Infant Sleep Problems: Solutions, Tips & Tricks
Having a newborn at home is a full-time job on its own and it will leave you sleepless a lot of the time. Now, babies do sleep a lot in their early months of life, approximately 16 hours a day, and while this may seem to make things easier, a parent knows better than that. The problem is that babies wake up often during the day and don’t sleep more than 4-5 hours at a stretch.
And we all know lack of sleep is good neither for the baby nor the mommy (or daddy) – babies need it to grow into happy, healthy toddlers, and parents need it so they can properly function and take care of their little ones.
Sleep problems in infants are a common thing and usually, there’s nothing much to worry about – babies’ sleep cycles can get disrupted from a number of reasons: too much artificial light, hunger episodes, excitement before bedtime, lack of sleeping routine, internal clock gone out of sync. Sometimes infant sleep problems can also be caused by medical issues – if you think that the cause behind your baby’s lack of sleep is some sort of health problem, it’s best to consult your doctor or pediatrician as soon as possible.
Babies’ sleep problems usually manifest in similar ways; here are a couple of signs you should look out for (applicable mostly for babies over 6 months):
- Baby wakes up consistently more than 3 times during the night
- Baby takes more than half an hour to settle after waking up
- Other difficulties with sleeping and settling (crying, irritation, restlessness)
In our previous article we’ve covered the main types and causes of baby sleep problems
; in this one, we’re going to go over the solutions part and try to point out and uncover tips and tricks that you might’ve missed thanks to your many sleepless nights.
Babies Won’t Sleep Well if They’re not Fed Well
Nobody wants to go to bed hungry, and babies least of all. Very often infant sleep problems are connected to the issues of hunger and irregular feeding times. One of the main reasons babies sleep in bouts is precisely because they need to be fed often – in fact, newborns should usually be breastfed around 8-12 times a day. Of course, it’s not as scary as it sounds and this too can be adjusted with timing. Timing is key when it comes to breastfeeding and baby sleep (we’ll see that also in the next section). What you can do is try the technique called ‘dream feeding’ – this refers to feeding your baby a big meal a short time before you put them to bed. The logic behind it is pretty simple, it just means the more the baby is fed the better it will sleep.
What if the Baby Falls Asleep Only During a Feeding?
Another problem that may seem counter-intuitive to the previous one is when babies associate sleeping time with feeding. This, as we can see, is also not good and can be a common issue especially in newborns, because they often form a habit after which they only fall asleep during feeding.
How do you deal with this? Well, the best way is to work on gradually removing this association of feeding and falling asleep from the infant’s mind. Try to move your feeding time away from bedtime – you can try and turn it into a routine as well so the baby can replace the previous habit of falling asleep during feeding with a new one. Just make sure the baby is well fed for his bedtime as you actually move the feeding times away from them.
Establish a Routine
We know you’ve got a lot on your hands and a set routine might be a bit of a challenge for a parent with a more dynamic lifestyle, but trust us, it’s worth the shot.
Establishing a set routine is crucial to better regulate the sleeping pattern of your baby. Setting regular bedtimes is said to help babies sleep longer without too much waking up in the middle of the night. A good start would be to implement a consistent set of activities before putting your little one to sleep, such as bathing, dressing for bed and reading bedtime stories.
But, a bedtime routine is not the only thing to have in mind – you should also pay attention to morning wake up times, which can also be irregular and often neglected, even though are just as important as the nighttime ones. Try to maintain a regular wake up time for your baby, even if it didn’t get as much sleep as you’d want to the night before – along with the regular bedtime, this will help to keep the consistency of its sleeping pattern in the future.
Of course, if the infant is overly tired, that’s a different matter and you shouldn’t keep it awake under all costs.
Baby Has Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a pretty normal reaction in babies (in fact, it’s a reaction you’d want a healthy baby to have) – it marks a psychological reaction of fear of being abandoned by their parent or caretaker. It usually happens in infants around 6-10 months old and can occur rather suddenly, meaning one day your baby is sleeping soundly and the next one it’s clingy and crying all the time, refusing or being unable to fall asleep.
Luckily, there are a couple of steps you can take to ease up this transitioning stage of your baby’s growing up process:
- Develop a bedtime routine – something that we’ve emphasized in the previous section, developing a good bedtime routine helps soothe your baby and make it feel more secure by creating a habit of predictability.
