If Your Baby Won’t Sleep: Reasons, Sleep Regressions, And How To Cope With It

Baby Won't Sleep

If you are interested in this topic, you’re probably already exhausted and need help in solving your baby’s sleep problems. As parents, we understand you very well, as we have been in your shoes.

Firstly, you need to calm down. As your child understands your emotions very well, try to make an extra effort to stay calm. Later on in this article, we’ll talk about how to do it.  

Secondly, sleep regression is a normal stage of your kid’s development. As a parent, try to help your baby pass this period smoothly and keep your baby’s sleep sweet and happy. And try to do it ASAP – you and other family members will only benefit from that.

Article Content: 

Sleep Deprivation: Handling Your Emotions

Tired mommy with baby on hands

When you are tired out, a baby that consistently cries can make you feel angry. This is normal, but you must always put the health and wellbeing of your baby first. 

If you ever feel too overwhelmed, make sure you put your baby in their cot, or another safe and secure place, and leave the room to give yourself a break and calm down.

Suggestions include [1,8,11]: 
  • Call Parentline 1-844- 415-BABY (2229)
  • Ask for help
  • Eat something that improves your mood
  • Practice yoga or dance
  • Get some exercise
  • Get some fresh air if you have someone who can look after your baby
  • Listen to your favorite song
  • Put on something loud so you can’t hear the crying
  • Watch your favorite movie; even 7-10 minutes can change your mood
  • Get a bath or shower
  • Get some rest
  • Drink something warm; herbal calming teas is a good choice 
  • Take deep breaths
  • Seek professional help to solve your baby’s sleeping problems if they don’t improve [1].

Although some people might suggest that letting your baby “cry it out” or cry themselves to sleep isn’t a bad idea, as this won’t hurt them in the long term, this isn’t the best way to respond to a crying child. Responding to your child by soothing them can help them feel safe and secure [8].

Now, when your mental, emotional, and physical resources have been restored, it’s time to move to baby sleep studies and sleep problem-solving. 

Baby Sleep Studies And Statistics

Recent neuroscience research has discovered just how crucial sleep is to a baby’s developing brain. Although it might be tempting to think that a few sleepless nights aren’t such a big deal, as your baby can catch up on this missed sleep later, this is unfortunately not true.

Sleep is vital for a baby’s brain development, even before birth. In the third trimester, babies start entering rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In REM sleep, brain activity increases, dreaming occurs, and implicit memories are consolidated. In the brains of fetuses, the neurons develop rapidly [5].

When life begins, the cells in the spinal cord and brain start to develop even more rapidly, producing trillions of neural connections, with 95% of the brain’s weight usually present by 6 years of age. To ensure their brains develop properly, babies, infants, and children need adequate sleep to protect the neurons in the brain [3].

According to the research, a lack of sleep can disrupt neural plasticity, which is the ability of neurons and networks in the brain to rewire themselves and adapt to what is happening in the baby’s environment. Research also suggests that sleep helps consolidate new memories and helps us remember the things we have learned even from the early months of life [5].

Infant Sleep Studies Have Shown That:

  • About 20–30% of babies and infants wake up during the night during their first 2 years of life. However, the number of night awakenings decreases as the baby gets older, with 50-70% of infants being able to sleep solidly at 12 weeks of age, and 90% or more at 6 months [7].
  • Around 35% of babies have nights of broken sleeping [1].
  • Each night, people go through sleep cycles. Adults start at light sleep, then go into deep sleep, and then return to sleeping lightly. Babies go through shorter sleep cycles of around 30–50 minutes, but infants have sleep cycles of about an hour, and the sleep cycles get longer as they get older.

Whereas adults may roll over or drift back to sleep between the sleep cycles, this can be when babies wake up and cry. They might require feeding or comfort from you to go back to sleep [4].

Baby Won’t Sleep. Is It Normal Or Not?

Baby's crying

Every family needs to respond to their baby’s night waking in the best way for their family. Whilst some parents or caregivers prefer to have their baby sleep in a separate room, others prefer to put their baby to sleep in a cot next to their bed, and a lot of babies will sleep better if you’re close by.  

