need their family.
Ignoring your child will eventually lead to sleep, there are probably hundreds of millions of cases where crying children learn to “self soothe”. Or have understood that no matter how much they cry, no one will come. But how will this affect them in their later life?
I don’t mean to make people feel guilty, this is not an attempt to parent shame, but to bring awareness. We’re all parents just trying to do our best and what’s right for us and our children.
I believe there are very few parents out there that would want to cause harm to their children. Sleep deprivation is horrible and takes us away from being the best version of ourselves. The things I’d have done to get 40 winks around the 4-month mark! Don’t beat yourself up for looking for ways to allow for both you and your child to sleep.
There is so much literature out there about why your baby won’t sleep at night and there are tons of sleep training methods that claim that training your baby to sleep is the best thing to do.
If you’re interested in another approach, why not read ‘The book you wish your parents had read‘. It will definitely change your way of thinking! If you’re interested in our positive parenting solution, why not get our guide to baby’s daily routine?
When our daughter was first born we were told about an app which would apparently change our lives! ‘The Wonder Weeks‘
This app explores, in a significant amount of detail the episodes or ‘leaps’ that your little one will experience throughout their first 20 months. These periods of time will often include periods of extreme fussiness, crying for no apparent reason, restlessness, clinginess, and yes, you’ve guessed it… sleeplessness!
So why and when do these leaps happen?
Leaps will happen throughout the first 20 months as your little one gets accustomed to the outside world, grows and starts to develop and learn new skills. Whether this is the art of associating sounds, shapes, colours… uttering their first little noises, making connections between people and objects or learning motor skills etc… this time can be trialling for even the seasoned parent.
Leap 1 – 5 weeks old
Leap 2 – 7 – 9 weeks old
Leap 3 – 12 weeks old
Leap 4 – 14 -20 weeks
Leap 5 – 22 – 27 weeks
Leap 6 – 33 – 38 weeks
Leap 7 – 41 – 47 weeks
Leap 8 – 50 – 55 weeks
Leap 9 – 59 -65 weeks
Leap 10 – 70 – 76 weeks
For more information on what to expect from the different leaps, why not check out The Wonder Weeks blog posts?
How to help
4. Sleep regression
This really threw us off! Before the 4 month sleep regression, we thought we were super parents. Other than waking up for feeding, she was a dream. She wasn’t a particularly needy baby, she didn’t really cry much, she slept really well! It was going to be a breeze! Then we experienced a nightmare leap…
Sleep regression is when your baby has reached different milestones in developments (Leaps), which cause your baby to be more focused and switched on, thus finding it harder to sleep and stay asleep.
There are, however, other things at play. As your child becomes more aware of their surroundings – they become more aware that they’re alone. If sent to nursery, they are more aware that they see you less. The result in this, for many young children, is separation anxiety as mentioned above.
It may well feel like your baby won’t sleep ever again, but bear with it, sleep regression only tends to happen around 4, 8-9, 12, 18, 24 months. So there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just maybe 2 years away…
It felt like as soon as we’d get our daughter into a good routine and she’d sleep through the night, she’d experience a leap and we would regress! One of the things that really helped us, was making sure she was stimulated enough during the day and having naps at the correct time.
How long do these sleep regression episodes last?
Each sleep regression episode usually only lasts from 2-6 weeks. I know, that seems like a lot! At the time of writing this, our daughter is currently going through her 18 month one and has actually just woken up! She is only two weeks in and it already feels like an eternity.
Her language is developing as she begins to string sentences together; she is experiencing separation anxiety (even though not at nursery – but her mother’s at work), which is really hard on Filipa; she also wants to be an independent young woman with the strongest will in a toddler I have ever seen!
How to help
You will need to make sure you work as a team on this. Share the burden of waking up and try really hard to not lose your temper with your child or each other. Above all, be patient, this is a tough time for all involved.
I have always woken up early, I like to get a head start on my day. Even though this is the case, I still make sure I do half the night shift! Make sure you come up with a system that works for you both.
5. Night terrors or nightmares
They can be brought on by simple things like tiredness, fever and different types of medication. These are all things that cause the child to spend more time in a deep sleep. It could also be things that make your child wake from that deep sleep. This could be excitement, sudden loud noise or even anxiety about something.
How to help
How to help
6. Bad naps throughout the day
How to help
7. Hungry or thirsty
How to help
How to help
9. Dirty nappy
How to help
How to help
If you’re still struggling and need additional help with sleep, why not check out our guide to baby’s day and night routine? This is a no-cry method of tackling sleeping problems. Looking at your routine and naps throughout the day to maximise sleep at night!
As you can see, there are numerous reasons as to why your baby won’t sleep at night. This list may not be exhaustive, however, these are the ones that we’ve found to be most common.
Following the ‘how to help’ should make a real difference when overcoming your little one’s sleep problems.
Remember, with most things parenting – be consistent and try not to take things personally. It is also short-lived in the grand scheme of things. It just feels long now.
Good luck and happy parenting.