This is a common exclamation heard by new parents in their adventures in sleep deprivation during the first year of their child’s life. Even though newborns sleep up to 16 hours a day, usually their sleep patterns won’t coordinate with their parents’ sleep patterns. Infants are still developing neurologically and tend to have fragmented sleep in which they don’t sleep for long periods and they don’t do the majority of their sleeping at night. Also, infants need to have regular feedings, including several feedings at night.
However, as your child gets older, he or she should be able to learn to fall asleep on their own without any help. By four to six months of age, most babies are also able to sleep for six to eight hours straight and can put themselves back to sleep if they wake up during the night. If your baby is reaching the five to six month age and still won’t sleep for long stretches of time or can’t fall back asleep on their own, there could be a few different causes. Here are a few of the most common causes for your baby’s lack of sleep and some possible solutions.
Your baby is hungry at night: This is one of the most common reasons why babies have trouble falling asleep and have a difficult time staying asleep through the night. Sometimes babies are actually feeling hunger and need a “midnight snack.” Perhaps they are going through a growth spurt and need more food than usual or maybe their appetite has changed that day and they need a nighttime feeding. However, it could also be the case that your baby has associated feeding with falling asleep. If you regularly feed your baby right before putting him or her to bed, they will begin to associate nursing with sleeping. Subsequently, if your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, they may need to feed in order to fall back asleep.
Solution: If your baby is actually hungry in the night and this becomes a regular occurrence, try giving your baby extra calories in the evening. Try feeding your baby every hour or two in the evening before bedtime or if you put your baby to sleep before you sleep, try waking him or her for a feeding before your bedtime. If you fall into the latter category of your baby associating feeding with sleeping, there are several adjustments you can make. In order to get rid of this association, try nursing before bedtime but then add in a few other tasks before putting your baby in their crib. Perhaps nurse then do a diaper change before putting them to sleep. Also, try feeding them outside their bedroom so they begin to associate the bedroom with sleeping.
Solution: In order to get your baby to nap consistently, it is important to be able to notice exactly when your baby is getting tired. As soon as they start yawning or show heavy eyes, they should be put to sleep. If they don’t fall asleep in the early stages of feeling sleepy they may become too tired and have difficulty falling asleep. Babies with consistent routines usually go to sleep easier. Familiar bedtime rituals used at night should also be used during the day for naps. If you usually rock your baby at night while singing a lullaby, do this as well during naptime to help them fall asleep.
Your baby is not getting enough light during the day: With busy schedules and bad weather many months of the year, it is difficult to find the time to take your baby outside. Infants who get more exposure to light during the day usually sleep better at night and conversely babies who are in the dark more often sleep worse at night. Light during the day suppresses melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleeping and waking cycle, and helps it peak during the night-time hours.
Solution: If possible, try and take your baby outside for a short walk in the morning, even on a cloudy day. With working schedules, however, this isn’t always possible. If you are unable to go for a walk outside, try putting your baby in sunny areas of the house. Feed your baby near a window with the sun shining and keep the shades in the house open to let in natural light. If natural sunlight isn’t an option, as a substitute turn on lights in the house. Likewise, when sleeping at night, make the room dark and if you want your baby to sleep in, think about using opaque shades to block out early morning sunshine.
Your baby is too attached to you: Babies make associations with sleep and often become dependent on parents to sleep. If you usually rock your child to sleep, hold your child until he or she falls asleep, or sing your child to sleep, your baby will expect this every time they want to sleep. This can exhaust the parents if the baby wakes up regularly in the night and needs these comforts to fall back asleep.
Solution: Try to teach your baby to fall asleep on his or her own without you having to be present and engaged. If your baby learns to go to sleep alone, he or she will be able to fall back asleep without parental involvement. When you put your baby to sleep, spend less time each night with him or her. Also, try using a transitional object such as a pacifier or for older children, a blanket or toy when you leave your baby to sleep.
Your baby is too excited to sleep: Especially when there are working parents, many babies spend their evenings engaged in fun activities with mom and dad like being tossed in the air, splashing in the tub, watching videos, and playing with toys. Engaging in such fun activities right before bedtime can give your baby too much energy or make them over-tired, which as mentioned above, can actually make falling asleep and staying asleep harder.
Solution: Try and create a soothing and relaxing bedtime routine that won’t excite your child too much. Perhaps try lullabies, stories, or massages before bedtime instead of videos and playing. Baths can be soothing for some children as well, but for others splashing in the tub can be just as energy exerting as playtime. It is important to find a ritual that soothes your particular baby. Also, as a parent, try to calm yourself down because babies can pick up on their parents’ moods. If you are in a calm and relaxed state, it is more likely your baby will be too.