In the early days of parenting, it is not uncommon for a general lack of sleep to hang in the air. Your newborn is bound to have a hectic sleep schedule and with it, yours will be affected too. Nighttime disruptions will be common. Every parent has to deal with a fair amount of sleep issues both for themselves and their child. Even if your child sleeps through the night, you are bound to experience sleep issues here and there.
For the most part, baby sleep problems arise from temporary issues such as illness, developmental milestones, teething, and changes in routine. Hence, the occasional hiccup in your baby’s sleep schedule is perfectly fine. However, if you notice that your baby’s sleep problems are consistent then you might have a bigger problem on your hands. This needs to be addressed right away. In the long run, lack of proper sleep could negatively affect your lifestyle as well as your child’s.
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Sometimes, babies become accustomed to sleeping habits that they are familiar with. Examples might include being rocked to sleep or fed right before bedtime. These habits can be harder to overcome for your child as time goes on. If you change your baby’s sleep schedule, your baby might face difficulties in adjusting to new routines.
For that reason, it is important to understand the causes behind baby sleep problems. Every developmental stage comes with its own set of obstacles and learning curves. Understanding your child’s needs and habits at every stage is, hence, critical to establishing better sleeping routines. Moreover, when you are aware of the causes behind lack of sleep or interrupted sleep, you will be better prepared to tackle the problem.
Baby Sleep Problems (0 – 3 months old)
The newborn stage is probably the most difficult to maneuver. Your child is only beginning to understand their own sleeping patterns. As a new parent, you are also adjusting to the new addition to your family and routine. This stage is a learning curve for both parents and the baby.
Newborns usually sleep between 14 to 17 hours a day, only waking up occasionally to feed. This can happen during the day or at night. This extends up to two months. However, around the 2-month mark, your baby will sleep for an average of 8 hours at night. During the day, your baby will sleep for another 6 to 9 hours. This will spread over several short naps.
As adults, it can be difficult for us to consider short naps as proper sleep. It may appear to you that your baby is not sleeping enough. But, for infants, this is completely normal. Infants get their sleep in short naps (almost exactly like cats!) due to the frequent need to feed. So while it may appear to you that your little angel is hardly getting their shuteye, that is actually not the case. It is a perfectly normal process.
This sleep pattern and cycle will not stay for long. During the 0 – 3 month stage, there are two main reasons for sleep disruptions: resisting back-sleep and mixing day and night.
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Resisting Back Sleep
Fussing and refusing to settle down when laid on their back is normal for infants resisting back sleep. For the most part, babies feel more secure when sleeping on their tummy. However, sleeping on the tummy is linked to higher rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This is why experts advise laying your baby on their back instead.
If your baby resists back sleep consistently, you should schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. This will rule out any possibilities of physical explanations. The more common explanation is that your infant simply does not feel secure lying on their back. Some easy ways to promote back sleep include swaddling and giving your baby a pacifier at bedtime.
Simply sticking to a routine will fix this issue soon enough. You might not even need a sleep positioner.
Mixing Day and Night
When your child mixes day and night, it is common for them to sleep through the day and stay up at night. This is awful for parents. Luckily for you, it is very easy to fix this issue.
Make sure to help your child distinguish between night and day. During the day, you can limit their naps to only 3 hours. Moreover, you can incorporate simple adjustments such as:
- Keeping the nursery dimmed out at night
- Engage your child in activities during the day
- Avoid loud noises or constant activity at night
- Limit night-time feedings
Baby Sleep Problems (4 – 6 months old)
Around 4 months of age, your baby’s sleep hours will reduce to 12 to 14 hours. At night, you can expect stretches of up to 11 hours of sleep. And during the day, naps will start getting shorter, totaling 3 to 6 hours.
A 5-month old baby should be getting between 10 to 11 hours at night. During the day, two or three short naps should be enough. Now is the time for sleep issues that include: sleep regression and changes in nap routines.
What is sleep regression? Sleep regression is described as a period when an infant who usually sleeps through the night suddenly starts resisting night sleep. This usually starts occurring around the 4-month mark. Again, this is completely normal and is simply a sign that your baby is becoming more aware of the world around them.
While there is no definitive way of defining sleep regression, you will be able to notice it right off the bat. An easy way of detecting this is to note a sudden resistance to long stretches of sleep at night. Usually, this looks like an infant who has adjusted to their sleep schedule and pattern and has suddenly appeared to change their mind.
Fixing this issue is not hard. In fact, it is as simple as sticking to a specific sleep routine. Establish a pattern and stick to it. This might look like a bath, feeding, bedtime stories followed by cuddles, and a good tuck-in. Also if you notice that your child is not getting enough sleep at night, make sure that they catch up on lost sleep during the day.
Interestingly enough, you will notice that an overtired baby is even harder to put down at night. For that reason, you should make sure your child is getting enough sleep during the day. However, you should be limit daytime naps to 3 hours. This way your child will not learn to replace nighttime sleep with daytime sleep.
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Changes in Nap Routine
As your child grows older, they will nap lesser. You should not face a lot of issues with this. Mostly, babies embrace the changes in their nap routines as they learn to adjust to the world around them. However, it is also possible that your child rejects changes in their nap routine. This looks like lesser sleep and more fussing. If you are dealing with that, then chances are your baby is overtired.
Fixing this requires patience and consistency. Incorporate naptime routines such as slow music, storytelling, or massages. Some children take longer to adjust to a new nap routine. Simply stay consistent and be patient. Your little angel will soon slip right into their new nap routine.
