As any parent can attest, getting a baby to sleep can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. Just when you think you've finally gotten them to drift off, they start fussing and crying all over again. I think it’s safe to say that during the first couple of years of life, sleep (or lack of it) is top of the list when it comes to new parent struggles.
While this can be frustrating, it's important to remember that there are many reasons why babies might fight sleep. Understanding these reasons can help you develop strategies to help your little one get the rest they need.
If in doubt, download the Smart Sleep Coach app, a sleep coach in your pocket it will support you throughout your baby’s sleep journey and help you navigate changes in their sleep as well as sleep set backs, as your baby grows.
In this article we will explore the top 11 reasons babies 0-12 months fight sleep and solutions to get your little one (and you) more Zzzzs.
Top 4 reasons 0-3 month old newborns don’t sleep
Babies are known for their erratic sleep patterns, and parents of newborns often find themselves struggling to get their little ones to sleep.
Tracking your newborn’s sleep and feeding habits is a great way to get an overview of what is going on and adjust things as needed. The Smart Sleep Coach app is a fantastic tool for new parents looking to establish healthy sleep habits from day one.
While it is normal for newborns to sleep for short periods of time, there are several reasons why some 0-3 month old babies may have difficulty sleeping for longer stretches.
One of the primary reasons why newborns wake up frequently is hunger. During the first few months of life, babies have small stomachs and require frequent feedings. It is not uncommon for newborns to wake up every 2-3 hours to feed. As a result, parents may find themselves waking up frequently throughout the night to feed their baby. It’s important to remember that
your baby was on a permenant feeding tube in the womb, so feeding often during the first weeks of life is essential.
To ensure that your baby is getting enough to eat, be sure to:
- Feed your baby on demand, or every time they show signs of hunger
- Wake them from naps if it is time for a feed
- Never let them go longer than 2-4 hours between feeds
- Track all feeds and sleeps so you can see patterns as they emerge and know when the next feed should be (side note if you use the Smart Sleep Coach app not only can you keep track of feeds and sleeps, but it will notify you when it’s time for their next sleep!)
- Check in regularly with your pediatrician to make sure they growing well
Newborns can be easily disturbed by discomfort. After being snug and warm in a regulated womb for nine months, adjusting to the outside world can take a bit of time. Common sources of discomfort include wet diapers, tight clothing or feeling too hot or too cold. Also, since newborns aren’t used to lying on their backs on a cold mattress, not only may this feel unfamiliar but it can also trigger the moro reflex or startle reflex which wakes them up.
To help ensure your baby is comfortable I recommend:
- Swaddling until around 2-months of age or until it is safe to do so (you need to stop swaddling when your baby can roll front to back or back to front)
- Changing diapers with each feed (at least for the first few weeks)
- Putting baby in one more layer than you’re wearing
- Keeping the room 68-72F
If your baby is waking up frequently, check to make sure that they are comfortable and their needs are met. If your baby is crying, try soothing them by gently rocking them, swaddling them, or giving them a pacifier. Remember, you can’t spoil a newborn!
3. Sleep Rhythms or Sleep Cycles are out of Sync
Some newborns may have difficulty sleeping because they have not yet developed a clear understanding of the difference between night and day. The theory behind ‘nocturnal’ newborns is that the motion of Mom moving around during the day lulls baby to sleep in the womb, such that they spend nights awake.
To help your baby develop a better understanding of the difference between night and day:
- Expose them to lots of natural light during the day and limit exposure to artificial light at night (ensure the sleep space is pitch dark).
- Try to extend awake periods during the day – this can be hard but do your best!
- Cap naps, always wake for feedings but also avoid letting your newborn sleep for extended periods of time during the day.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine that signals to your baby that it is time to sleep, such as a bath, storytime, or gentle rocking.
- Use the Smart Sleep Coach app to help you get your baby’s sleep rhythms in sync, with one tap sleep tracking and an AI powered smart schedule to help you know the perfect time to put your baby down for sleep. Start your 7-day free trial now!
