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’ve 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 parents struggle with – on the contrary, all children are different and respond in different ways!
The honest truth of it is, 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 things you can do to help your baby sleep at night!
Why listen to us? We have done lots of reading, research. spoken to numerous parents, childcare professionals, sleep care consultants and health visitors, as well as experiencing 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 you figure out what you can do with your baby’s routine to help maximise the amount of sleep they’re getting. Allowing you 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 as normal with 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 include:
- 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 (birth), 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 home in mummy’s tummy…
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 night time sleep.
There are a number of reasons why your baby won’t sleep at night, below are the 10 most common.
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 wriggler. 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 gnawed 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. Please continue reading before you 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.
All over the Internet, social media, tv, forums and parenting groups, they’re all pushing parents to train their kids not to cry and call out for help. These are things that influence our decisions, especially when sleep deprived! We’re sold by the number of people that claim that it worked for them.
The truth is, that in most cases 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. So what’s the point? How will this affect them in their later life?
We can’t be sure, but is the later risk worth the gain now?
I don’t mean for this 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. Some of us get cranky, I even become ‘a
little lot’ mean when I haven’t slept! 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
If you have a baby or a toddler, these are unlikely to be the reasons why your baby won’t sleep at night.
Both night terrors and nightmares are uncommon in children under the age of 3.
However, uncommon doesn’t mean they won’t experience it, we are pretty sure our daughter has experienced several nightmares in her short stint here.
Children who are experiencing night terrors may scream or shout and thrash around in panic. Although their eyes will be open, they’re not fully awake. These episodes shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes.
You may be asking yourself ‘Why do they happen?’
Unfortunately, they usually affect children who have a family history of night terrors or sleepwalking.
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
This may be hard advice to follow, but according to the NHS, stay calm and allow the night terror to pass and your child to calm down.
The only reason to intervene is to ensure the safety of your child. Although they may be frightening, these night terrors don’t harm your child. They are also unlikely to remember the event in the morning.
Apart from not intervening – make sure you have a routine in place that allows for a relaxing bedtime (as mentioned in the naps section).
These usually occur later in the night and cause feelings of terror, fear, distress or anxiety.
It is likely they will wake your child and they will have some recollection of the events in the dream.
They can often be triggered by frightening experiences or even the food they’ve eaten.
How to help
Talk to your child to find out if anything is bothering them that might be triggering these nightmares.
Similar to above, the relaxing nighttime routine can work wonders with helping your little one get to sleep and feel happy and secure.
For more information on nightmares and night terrors, please do some research – why not start here.
6. Bad naps throughout the day
Finally, something that is easier to control.
One of the most common reasons your baby won’t sleep at night is either insufficient naps throughout the day or naps that have lasted too long.
Having a consistent daily routine and making sure you’re following a good sleep schedule is key. This will make sure your baby sleeps at the correct intervals throughout the day.
Make sure you have given adequate time for napping, leaving a baby sizable gap between their nap and their bedtime. This will help tremendously. Following the routine will also really help your baby get into the habit of going to bed at a specific time.
Remember though, if your child is experiencing a leap/sleep regression, you may have to ride out the storm. The sleep schedule will help with consistency and allowing your child to know what to expect at what time.
To download your FREE Sleep Schedule, enter your details below and it’ll be emailed to you right away!
How to help
The number one piece of advice I can give to any parent whose baby won’t sleep at night – BE CONSISTENT in your approach. When following a sleep schedule, make sure you are consistent. When it’s nap time, you are building a routine – get your baby into the room they’ll be sleeping in, perhaps read them the same story each time so they know a nap is coming.
This may well feel like it takes an eternity, it’s unlikely to be quick, but trust me, it’ll be worth the wait!
This will greatly help to get your child to sleep during their naps and thus getting them to sleep through the night.
7. Hungry or thirsty
Trying to sleep when you’re hungry or thirsty is no fun, for adults and children alike. I know many of you will struggle to sleep when your stomach feels empty and you’ll sleep like a king when your belly is the right amount full!
Your kid has a small stomach. Apparently, it’s the size of their fist. That’s one small stomach, they can’t fit a great deal in it.
In their early stages of life, they wake up frequently throughout the night because they’re hungry. The truth is, the same still happens when they’re older. Try your best to make sure they have enough to eat (solids or liquids – depending on their age) before putting their head down for the night.
This can be quite difficult in some instances, especially as some babies are notoriously bad eaters. This can really make it difficult to feed them substantially before bed.
We knew a family who had an underweight son, he was a really light eater, as a result, he was a really bad sleeper as well. You definitely can’t sleep train a hungry child.
Our daughter on the other hand is a fantastic eater, however, there are some evenings she flat out refuses. The knock-on effect is clear right away, I’ll be on call that night.
How to help
Breast fed – If you have a young baby who is breastfed, you can merely feed them throughout the night – they’ll let you know they are hungry by crying. If you are unsure whether they’re hungry, go through your checks. Start with temperature, smell their bum, then go straight to milk.
Bottle fed – If your baby is bottle fed, start keeping track of what time your baby gets hungry. This will allow you to preprepare a bottle ahead of the waterworks, making it easier for your baby to fall back asleep after.
