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Why Your Baby Won’t Sleep at Night. 10 Reasons and Easy Solutions

baby won't sleep at night
We know why you’re here, it’s the same question that has plagued many a parent for millennia – you want to know why your baby won’t sleep at night. Rest assured, you will get your answers here and some easy to implement solutions as well.
 
As a new parent, there is so much to consider that you’ll never find in a book. Even the most seasoned parent will need help once in a while.
 
Let’s face it, reading it sure isn’t the same as experiencing it. You hear all these horror stories and think, how bad can they really be? If this is you, then you’re like me. At least how I used to be.
 

Why your baby won't sleep at night

What does it mean to say that your baby won’t sleep at night?
 
For most of us, this wasn’t that our baby wouldn’t fall asleep. On the contrary, some babies can fall asleep in the most strange places or positions.
 
The problem most of us have faced is that they won’t stay asleep!
Trying to function with sleep deprivation is difficult at the best of times – I felt like I had experienced this for at least a year.
 
Having to work a full-time job while being a fully engaged parent, tackling my side hustles, working out and writing a blog are very difficult things to do when you haven’t slept! I was lucky to be super-efficient, however, I was definitely less so when not sleeping. Everything takes its toll!
 
I got bags for the first time in my life! I didn’t even know I could get them!

So why do they have so much trouble sleeping?

When a baby is first born they have to settle in to a whole new way of life – a new rhythm of day and night, new places, smells, people. It’s not surprising that they struggle so much at the beginning. 

But what happens once this settling in phase has happened and we are told that they should have established better sleeping habits by now?

Here are 10 reasons why your baby won't sleep at night

Please be aware that this list isn’t in any particular order. I will also do my best to give you easy to execute tips on how to identify and overcome them. Happy reading!
 
  1. Teething
  2. Separation anxiety
  3. Leap
  4. Sleep regression
  5. Night terror or nightmares
  6. Bad naps throughout the day
  7. Hungry or thirsty
  8. Unwell
  9. Dirty nappy
  10. Frightened

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1. Teething

This can be something that is incredibly distressing for your baby, especially with certain teeth. Extensive pain throughout the day and sleepless nights are dreadful for you both. For some babies, they may display their teething through uncontrollable crying! Heart breaking to watch and means that your baby won’t sleep at night when the pain is at its worst!
 
Some teething symptoms include red cheeks which may resemble a rash, a lot of dribble, pulling on their ears, biting things (including you) and occasionally slapping themselves. Some of these things can be hard to deal with as a parent, especially the biting when feeding!

How to help

Ashton & Parsons teething salts. Pour some of that into their mouths and this should help. This is something that I have given to my daughter from her first tooth! She loves it.
 
Disclaimer – this can be hard to administer, I have wasted many a sachet trying to get it in her mouth. Perhaps use a spoon or find a decent way to tear the pack to avoid waste. I always buy the 30 sachet pack in case of waste. They are inexpensive so shouldn’t cause too much of a financial problem.
 
Another thing to help could be teething toys. My daughter’s favourites were and are Sophie la giraffe, Matchstick Monkey and Boo the Bunny! She loved Sophie so much that she bit off her ear!
 
We’ve had a wide range of teething toys, but these were her go -tos. It may even be worth getting some that are made of rubber with liquid in them. These can be refrigerated and help to soothe your baby’s sore gums.
 

2. Separation anxiety

baby won't sleep at night
When looking at reasons your baby won’t sleep at night, separation anxiety is a huge factor! Whenever it rears it’s ugly head you can be sure to have some sleepless nights. Your baby misses you! They can’t stand to be away from you! The very thought of you not being near them fills them with dread and despair!
 
This may be brought on by you going back to work after maternity leave, or even the child headed off to nursery.
This can be an incredibly challenging time for all parents and children as there is very little we can do to get past this.
Remember this is all very short-lived, although it may feel like a lifetime in your sleep-deprived state.

How to help

Stay strong and give your child the attention they crave. This is short-lived in the grand scheme of their childhood.
 
Think how much of a negative impact it could have on your child’s life if you decided the best way to deal with this situation was to start sleep training. Rather than go to your child and give them what they need, you decide it’s time to ignore them until they understand that no matter how much they call or feel they need you, you are unavailable to them in their time of need!
 