This typically resolves by 2-3 weeks of age when your baby will develop a better understanding of when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake.
Reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach flow back into the esophagus, causing discomfort and pain. Symptoms of reflux may include frequent spitting up, fussiness, and difficulty sleeping.
If your newborn has reflux, there are several things you can do to help them sleep better:
- Try holding your baby in an upright position after feedings for at least 30 minutes. This uses gravity to keep the stomach acid where it should be.
- Try feeding your baby smaller, more frequent meals and burping them frequently during feedings.
In some cases, your pediatrician may recommend medication to help reduce your baby's reflux symptoms. However, it is important to talk to your pediatrician before giving your baby any medication.
It is also important to note that reflux symptoms can be similar to those of colic, so it is important to work with your pediatrician to determine the underlying cause of your baby's sleep troubles.
4 Common reasons 4-6 month old babies fight sleep
As babies grow and develop, their sleep patterns change, and parents often find themselves facing new sleep challenges. It’s often the time that many parents return to work, so getting sleep on track is a top priority.
The great news is that 4-months is the perfect time to start sleep training, if that sounds daunting or your just not sure where to begin, your first step is to take this free sleep consultation. From here let the Smart Sleep Coach do the heavy lifting, we will craft a tailored plan to meet your babies specific sleep needs and the app will guide you step by step through the process to sleep success!
It’s right about now that babies begin teething, which can cause discomfort and pain in the gums. Teething can make it difficult for babies to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to interrupted sleep for both babies and parents.
To help soothe your baby's teething pain, you can try offering a teething toy or massaging their gums with a clean finger. You may also consider giving them a dose of infant pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, if recommended by your pediatrician.
6. Sleep Regressions
Sleep regressions typically last 2-6 weeks. Babies with a solid sleep foundation will weather the storm more easily and it is important for parents to be patient and maintain a consistent sleep routine during this time.
Sleep training your baby, with the Smart Sleep Coach app, at 4-months will not only help your baby become a strong, independent sleeper, but it will also set you up for sleep success when future set backs happen. Get started with your free sleep consultation now.
7. Growth Spurts
Babies go through several growth spurts during their first year of life, and these spurts can disrupt their sleep patterns. During a growth spurt, your baby may require more frequent feedings and may wake up more often during the night, specifically to eat. To help your baby get the rest they need during a growth spurt, try increasing the frequency of feedings during the day, and remember even if your previously slept through the night may now wake to feed. This will be short lived and normal sleep habits will return once the growth spurt has passed.
8. Developmental Milestones
As babies reach new developmental milestones, such as rolling over, crawling, and sitting up, they may become more active and have difficulty settling down to sleep. Many babies also like to practice their new found skills in the middle of the night, or might find that they rolled over one way and don’t know how to roll back.
This can disrupt sleep, To help your baby prepare for sleep, try offering plenty of opportunities for physical activity during the day, and establish a calming bedtime routine that signals to your baby that it is time to sleep.
Stay one step ahead of your baby’s sleep, every step of the way with the Smart Sleep Coach app. This innovative sleep coach in your pocket helps you keep sleep in check and grows with your baby as their sleep changes. Start your sleep consultation now!
3 Typical Sleep Challenges for babies 7-12 months old
As babies grow and develop, their sleep patterns can continue to change, and parents may encounter new sleep challenges. If your baby already has a solid sleep foundation by this age, any sleep set backs will be short lived, as long as you stick to your sleep routines and remain consistent throughout, however for babies who have not yet gotten a handle on sleep, some of the challenges that come around 8-months can be difficult.
9. Separation Anxiety
Somewhere between 7 and 9 months of age, you might notice your baby seem more clingy than usual. This is because they have learned ‘object permanence’ it is the #1 factor in the 8-month sleep regression and basically what happens is your baby knows that you exist even though they can’t see you. Up until this point it was pretty much, out of sight, out of mind.
This new found separation anxiety, can make it difficult for them to fall asleep and stay asleep – previously independent sleepers will suddenly want you to be with them when they fall asleep and look for you when they wake at night.
