Why Won't My Baby Sleep?

There are many reasons why babies can protest about going to sleep and it helps to look at the most basic possibilities first.

Every baby is an individual and has their own sleep requirements. Some babies sleep better and longer than others.

Reasons may vary according to your baby’s age and stage of development. Even tired babies can cry when they’re going to sleep. Sometimes it’s as if they need to use up whatever reserves of energy they have before they finally succumb and drop off to sleep.

Overtired babies often cry quite loudly. Missing their tired signs can lead to overtiredness. This is why it’s useful to look for their “sleep window” to maximise the chances of them going to sleep.

Being hungry, feeling uncomfortable with a wet or dirty nappy can also cause reluctance to settle.

Being unwell or just feeling miserable can also cause sleep disturbances.

A new developmental phase can mean your baby just wants to be close to you. Learning new skills can be exciting but it can also create challenges for little people. Sometimes your baby may just want your reassurance and help to boost their feelings of security.

Babies often also have various growth spurts in which case they will feed more frequently; so again it’s so important to always respond to your baby’s feeding cues. Your Child Health Nurse or GP will help guide you; so it's a great idea to keep checking in at your key ages and stages appointments. Growth spurts will often cause an increase in hunger.

All babies go through a peak of unsettledness between the ages of 6-12 weeks. Many researchers believe this is because a young baby’s nervous system is immature. Crying is one way for them to let off steam and a way of “de-stressing”.

Some babies are particularly unsettled in the first three months and need a lot of continuous soothing and reassurance from their parents.  But this improves; just stay well engaged with your healthcare professional who will support you and offer you guidance throughout this time. Any medical concerns should always be investigated and treated of course.

Separation anxiety commonly peaks at around 7 months of age. Babies who’ve been used to sleeping through the night will often start waking again because they need an “emotional top-up” and reassurance that their parent is close. The way to manage separation anxiety is with calm reassurance.

Try to remember that you cannot control whether your baby goes to sleep or how long they actually sleep for. Neither of these factors is in your control.

What is within your control are your responses to your baby’s sleep and settling behaviour.

About the Author:

Jane Barry has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 30 years specialist experience in child health nursing. She is a member of a number of professionally affiliated organisations including AHPRA, The Australasian Medical Writer’s Association, Health Writer Hub and Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses.