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Why won’t my baby go to sleep?

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For every new parent or caregiver who brings a newborn into their home, there’s nothing more common than a sleepless night. Although newborns generally sleep about eight to nine hours in the daytime and about eight hours a night—they typically do not stay asleep for more than one to two hours at a time. The good news for those tired caregivers is that most babies do start sleeping through the night—without waking—around the 3-month period. But what if a baby continues to have trouble sleeping? Read about some of the common reasons a baby might not be sleeping during the first year, and solutions to help them get the rest they need.

Day-night reversal: According to sleep experts, day-night reversal happens because newborns have yet to develop their internal rhythms. Typically, these internal clocks drive sleep (circadian) rhythms and create a timing mechanism that makes a baby more awake during the day and more tired at night. However, a majority of babies have their days and nights mixed up for the first six to eight weeks of life—a challenging but temporary time period for parents and caregivers. To help your baby learn to develop natural sleep rhythms, you can try:

Keeping your baby awake a bit longer: When a baby is awake in the day, it will help increase their need for sleep later. Some sleep experts recommend playing with your baby for a few minutes after they eat instead of letting them fall asleep right away or keeping them out of the car seat for a bit—with that extra time awake during the day helping them sleep later at night.

Let the sunshine in: Take your baby outside in the sun (only if they are well-protected) or place your baby’s crib near a window with bright light. Exposure to natural light can help reset a baby’s internal clock.

Also, try to keep lights low or turn them out at night if they are near a baby’s sleeping area. And try to keep sound and movement at a minimum so you won’t disrupt a baby’s sleep.

Hunger pains: One of the most common reasons a baby has sleep disruption is because of hunger pains. With their high biological need to eat, a baby’s small stomach empties quickly. And during growth spurts, they may need to eat as often as every hour. So, if your newborn seems upset and cannot sleep, try offering a feeding.

Your baby doesn’t feel well: Just like adults, feeling a bit under the weather can keep a baby up at night. Some of the most common conditions that may make your baby uncomfortable—and awake—are:

  • Teething
  • Cold or allergies
  • Gassiness
  • Constipation
  • Restless Legs 

If you think your baby is experiencing any of these conditions that causes loss of sleep, check with your pediatrician on treatment options.

Your baby is overstimulated: Because babies are sensitive, overstimulation can cause them to stay awake at night. Bright lights, loud voices, and too much activity can sometimes prevent a baby from winding down for the day. If your baby is looking away from people and acting fussy, try and get her to a quiet area to decompress and work towards falling asleep.

Your baby is overtired: Believe it or not, a newborn can simply be too tired to fall asleep. Experts say to watch for cues that your baby is tired, such as rubbing her eyes, yawning or looking away from someone near them. When these things happen, try and get the baby in bed as quickly as possible.

Your baby needs YOU: Sometimes when a baby cannot sleep, he or she simply wants to see, play with or be cuddled by their parents or caregivers. If your newborn is not sleeping and seems upset in the middle of the night, try cuddling skin-to-skin against your chest. It can have a remarkably soothing effect and calm the baby back to sleep before you even have a chance to see how late it really is.

By ABC Quality Team on December 8, 2020