Now I don’t mean to make people feel guilty if they’ve already done this. You don’t need to feel like a monster. We’re all human and you may well have not thought about it in the manner I put it.
 
I know that you wouldn’t intentionally neglect your child, we are not monsters…
We are sleep deprived monsters who in this state, would do anything to get forty winks!
Don’t beat yourself up for looking for ways to allow for both you and your child to sleep.
 
There is so much literature out there about  why your baby won’t sleep at night and there are tons of sleep training methods that claim that training your baby to sleep is the best thing to do. If you’re interested in another approach, why not read ‘The book you wish your parents had read‘. It will definitely change your way of thinking!

3. Leap

The dreaded leaps…
 
When our daughter was first born we were told about an app which would apparently change our lives! ‘The Wonder Weeks
 
This app explores, in a significant amount of detail the episodes or ‘leaps’ that your little one will experience throughout their first 20 months. These periods of time will often include periods of extreme fussiness, crying for no apparent reason, restlessness, clinginess, and yes, you’ve guessed it… sleeplessness! 
 
So why and when do these leaps happen?
Leaps will happen throughout the first 20 months as your little one gets accustomed to the outside world, grows and starts to develop and learn new skills. Whether this is the art of associating sounds, shapes, colours… uttering their first little noises, making connections between people and objects or learning motor skills etc… this time can be trialling for even the seasoned parent.
 
Leap 1 – 5 weeks old
Leap 2 – 7 – 9 weeks old
Leap 3 – 12 weeks old
Leap 4 – 14 -20 weeks
Leap 5 – 22 – 27 weeks
Leap 6 – 33 – 38 weeks
Leap 7 – 41 – 47 weeks
Leap 8 – 50 – 55 weeks 
Leap 9 – 59 -65 weeks
Leap 10 – 70 – 76 weeks
 
For more information on what to expect from the different leaps, why not check out The Wonder Weeks blog posts?

How to help

Be patient! Know that these phases will come and go. Your baby isn’t deliberately being difficult or fussy; rather your little one is trying desperately to make sense of a new world! Like a small alien, unable to communicate dumped on to an unfamiliar planet!
 
So, be kind to yourself and your baby as they navigate this challenging time. Soon it will be over and you’ll have other things to worry about! The terrible twos for instance! 

4. Sleep regression

Sleep regression is when your baby has reached different milestones in developments (Leaps), which cause your baby to be more focused and switched on, thus finding it harder to sleep and stay asleep.  There are, however, other things at play. As your child becomes more aware of their surroundings – they become more aware that they’re alone. If sent to nursery, they are more aware that they see you less. The result in this, for many young children, is separation anxiety as mentioned above.
 
It may well feel like your baby won’t sleep ever again, but bear with it,  sleep regression only tends to happen around 4, 8-9, 12, 18, 24 months. So there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just maybe 2 years away (¬_¬). 

 

 
Each sleep regression episode usually only lasts from 2-6 weeks. I know, that seems like a lot! At the time of writing this, our daughter is currently going through her 18 month one and has actually just woken up! She is only two weeks in and it already feels like an eternity.
 
Her language is developing as she begins to string sentences together; she is experiencing separation anxiety (even though not at nursery – but her mother’s at work), which is really hard on Filipa; she also wants to be an independent young woman with the strongest will in a toddler I have ever seen!

How to help

You will need to make sure you work as a team on this. Share the burden of waking up and try really hard to not lose your temper with your child or each other.
 
Part of my routine is that I wake up around 5 am to do work as part of my time management. Even though I’ve chosen to do this, I still make sure I do half the night shift!
 
For additional tips, why not check out our post on tips to beat the 4-month sleep regression – it should help. Or why not check out this post by Susie Parker ‘Try to Survive A Sleep Regression with These 5 Tips – Sleep Baby Love’ on the subject

5. Night terrors or nightmares

If you have a baby or a toddler, these are unlikely to be the reasons why your baby won’t sleep at night.
 
Both night terrors and nightmares are uncommon in children under the age of 3.
 
However, uncommon doesn’t mean they won’t experience it, we are pretty sure our daughter has experienced several nightmares in her short stint here.

Night terrors

Children who are experiencing night terrors may scream or shout and thrash around in panic. Although their eyes will be open, they’re not fully awake. These episodes shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes.
 