Babies May Cry At Night Because They:

  • are experiencing discomfort, sickness, teething, coldness, pain, or hunger
  • are too excited, tired, or stressed
  • don’t know how to soothe themselves without your help
  • experience anxiety when separated from parents or caregivers [8].

Waiting in anticipation – “well, we can wait a little longer“, “it will improve by itself”, or “it won’t be like this forever” – isn’t a good idea. 

It’s Normal If: 

– from birth, the child sleeps on your chest or in your arms.

– the baby experiences fragmentary night sleep and a lot of fast sleep – when the child sleeps very superficially and violently. 

These behaviors are not violations, and can last 3-4 months. After that, the baby will be able to sleep through the night more intelligibly. 

It’s NOT Normal If:

– the child slept perfectly, and then at one point stopped (stopped falling asleep normally, began to wake up often). If this is the case, we first need to look for obvious reasons: teeth, stomach, well-being, a new skill, regression 4 or 7-10 months (we’ll discuss it in the next topic of this article), or very obvious external events that coincided in time. If there are doubts about the reasons, the regression normally ends either due to changes in conditions (the stomach stopped hurting – a good sleep returned), or after 1-2 weeks (in the case of new skills and natural regressions).

– the stomach discomfort has long passed, and sleep disturbances last longer than 2 weeks. If this happens, it’s time to sound the alarm. The issue will not fix itself; on the contrary, it will only get worse. One of the possible reasons is sleep regression. 

Sleep Regression. Signs Of Baby’s Sleep Problems

Sometimes, a baby can start to sleep ‘normally’ (that is, sleeping consistently and often through the night), but then suddenly start to wake up at night again. This often happens at about 6 months of age [10]. These sudden sleep disruptions are called ‘sleep regressions’. 

Sleep regressions can be characterized by:

  • Longer periods of time awake [6]
  • Fussiness in the day
  • Unwillingness to nap
  • Waking up at night
  • Crying when their parent leaves the room
  • Suddenly waking up and crying one or more times at night after an extended period of sleeping through the night
  • Not wanting to go to sleep when you’re not there
  • Clinging to you when you leave them [10]

It’s important to remember that sleep regressions – whilst inconvenient – are NOT a major problem by themselves. They are a normal part of a baby’s development. Infants can also have sleep regressions at 4 months, 8 months, and 12 months  [6].

Above, we talked about separation anxiety. This is also a normative aspect of a baby’s development, often caused by the fact that the child does not know that separations are only temporary or because the baby is overtired or overstimulated [10].

How To Cope With Sleep Regressions

Baby yawns

If you and your baby are suffering from a sleep regression at 4 months, read on to find out how to solve this sleep problem. These recommendations will help you to cope with sleep regressions at 6 months, 8 months, and 12 months as well. 

  1. Put your baby in their cot to sleep while drowsy but not asleep. This can help them associate their bed with falling asleep, which can make keeping a consistent sleep routine easier.
  2. Check for signs of sleepiness. If your baby is rubbing their eyes or being fussy, this could be the sign to start the bedtime routine so you can put them to bed whilst sleeping but not fully asleep. 
  3. Daytime playtime. During the day, expose your baby to daylight and try to keep them active during the day. This can help right their internal clock so their body knows that nighttime means sleepy-time.
  4. Make your baby sleep in a good sleeping environment. The room they sleep in needs to be quiet, dark, and calm so that the baby can sleep without any disturbances.
  5. Make a bedtime routine. By doing so, your baby will be able to identify the signs that it’s time to sleep, making it easier to stay asleep [6].
  6. Include playing soft music or giving your baby a massage or warm bath before going to bed [1]. 

Tips How To Help Your Baby Sleep Better At Night

If your baby won’t sleep and wakes up during the night, the following tips might help:
  • Before seeing how they are doing, wait a bit to see if they can self-soothe and go back to sleep.
  • If your baby has to be fed at night, keep the room quiet and dark and try to feed them as quickly as possible. As soon as they have had enough to eat, put them straight back to bed to avoid overstimulating them [6]. 

If your baby’s sleeping problems continue, don’t wait – look for professional advice. What you can do before that is find out your baby’s individual sleeping norm.

Is My Child Getting Enough Sleep? 