- Try to be relaxed and calm in front of your baby – babies are very sensitive beings and they absorb almost everything you do even if it doesn’t seem like it. So next time you notice a bout of separation anxiety in them, try to keep it light and maintain a calm expression on your face – this will produce a calming psychological reaction in your baby as well.
- Don’t sneak away – this will only make things worse and make your baby more uncertain and insecure. Instead, try to be as gentle and loving as possible when you walk away and maybe even say bye-bye.
- Comfort your baby when they need it – if your baby is agitated and upset don’t restrain yourself to hold them and comfort them. They will find it reassuring and won’t get further traumatized. But, do try to make these interactions relatively short and not overly stimulating so your baby can fall asleep easily and won’t make a habit of getting excited by them.
Don’t Get Your Baby Overstimulated Before Bedtime
Maybe you’d think it’s a good idea to try and use up a little of your baby’s excess energy when it wakes up in the middle of the night, so it falls asleep faster and stays asleep longer. But, this might actually have the opposite effect.
Parents, from their best intentions, can cause further sleep problems for their little ones by entertaining them too much after waking up or even shortly before bedtime. Babies are notoriously easy to stimulate even by just talking to them or playing with them in different ways. The reason for this is that their sympathetic system is easily aroused and it can keep them energetic and restless.
You should also be mindful of artificial lights, especially LED lights on the blue spectrum which are proved to interfere with sleep in both babies and adults. This also means that before bedtime, and during the day as well, you should limit their exposure to smartphone screens and screens on other types of devices.
Baby has Allergies that Affect Their Sleep
Babies are often prone to allergic reactions and food intolerances so this is nothing to get too alarmed about. Nevertheless, they can be a pesky nuisance interfering in their sleeping pattern as well. Two very common syndromes caused by food and milk allergies are FPIES (Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome) and MSPI (Milk/Soy Protein Intolerance). Allergies sometimes don’t cause immediate reactions and can be hard to detect, but they do affect sleep by causing sensations of discomfort such as vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea, diaper rash. What you can do in these kinds of situations is to try an elimination diet by removing known allergens from your diet and see how your baby responds to it. In a lot of cases, you will probably notice a difference. Of course, when it comes to baby sleep problems from a medical nature you should always consult with your pediatrician first.
Baby has Reflux
Reflux can also quite commonly interfere with baby sleep. Because of their underdeveloped esophagus, contents from the baby’s stomach sometimes come back up through the esophagus and in turn cause reflux and very uncomfortable sensations that can make them irritated and unable to sleep.
Keep track of the milk supply during each feeding. Oversupply can be one cause of reflux in babies and can often go unnoticed because moms are always terrified that they’ll leave their baby undernourished. In order to try and normalize your oversupply, you can try block feeding, which means feeding only on one side for several feeds.
Another thing you should do to stop reflux from happening is to keep your baby in an upright position for 30-45 minutes after a feeding.
Baby Falls Asleep Only if You Rock them in a Cradle
Sure, cradles and infant swings are great fun for babies and help them slide into sleep easier, but sometimes babies get too used to them and they don’t fall asleep any other way. This just means that they associate sleep with movement. If you have this problem at home try to break the habit of movement and sleep by gradually lowering the amount of movement when you put them to bed. You can, for example, start rocking them in your arms and then slowly stop, holding them without any movement until they fall asleep.
Baby Falls Asleep Only in Your Arms, Wrap or only in Bed next to You
This is also pretty normal in a lot of babies. If your baby falls asleep only in your arms, in your wrap or next to you, then it would be a good idea to sometimes allow another person to do the pre-bed routine, such as your partner or another family member, so they can break the association less painfully.
Other methods that you could try are sleep coaching methods such as the put-up-put-down one where you repeatedly take your baby in your arms, calm them down, and then put them to bed again until they calm completely and fall asleep on their own.
We know doing all of this requires a bit of patience, but if it gets you and your baby well rested and keeps you healthy, then perseverance is key. Of course, as we mentioned several times before, it’s a good idea to always consult with your pediatrician or other healthcare professionals if you think your baby might have more serious medical issues behind their sleeping problem. Hopefully, though, our carefully selected tricks and solutions will do just enough!