Jul 25, 2017, 10:29:27 AM CDT Jan 24, 2023, 10:36:49 AM CST

Why babies have a hard time falling asleep

How to help your little one get the sleep they need

sleeping baby boy sleeping baby boy

When your baby is tired as can be but still can't manage to nod off, they may cry or fight sleep for hours on end. It can be incredibly worrisome and frustrating for a parent.

Unfortunately, fighting sleep is a normal part of newborn and baby life, especially during sleep regressions. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that babies don't develop a regular sleep cycle until they are 6 months old. It's also important to remember that every baby is different. Some babies may sleep better than others. However, there are ways you can help your baby fall asleep more easily.

Why is my baby having trouble sleeping?

To help your baby fall asleep, you need to figure out what is keeping them up. Stefanie Rogers, MOT, OTR, Occupational Therapist at Children's Health℠ recommends that parents check for these seven potential problems that could be waking your baby.

1. Your baby may be too hot or too cold

Babies may not be able to fall asleep if they are too warm or too cold. The recommended temperature for a baby's room is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Check to make sure that your baby is not over- or underdressed. A good rule of thumb is to dress your baby in no more than one extra layer of clothing than what you are wearing. If the weather is very warm, a single layer of clothing should be just fine.

Remember, babies should not sleep with a blanket or pillow, which are suffocation risks. If you feel it is cold enough that your child needs a blanket, use a sleep sack or wearable blanket.

2. Your baby may be hungry

An empty stomach can keep babies awake past bedtime. A bedtime feeding can help babies drift off to sleep more easily.

Newborns often need to eat every 2 to 3 hours, even at night. Until they regain their weight after birth, you'll need to wake them every 2 to 3 hours to feed. After they've regained the weight, you only need to feed them when they wake up.

Babies grow fast, but their stomachs are very small. That's why most babies need to eat in the middle of the night until about 4-6 months of age. If your child does need to eat in the middle of the night, help them fall back asleep after their feeding by keeping the room dark or dim and avoid stimulating them too much during their feeding.

Ask your pediatrician if it is okay for your child to stop eating at night. When your child is ready to sleep without eating, will depend on their growth and how much they eat during the day.

3. Your baby's diaper is dirty

Wet diapers are uncomfortable on your baby's bottom. Make sure their diaper is clean and dry before putting them to bed. If your child is sleeping, you don't need to wake them to change their diaper.

If they wake with a dirty or wet diaper, keep the room as dim as possible while you change them. Try to keep them warm and avoid too much stimulation, so it'll be easy for them to fall asleep.

4. Your baby has a lack of bedtime routine

Babies thrive on routines. By going through the same actions every night, you can help your baby's brain learn when it is time to sleep. For instance, you may bathe your baby, put them in pajamas and feed them before putting them down to sleep. You may also read or sing to your baby before bed.

5. Your baby can't fall asleep alone

Newborns often need to be rocked to sleep or need to suck on a pacifier or breast to soothe themselves to sleep. But by the time they are around 4-6 months old, they can start to soothe themselves to sleep. Unfortunately, babies who are used to being held when they fall asleep might have trouble falling asleep alone in their crib.

Babies need to learn how to fall asleep by themselves. To help your baby learn how to fall asleep, put them in their crib while they are drowsy but still awake. They'll start to fall asleep on their own more quickly as they get used to this routine.

Though it is tempting to co-sleep or bedshare with a baby that won't sleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends against this. Sleeping in an adult bed, with or without an adult, is dangerous for babies. You should always put your baby asleep on their back, on a flat, firm surface, in their own space. This means either a bassinet, crib or pack-n-play. You should follow other safe sleep guidelines, even if your baby is struggling to sleep.

6. Your baby may need a moment to settle

Sometimes babies wake up and fuss in the night for no particular reason. It is fine to wait a few minutes before responding to see if they can fall asleep by themselves.

Babies also can be very noisy, even while they are still sleeping. It is common for babies to moan, groan, grunt or even cry out, all while they are asleep. Giving them a moment to settle can help you avoid accidentally waking them when they are still sleeping.

7. Your baby may need a better sleep environment

Babies, like adults, need a good environment for sleep. A good sleep environment is quiet, dark and cool. You should use no more than a dim nightlight in your child's room. Your baby should sleep in a silent room or a room with quiet, white noise like a fan or sound machine that is no louder than the sound of a shower running.

If you have checked for all the above problems, but your baby is still struggling with sleep, you should talk to your child's pediatrician. Your baby might be experiencing problems like acid reflux that is keeping them awake.

Learn more

Our Pediatric Primary Care team is here to answer any questions you may have about all aspects of your child and their health care needs, from well child exams to treatment of common and chronic conditions.

Screen capture of family newsletter signup

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the Children's Health Family Newsletter.

Children's Health will not sell, share or rent your information to third parties. Please read our privacy policy.

Children's Health Family Newsletter

Get health tips and parenting advice from Children's Health experts sent straight to your inbox twice a month.

behavior, development, environment, infant,  lifestyle, physician advice, routine, sleep

Childrens Health