Sleep Problems (6 months old and up)
Around the 6 month mark, you will notice significant changes in your baby’s sleep pattern. Your infant will now sleep between 10 to 11 hours at night and clock two to three short naps during the day.
By 9 months, nighttime sleep will extend to up to 12 hours and daytime naps will max out at two. Around one year of age, daytime naps will reduce to just one close to midday. A lot of infants start this around 14 to 16 months as well. So if your child takes a little longer to adopt this sleep pattern, don’t fuss.
The best part is that babies of 6 months and older are perfectly capable of clocking a full night’s sleep. In spite of that, there are several reasons why they cannot sleep through the night. Some of these are: inability to sleep independently, restless sleep, waking up early, and teething pains.
Inability to Sleep Independently
It is common to wake up during the night. This holds true for both adults and children. A proper sleep pattern is mastered over years of a consistent sleep routine and learning how to relax. It is completely normal for your 6-month-old to struggle with getting a full night’s sleep without any interruptions.
You might notice that your child still needs to be cuddled or rocked until they fall asleep. An easy way to solve this is to start sleep training. There are several methods to sleep teaching or self-soothing training. You can try out different methods until you find one that works for your baby.
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This is around when you need to revamp your baby’s bedtime routine. For instance, limit feeding to a minimum of 30-minutes before bedtime. As soon as you start noticing drowsiness, slip your baby into the crib. Fussing is normal at this stage. As soon as your child learns self-soothing techniques such as thumb sucking, they will learn to fall asleep independently.
If you find yourself needing to use a pacifier as well, do so. These are harmless self-soothing techniques. You should not worry much if your child does wake up during the night. It is encouraged to go them and lull them back to sleep. However, do encourage self-soothing above all else.
If you are debating whether to let your baby cry it out, that is also normal. Usually around 6 months, infants are aware that crying results in cuddles and soothing. They may very well do so just to get affection. Allowing them to cry for a bit before getting to them encourages self-soothing.
However, once infants realize that crying will not result in being picked up or rocked or fed (or all three), they will go back to sleep. This process usually takes up to a week to adjust to.
Restless Sleep (Usually Due to Late Night Feedings)
By the age of 6 months, infants no longer need late-night feedings. However, since your child is probably used to being fed late at night, they will still experience restlessness. They will wake up in the middle of the night seeking cuddles and rocking. Before you completely cut off night-time feedings, be sure to consult your pediatrician.
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You will learn to adjust your routine and your child’s by using sleep training. In most cases, your child will soon learn to self-soothe and will fall right back to sleep. Don’t stress over night-time wakings.
Waking Up Early
You might notice that your child wakes up quite early. Sometimes they can wake up as early as the crack of dawn. As a parent, you obviously need your rest as well. Luckily, encouraging your child to wake up a little later is not difficult.
A few tactics to encourage longer sleep hours are as simple as altering sleep routines and schedules. You can experiment with different sleep times. Adjusting your nursery to be more light and soundproof also helps.
It is very easy to spot teething in your infant. Teething signs include drooling, fussiness during feeding, tendency to bite, and general irritability. Teething pains are a common cause of restlessness during sleep. You will notice that your child wakes up frequently.
While teething usually occurs by the 6-month mark, teething pains can begin as early as 3 or 4 months. At the same time, some children start teething around the 1-year mark. It is completely fine to notice delays in the teething process. This is not an indication of problems. However, if you have your doubts, feel free to consult your doctor.
Sleep Problems At Any Age
Aside from developmental milestones and their effect on your baby’s sleep routine, there are some common baby sleep problems that can occur at any age. Two of the most common ones are: sleep routine disruptions and trouble settling down.
Baby Sleep Routine Disruptions
Babies’ sleep patterns are very delicate. The slightest change or hitch can turn their routine upside down. The seasonal flu or an infection can be the cause of complete upheaval in your child’s sleep routine.
Solving this issue is as simple as sticking to a routine. We know that there will definitely be some things that are out of your control. Cut your little angel a little slack in the sleep department.
Be sure to fall back into a proper sleep routine as soon as possible. This will save you and your child a lot of trouble down the road. Falling back into your regular routine is the easiest way out of this problem.
Trouble Settling Down
Having trouble settling down can happen even when your baby is tired and in need of sleep. In fact, overtired babies are more likely to experience trouble with settling down. The exhaustion makes them irritable and hence, incapable of falling asleep peacefully.
Younger babies experience this more frequently than older ones. However, the solution to this just needs a little extra attention. Keep an eye out for signs of tiredness. Do not wait until your baby is overtired.
As adults, we usually find it easier to fall asleep when we are thoroughly worn out. This does not hold true with babies. Learn to put your child down for sleep when you notice signs of tiredness. Don’t wait for them to become too tired.
This will train them to sleep more peacefully. Moreover, it will help them settle down far more easily.
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Experiencing sleep problems following an illness is also quite common. A sick baby is difficult to soothe. However, you just need to make sure that your child is well and healthy again before going back to your regular sleep routine.
During days of sickness, it is important to be there for your child. Make sure they get better as soon as possible. Since this period can be considered an anomaly, you shouldn’t stress out about sleep patterns while your child is sick. Give them time to get better before reinforcing sleep training and proper sleep schedules.
As your child grows and reaches developmental milestones, their sleep habits will change. This can be challenging as a new parent. However, with the right techniques and training, you can easily tackle all your baby’s sleep problems.