To speed things up at night, why not consider the Tommee Tippee Prep Day and Night?
Loads of parents we know swear by this machine! So much so that we bought one ourselves (though she never took a bottle).
This machine makes bottle prep super-efficient and produces milk at the correct temperature for your child to drink! The major benefit is the wait time is incredibly short and no more heating their bottle up on the stove!
On solids – If your child is a bad eater, be sure to feed them something you know they’ll really like or eat well as their last meal before bed.
If you feed your baby rice and you know they just throw it everywhere, try switching to something like soup or some scrambled eggs – which are easier for you to feed or control. Why not even try Ella’s Kitchen Pouches? They worked wonders for us.
Try to feed your child about 30 minutes before bed. For us, that is dinner, bath, story, bed. This seems to work really well as it is incorporated into her routine.
Once you know your child has had a substantial dinner before bed, you’ll be able to automatically cross that off the list of why your baby won’t sleep at night.
When your little one is unwell, you can more than likely say goodbye to great nighttime sleep. Depending on the type of illness – here we’ll be discussing the common cold (colic – will be discussed in a different post).
For an adult, being bunged up is absolutely horrible. I breathe through my nose when I sleep – when it’s blocked, it’s like I forget that I’m able to breathe through my mouth. The same thing may well happen to your child.
While lying on their backs, all the mucus from their nose can start to run down their throats. This will in turn, likely cause them to cough, which is likely to be one of the major causes of them waking up during this period.
In these instances, really try not to just let them cry, offer them some comfort, hold them for a while to help them sleep. If they are really struggling and want to be with you the whole night – make an exception and bring them into your bed.
Disclaimer – do not do this if you are a wild sleeper and do Kung Fu in your sleep. If this is the case, the baby does not join you in bed! Please also do your research on this and make sure you are comfortable with any risk. Co-sleeping can be wonderful, however, you also need to be aware of the risk of SIDs.
How to help
Now a lot of people are not a fan of medicine, but when our daughter is ill, we give her Calpol. She likes the taste and it really helps her to sleep. This really helps with her discomfort and I imagine the aches and pains with being ill.
We would even go so far as to recommend the vapour plugin. It has a handy night light (hopefully your child isn’t light-sensitive!) and comes with refills. It should last the whole night and help with decongestion. Either that or Olbas Oil Children on a bib tied safely to her crib and out of arm’s reach.
We also use snuffle babe vapour rub (baby/child version of Vix) on her chest and back, we want to get rid of this cold as soon a possible so we can all continue sleeping again!
For more severe cases, we have used the Snufflebabe nasal aspirator as well – she did not enjoy this! But it meant she could breathe. We have only used it twice and is quite difficult to administer, but is a lot nicer than using your mouth…
If your baby is breastfed, this should work wonders with getting your baby well. You may even find they want it a lot more!
For more herbal remedies, my sister in law swears by Thyme tea. Her child is rarely ill and very healthy. We should probably start using that for our whole family.
9. Dirty nappy
This is something you should know from when your baby is a newborn. One BIG reason your baby won’t sleep at night is that they are uncomfortable.
Imagine trying to sleep with sodden or soiled underwear and see how comfortable it is. Some nappies boast that they’ll keep your child dry for up to 12 hours – we learnt really quickly that some of these companies are liars…
You will come to know your kids well enough to know at what point they’ll have a full nappy.
My sister knew that her son would have a full nappy at around 11 pm. If we didn’t change his nappy he’d leak through by morning.
Boy was she right – when he stayed over, he’d sleep in my bed. Only once did I not change his nappy at 11pm… That was definitely a mistake I wouldn’t make twice.
I am very lucky that my daughter seldom poops at night. When she does, this nappy change and the cold wipes on her little tooshie fully wake her up and takes ages to get her back to sleep!
How to help
I guess, know your child’s toilet habits. Buy nappies that actually keep your baby dry. We’ve always bought one size up. This allows us to really pull the nappy up. Whenever she wore nappies her size, she’d leak, night or day.
Very few tips here, just make sure they are comfortable, it will really help.
As your child goes through their different leaps, they become surprisingly aware of their surroundings. The result of this is that they know they’re alone! Imagine being a tiny person, in a big cot, in a big dark room all alone. In most cases in an empty cot with no toys or pillows for comfort. They may hear strange sounds which add to their fright/terror.
This could be something quite distressing for them and cause them to call out for you. Depending on the age and development of the child, this could be through crying or calling mummy and daddy.
How to help
This could be through filling their cot with some cuddly toys – again be aware of the risks here.
We told our daughter that if she gets scared, she should cuddle her bunny – this seems to work quite well. She is also surrounded by so many, that sometimes, when she wakes up, she occupies herself with them, then falls back asleep.
We also have bought her a grow egg – this works as a thermometer and night light (I really do like getting my money’s worth), which allows her to see her cuddly toys around her and us when we enter the room if necessary.
We also use a white noise machine, which will hide all of the outside noise. This way our socialite child won’t hear us pottering around or entertaining.
According to Health Line and other sources, it can help with relaxation as it mimics the sound of the womb.
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.