Baby's sleeping

The table norms are the averages of how much MOST children sleep at this age. But what is written there may not have anything to do with YOUR child at all. What’s the conclusion? To understand whether a child has enough sleep or not, you need to focus on their INDIVIDUAL norm [2].

The individual norm can be calculated only when the child sleeps well, without sleep disturbances. If a baby barely falls asleep and wakes up often, then how can we understand how much sleep they need?

In such a case, we need to do the following:

  1. Compare with the tables (statistics). By comparing with the norms, we can conclude that the child sleeps LESS or MORE than most children of their age without sleep disturbances. Is it enough for them personally? We still don’t know.
  2. Look at the child’s behavior. 

Signs of lack of sleep include:

  • The child cries regularly when falling asleep and / or waking up.
  • The child is sluggish, capricious during the day, cannot concentrate on anything for long, and does not like anything.
  • The child falls asleep for a long time (longer than 20 minutes) and is unpredictable – that is, you cannot say for sure when they will fall asleep.
  • The baby falls asleep in a stroller or car seat, whether it’s bedtime or not. They can also sleep in fits and starts. Once every few days, they can suddenly sleep for 2-3-4 hours in a row (much more than usual) [2]. 

Sleeping Norms 

The sleep norms aren’t the same. Here, you’ll see the sleep norms from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), by the neuroscientist Matthew Walker, and by Stanford Children’s Health. They are slightly different. 

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends the following sleep durations [6]: 
AgeRecommended norm
from birth to 3 months14–17 hours/day
from 4 to 11 months12–15 hours/day
infants aged 1–2 years11–14 hours/day
preschoolers aged 3–5 years10–13 hours/day

For infants, sleeping for 3-4 hours during the day is completely normal [6].

The following are the usual nighttime and daytime sleep needs for newborns through to 2-year-old toddlers according to the Stanford Children’s Health Hospital [10].
AgeTotal sleep hoursTotal hours of
nighttime sleep
Total hours of
daytime sleep
Newborn16 hours8 to 98
1 month15.5 hours8 to 97
3 months15 hours9 to 104 to 5
6 months14 hours104
9 months14 hours113
1 year14 hours113
1.5 years13.5 hours112.5
2 years13 hours112
Hours of Sleep Needed by Age as recommended by Matthew Walker, Ph.D., an English scientist and professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley [3].
AgeRecommended norm
Toddlers 1-2 years                               11 to 14 hours           
Preschoolers 3-5 years                        10 to 13 hours
School-aged children 6-13 years      9 to 11 hours
Teenagers 14-17 years8 to 10 hours

And now we can conclude: 

  • If the sleep is ENOUGH according to the norms, and there are NO signs of a lack of sleep, then everything is okay. Your baby is getting enough sleep.
  • If the sleep is LOW according to the norms, but there are NO signs of a lack of sleep, everything is all right.
  • If the sleep is LOW, and there are signs of sleep deficiency, something needs to be corrected. Most likely, part of the disordered sleeping is due to a lack of sleep.
  • If the sleep is ENOUGH, but there are signs of a lack of sleep, we also need to fix this. We have to know if the disordered sleeping is related to a lack of sleep or some other reasons [2].

We’d like to mention two more things in this article, as they directly influence the baby’s sleep quality and safety. These are: bedtime routine and safe sleeping. 

Bedtime Routine

Mommy with Baby

To help your child fall asleep quickly, try to create a calming atmosphere before bedtime and follow the same rituals every night. What works well is:

  • Taking a warm bath, and playing calmly in the bath 
  • Changing into pajamas and a new diaper
  • Dimming the lights
  • Reading a book such as a fairy tale
  • Giving a goodnight hug and kiss
  • Singing a lullaby
  • Creating a quiet environment – “white” noise

When it comes to developing healthy sleeping habits for your baby, teaching them to fall asleep on their own is completely essential [9].

When To Move A Baby Into Their Own Room 

Babies can’t move that independently. Therefore, they can get into dangerous positions or situations and not be able to help themselves. 

That’s why sharing your room with your baby is:

  • Highly recommended up to 1 year (reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) [2]: for the first 6 to 12 months, put your baby to sleep in their cot (or, in their early months, their bassinet) next to your bed [4].
  • Preferable from 1 to 3 years old. 3 years old is the optimal age for moving a baby into a separate room [2].