You may be asking yourself ‘Why do they happen?
 
Unfortunately, they usually affect children who have a family history of night terrors or sleepwalking.

 

They can be brought on by simple things like tiredness, fever and different types of medication. These are all things that cause the child to spend more time in a deep sleep. It could also be things that make your child wake from that deep sleep. This could be excitement, sudden loud noise or even anxiety about something.

How to help

This may be hard advice to follow, but stay calm and allow the night terror to pass and your child to calm down. The only reason to intervene is to ensure the safety of your child. Although they may be frightening, these night terrors don’t harm your child. They are also unlikely to remember the event in the morning.
 
Apart from not intervening – make sure you have a routine in place that allows for a relaxing bedtime (as mentioned in the naps section).

Nightmares

These usually occur later in the night and cause feelings of terror, fear, distress or anxiety.
 
It is likely they will wake your child and they will have some recollection of the events in the dream.
 
They can often be triggered by frightening experiences or even the food they’ve eaten.

How to help

Talk to your child to find out if anything is bothering them that might be triggering these nightmares.
 
Similar to above, the relaxing nighttime routine can work wonders with helping your little one get to sleep and feel happy and secure.
 
For more information on nightmares and night terrors, please do some research – why not start here.

6. Bad naps throughout the day

4 month sleep regression
This should be really easy for most people to combat. One of the key reasons your baby won’t sleep at night is due to insufficient naps throughout the day, or naps that have gone on too late.
 
I would suggest making a proper routine and follow a baby sleep schedule. Making sure your baby is sleeping at the correct intervals throughout the day. 
 
Make sure you have given adequate time for napping, leaving a baby sizable gap between their nap and their bedtime. This will help tremendously.  Following the routine will also really help your baby get into the habit of going to bed at a specific time.
 
If however, your child is like ours, and sleep is the devil, this may prove problematic. After the 4-month sleep regression, she became awful at napping, which had a real knock-on effect to her evening sleep.

How to help

The number one piece of advice I can give to any parent whose baby won’t sleep at night – BE CONSISTENT in your approach. When following a sleep schedule, make sure you are consistent. When it is time for the nap, you are building a routine – get your baby into the room they’ll be sleeping in, perhaps read them the same story each time so they know a nap is coming.
 
This may well feel like it takes an eternity, well guess what – ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ my friend!
 
This will greatly help in getting your child to successfully sleep during their naps and thus getting them to sleep through the night. At the end of the day, these tips are here to make your life as a parent easier and the experience of your child greater. Follow them to get the most out of them. 

7. Hungry or thirsty

Trying to sleep when you are hungry or thirsty is no fun, this could very well be the reason your baby won’t sleep at night!
 
Your baby or child has a small stomach. It’s apparently the size of their first. It can’t fit a great deal of food in it.
 
Some babies and children are notoriously bad eaters. This can really make it difficult to feed them substantially before bed. You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You equally shouldn’t force your child to eat (this could have real damaging effects on how your child views food or their relationship with it).

How to help

If you have a young baby who is breastfed, you can merely feed them throughout the night – they’ll let you know they are hungry by crying. If you are unsure whether they’re hungry, go through your checks. Start with temperature, smell their bum, then go straight to milk.
 
If your baby is bottle-fed, make sure you start keeping a note of what time your baby gets hungry. This will allow you to get up and preprepare a bottle.
 
To speed things up at night, why not consider the Tommee Tippee Prep Day and Night?
 
This machine is super efficient and produces milk at the correct temperature for your child to drink and is incredibly quick. I haven’t had to use it, as our daughter is breastfed, however, our friends love it.
 
If your child is a bad eater, be sure to feed them something you know they’ll really like or eat well as their last meal before bed.
 
If you feed your baby rice and you know they just throw it everywhere, try switching to something like soup or some scrambled eggs – which are easier for you to feed or control.
 
Try to feed your child about 30 minutes before bed. For us, that is dinner, bath, story, bed. This seems to work really well as it is incorporated into her routine.
 
I’m confident now that we can eliminate hunger as one of the reasons why our baby won’t sleep at night.

8. Unwell

baby won't sleep at night
When your little one is unwell, you can more than likely say goodbye to great nighttime sleep. Depending on the type of illness – here we’ll be discussing the common cold (if colic – just try to comfort your baby).
 
