What Causes Baby Sleep Problems
It’s pretty normal that babies’ sleep patterns differ from adult ones – babies sleep in shorter intervals (4-5 hours at a stretch) and consequently wake up more frequently.
Some of it has to do with their feeding routine as well – newborns in particular need to be fed 8-12 times during the course of a day. So, if you have an infant at home, chances are you have encountered some pretty crazy sleeping and waking times, and you might consider this as part of a larger sleep problem, when in fact it is a normal part of the baby’s growth and development processes.
Irregular sleep patterns are pretty normal especially in the first six months of a baby’s life. And even after that, sleeping habits and behavior vary quite a lot, which makes it harder to detect sleeping problems.
But, there are some instances where there are other underlying causes for irregularities in the baby’s sleep that can be considered a problem, rather than normal developmental behavior. Some common signs of a baby sleep problem (aged six months or older), that happen over a three month period, include:
- Taking more than 30 minutes to settle
- Waking more than three times a night
- Frequent crying
In order to rule out any medical issues, it’s always a good idea to talk about the baby’s sleep patterns with your healthcare professional.
Baby sleep affects both you and your baby, and it can make you tired and cranky as much as it makes your baby. In order to tackle this common problem, next we’re going to go over a number of types and possible causes of baby sleep problems, and hopefully, help you identify them better.
Babies often have similar responses when it comes to sleep problems, such as:
- Irregularity in napping times
- Very short naps (around 20 minutes)
- Refusal of sleep or napping
- Won’t fall asleep on their own
There are quite a few likely causes of your baby’s sleep problems – ranging from hunger issues, overstimulation, separation anxiety as well as certain medical issues.
One thing’s certain – babies won’t sleep when they’re hungry. This is one of the reasons why they sleep in such short bouts, especially when they’re very young. What you can do is work more on timing – this way both you and your baby can get a longer and better quality sleep.
A technique called ‘dream feeding’ is said to be rather helpful in these instances. This means that you can try and feed your baby a big meal shortly before both of you attempt to fall asleep. It involves a pretty straightforward logic: the more the baby is fed, the longer it will sleep.
Another helpful tactic might be the brief delays you can try out in the middle of the night feedings. For example, instead of feeding the baby right away, you can try to change its diaper first. As they get older this can help break the cycle of night wakings and feeding.
Of course, you should always make sure your baby is being sufficiently fed before trying any of these tactics out.
Baby’s Internal Clock is Out of Sync
Babies take time to develop more regular circadian rhythms, the hormonally-driven internal clock that’s responsible for making you sleepy in the night time. Most babies will get there at about 12 weeks old, some will take even longer.
But, it’s not just a matter of waiting it out. Parents should help their infants to attune faster to these rhythms.
Some tactics that might help include supporting the baby’s tendencies to wake up every morning at the same time, while also exposing it to daylight in the morning and afternoon.
You can also try to include the baby in different activities throughout the day which can help tailor their need for sleep later on in the evening.
Another common culprit of sleep irregularity can be the screens from various devices and the light that is produced from them. It’s good to avoid exposing babies to artificial lighting before and during bedtime, especially lights that feature blue light from the spectrum (such as LED for example). The blue light is rather effective in blocking the melatonin production in the brain, which is the hormone most responsible for making you sleepy.
This is why you should also limit screen time for babies. Usually, babies who play with smartphones or other similar devices have more trouble falling asleep. A little exposure can cause sleep delays up to an hour – and this can affect both children and adults, so it’s good to keep it in mind at all times.
Baby’s Too Excited Before Bedtime
Parents themselves can sometimes be the culprit behind the baby’s sleep irregularity. Sometimes it has to do with too much excitement before bed – energetic talk or play, which can serve as a boost for the infant’s sympathetic nervous system, the one responsible for keeping them up and about.
Lack of Routine
Baby sleep problems can occur also as a result of irregular routines, as well as irregular bedtimes. A bedtime routine – a baby-bath, dressing for bed, reading bedtime stories – these are all routines that can improve sleep problems.
Another problem is the irregular morning wake-up times, which can often be neglected but are as important as the nighttime ones. This means that it can be better for the baby to keep its regular wake-up time even if it didn’t sleep that long during the night, so it can maintain the consistency of its sleeping pattern.
Parents Intervene Prematurely
Sometimes parents can be too accommodating to their own children, to the point of being counter-beneficial.
Babies often make noises or cry out when they sleep, especially in their earliest months. This makes it easy for parents to misunderstand their child’s reactions – what they assume is a signal for attention might just be a baby’s normal, yet quirky way of sleeping.
Even if babies wake up suddenly in the middle of the night, sometimes they fall asleep immediately afterward, doing the resettling themselves. They can go to sleep without any parental intervention – so be careful next time you notice slight arousal during your baby’s sleep – jumping in right away just might make it worse.
Separation anxiety in infants is a pretty normal occurrence. It starts from around the age of 6-10 months of the baby’s life and it marks a psychological reaction of fear of permanent abandonment from its parents or caretakers, most often the mother. Separation anxiety can have a profound impact on the baby’s sleeping patterns as well. This is usually manifested as a strong resistance to bedtime, or a repeated crying throughout the night.
Other Medical Reasons for Baby Sleep Problems
Besides overstimulation, circadian rhythm irregularities and some psychological causes, babies’ sleep can also be disrupted by medical reasons.
Allergies and Other Intolerances
Allergies are on the rise nowadays, and it’s pretty common for kids to have them as well. A lot of the parents don’t know their children have allergies, nor do the children themselves, even though they experience all the symptoms.
Allergies and intolerances of different kinds can greatly affect your baby’s sleep because it causes various highly discomforting conditions of the stomach and digestive tract (heartburn, stomach ache, vomiting).
Reflux can also be a rather common inconvenience in infants and can interfere with their sleep. Newborns have an underdeveloped esophagus which, in turn, allows for contents in the baby’s stomach to come right back up the esophagus. While this doesn’t always cause sleeping problems, when it does it can be quite annoying for the baby.
One of the reasons for reflux can also be an oversupply of breast milk, as well as a bad post-breastfeeding posture of the baby.
Sleep Apnea and Adenoids
Sleep apnea is a condition that ranges from less serious to more serious and it involves shortness or complete lack of breath during sleep. Other problems that might cause sleep disturbances are enlarged tonsils, as well as adenoids, a lymphatic tissue that can often hinder speaking and breathing in children. These conditions can cause reduced oxygen flow which is a major health concern, apart from causing sleep issues. The signs by which you can tell these conditions usually involve the child snoring, breathing heavily during sleep or being restless during its sleep cycle.
If you think your baby has a medical condition that interferes with its sleep patterns, you should consult with your doctor or pediatrician first, and then try out stuff on your own.
Getting enough sleep is important for both parties – both baby, as well as mommy and/or daddy need to be well rested in order for one to properly grow, and the other to take care of the little one without stress and fatigue.
If you want to learn how to solve some of the most common sleep problems in babies, check out this article