To help your baby feel more secure, don’t ‘sneak away’ – instead let them know you’ll be back and actually practice leaving the room and returning as promised to help reassure them that you really are ‘right there’. If your baby falls asleep while you are in the room, and then wakes and you aren’t there this will naturally trigger them to call out for you.
Games like peek-a-boo and very simple hide and seek, either with people or objects can help reinforce that feeling of security as they know you will return.
If you’re struggling with this and can’t seem to get your baby to fall asleep without you, start your Smart Sleep Coach consultation now. We can create a custom sleep plan to address your baby’s sleep challenges and guide you step by step to sleep success.
10. Nap Transitions
At around 8 months, your baby should be ready to drop from 3 naps to 2 naps. This nap transition can be challenging as the wake window between the end of the last nap and bedtime is long, your baby may become overtired and have difficulty falling asleep. To help your baby adjust to this new schedule, you can shift bedtime earlier for a few days (as early as 5.30pm is perfectly fine) and then slowly return it to the normal time.
The Smart Sleep Coach app can help you carefully nap transition at the right time and ensure your baby’s sleep rhythms remain in sync as they move to a 2-nap schedule.
11. Sleep Associations
Babies may develop sleep associations, such as needing to be rocked or fed to sleep, which can make it difficult for them to fall asleep independently. This comes as a surprise to many parents, but the act of falling asleep is a learned skill. Just like learning to roll, crawl, walk or talk – your baby needs space and time to practice and master this skill. Anything you have to do to help them sleep – for example rocking, feeding or even singing is something they can’t replicate on their own and is hindering them learning how to master sleep themselves.
There are many different ways to wean your baby off sleep associations, this is typically referred to as sleep training and the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers houses a wealth of approaches so you can choose the method that best fits with your parenting values and preferences. Get started today with a free sleep consultation and access your custom sleep plan to help your baby become a strong, independent sleeper.
3 Expert tips for new parents coping with sleep deprivation
If you're struggling to help your baby sleep better, here are three expert tips from our Chief Pediatric Sleep Consultant, and Co-Founder, Mandy Treeby:
Consistency is key when it comes to establishing healthy sleep habits for your baby, consistency in delivery of bedtime routines and consistency (with an element of flexibility) in sleep schedules but moreover, consistency in how you approach sleep in general. Babies learn best through your consistency, it helps them know what to expect – if you sometimes rock them to sleep, sometimes don’t – they don’t really know what’s happening. Since they can’t communicate verbally, you need to do this through your actions and maintaining a single approach works best when it comes to sleep.
Teaching your baby to self-soothe is an important part of helping them establish healthy sleep habits. The act of falling asleep is a learned skill that can take time to develop. To encourage self-soothing, start by separating feeding and sleep and playing your baby down, drowsy but awake. Give them time to practice self-settling. They won’t get it right away, but with time you’ll see great improvements!
Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment
Creating a sleep-friendly environment can also help your baby sleep better. Our resident pediatrician Dr. Craig Canapari says, "a cool, dark, and quiet environment is ideal for promoting restful sleep." Make sure your baby's sleep environment is comfortable and conducive to sleep, and consider using a white (or brown) noise machine to drown out any disruptive noises.
Download the Smart Sleep Coach app and start your 7-day free trial. Not only does it offer everything you need to solve baby sleep in a single, easy to use app, but it starts with the fundamentals which can really help when it comes to sleep training and teaching your baby to self-soothe. The app provides guidance on creating a consistent bedtime routine, breaking sleep associations, and delivering sleep training, with a wealth of methods to choose from. Most parents see improvements in as little as 7-days
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American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162938. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/1...
Canapari, C. A. (2021). Sleep Training Your Baby: Establish Healthy Sleep Habits to Improve Your Baby's Sleep. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/sleep/sleep-traini...
Mitchell, S. (2020). Sleep training: The ultimate guide. The Baby Sleep Site®. https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/
Barnett, N. (2021). What Is a Sleep Consultant and How Can They Help Your Family? Healthline Parenthood. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/sleep...
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.