For an adult, being bunged up is absolutely horrible. I breathe through my nose when I sleep – when it’s blocked, it’s like I forget that I’m able to breathe through my mouth. The same thing may well happen to your child.
 
While lying on their backs, all the mucus from their nose can start to run down their throats. This will in turn, likely cause them to cough, which is likely to be one of the major causes of them waking up.
 
In these instances, really try not to just let them cry, offer them some comfort, hold them for a while to help them sleep. If they are really struggling and want to be with you the whole night – make an exception and bring them into your bed.
 
Disclaimer – do not do this if you are a wild sleeper and do Kung Fu in your sleep. If this is the case, the baby does not join you in bed! Please also do your research on this and make sure you are comfortable with any risk.

How to help

Now a lot of people are not a fan of medicine, but when our daughter is ill, we give her Calpol. She likes the taste and it really helps her to sleep. This really helps with her discomfort and I imagine the aches and pains with being ill.
 
We would even go so far as to recommend the vapour plugin. It has a handy night light (hopefully your child isn’t light-sensitive!) and comes with refills. It should last the whole night and help with decongestion.
 
We also use snuffle babe vapour rub (baby/child version of Vix) on her chest and back, we want to get rid of this cold as soon a possible.
 
For more severe cases, we have used the Snufflebabe nasal aspirator as well – she did not enjoy this! But it meant she could breathe. We have only used it twice.
 
I can tell you – it’s a lot nicer than using your mouth!
 
If your baby is breastfed, this should work wonders with getting your baby well. You may even find they want it a lot more!
 
For more herbal remedies, my sister in law swears by Thyme tea. Her child is rarely ill and very healthy. We should probably start using that for our whole family.

9. Dirty nappy

This is something you should know from when your baby is a newborn. One BIG reason your baby won’t sleep at night is that they are uncomfortable.
 
You imagine trying to sleep with sodden or soiled underwear and see how comfortable it is. Some nappies boast that they’ll keep your child dry for up to 12 hours – some of these companies are liars…
You will come to know your baby/child well enough to know at what point they’ll have a full nappy.
 
My sister knew that her son would have a fully nappy at around 11 pm. If we didn’t change his nappy he’d have leaked through by morning.
Boy was she right – when he stayed over, he’d sleep in my bed. Only once I didn’t change his nappy at 11. That was a mistake I wouldn’t make twice.
 
I am very lucky that my daughter seldom poops at night. When she does, this nappy change and the cold wipes on her little tushie fully wake her up!

How to help

I guess, know your child’s toilet habits. Buy nappies that actually keep your baby dry. We’ve always bought one size up. This would allow us to really pull the nappy up. Whenever she wore nappies her size, she’d leak, night or day.
 
Very few tips here, just make sure they are comfortable, it will really help.

10. Frightened 

As your child goes through their different leaps, they become surprisingly aware of their surroundings. The result of this is that they know they’re alone! Imagine being a tiny person, in a big cot, in a big dark room all alone. They may well be hearing strange sounds which add to their fright/terror.
 
This could be something quite distressing for them and cause them to call out for you. Depending on the age and development of the child, this could be through crying or calling mummy and daddy.

How to help

This could be through filling their cot with some cuddly toys – again be aware of the risks here.
 
We told our daughter that if she gets scared, she should cuddle her bunny – this seems to work quite well. She is also surrounded by so many, that sometimes, when she wakes up, she occupies herself with them, then falls back asleep.
 
We also have bought her a grow egg – this works as a thermometer and night light (I really do like getting my money’s worth), which allows her to see her cuddly toys around her and us when we enter the room if necessary.
 
We also use a white noise machine, which will hide all of the outside noise. This way our socialite child won’t hear us pottering around or entertaining.
Studies also show that this helps with relaxation as it mimics the sound of the womb.

Summary

As you can see, there are numerous reasons as to why your baby won’t sleep at night. This list may not be exhaustive, however, these are the ones that we’ve found to be most common. 

Following the ‘how to help’ should make a real difference when overcoming your little one’s sleep problems. 

Remember, with most things parenting – be consistent and try not to take things personally. It is also short-lived in the grand scheme of things. It just feels long now.

Good luck and happy parenting. 

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