Safe Sleeping

Some ways to reduce the risks of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or fatal accidents during sleep are to:

  • Keep your baby away from smoke before and after birth — no smoking whilst pregnant, in the house where the baby sleeps, or around the baby, if at all.
  • Have the baby sleep on their back from birth — never have them sleep on their side of their stomach.
  • Keep your child’s face and head uncovered.
  • Breastfeed your child. This is known to help with safe sleeping. 
  • Provide a secure and safe sleeping place:
    • do not use quilts, cot bumpers, or pillows, and make sure there are no soft toys or other soft items as they can increase the risk of suffocation.
    • ensure the mattress is clean, flat, firm, and fits the cot.
    • do not put your baby to sleep on a soft surface either alone or with another person. Such soft surfaces include: a bean bag, pillow, or a sofa. You must not do this because soft surfaces can block a baby’s airways, particularly if, for example, a baby falls asleep on the sofa with an adult and the adult falls asleep.
    • NEVER use a pillow for babies younger than two years old.
    • tuck bedclothes in so they reach your baby’s shoulders and their head cannot slip under.
    • don’t put the baby to sleep in a product that is not designed for sleep or isn’t flat. Such products include rockers, bouncers, car seats, and capsules. If your baby has already fallen to sleep in one of these products, quickly move them to a secure sleeping place.
    • do not use clothing that has cords, ribbons, or long strings as these are choking and strangulation hazards.
    • if you’re using a sleeping bag, ensure it is the correct size, has no hood, and has a fitted neck. Put light clothes on your baby. The purpose of the sleeping bag is to make your baby warm without overheating them.

Ensure that anyone else who looks after your baby knows about safe sleeping [4].

How Long Can A Child’s Bad Sleep Be Tolerated?

Baby yawns

If the cause of the disturbances is a lack of sleep, then it’s like a snowball. The child does not sleep well – the lack of sleep increases – overexcitement increases – the baby has less and even worse sleep.

If the cause of the disturbances is related to sleeping and falling asleep habits, then the disturbing patterns will only become more prevalent over time.

The question is: how long can we wait without causing harmful consequences for the baby? 

A baby sleeping for 20 minutes less than their individual need for sleep leads to sleep disturbances. Kids with sleep disruptions are more likely to have diseases, have a higher risk of developing ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), become obese and depressed in the future, receive domestic injuries, and have statistically lower school performance indicators. First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that sleep is the body’s primary need. It is as important as the need to eat, drink, and breathe air. If you can get your baby to sleep, do it as soon as possible. After all, it wouldn’t occur to you to let your baby go without food because, without food, they can only live for several days.

Only you know how much you are ready to suffer from your own lack of sleep, exhaustion, irritation, and fatigue. Suppose your exhaustion leads to anger at the child, yourself, or other family members. In that case, if you are physically unable to respond to all the child’s needs, including mental ones, you will be increasingly reacting with detachment or irritation – this is a signal. This leaves an imprint on the formation of the child’s personality.

On average, it takes 2 to 6 weeks for a baby’s sleep to be fully corrected. The myth that some children do not sleep and it just needs to be experienced comes from times when people simply did not yet know how to fix the situation. Now, the quality of life your baby has during this early childhood period depends only on your decisions and actions [2].

How To Get The Best Sleep For You And Your Child

Baby's sleeping with Mommy
Below, we have provided some tips on how you can get better sleep:
  • Research has shown that, during sleep, the brain makes connections to consolidate what we have learned. 
  • Our body temperature naturally lowers during the night, so sleeping in a cool environment might help your child get deeper sleep.
  • Don’t let your baby eat too many carbs before bed. Eating too much can cause insulin levels to spike, leading to elevated blood sugar, which will then cause a blood sugar crash during the night which can cause your baby to toss and turn.
  • Turning off half the lights in the house helps the body produce melatonin, a hormone that tells your body when to sleep. Lightbulbs and LED screens all trick our brains into thinking its daytime.
  • Having a bedtime routine is a huge advantage to help kids recognize that it’s time for bed. These simple cues help the brain go into automatic thinking mode and reduce anxiety.
  • Plumbing system: The brain has a ‘plumbing system’ that removes toxic wastes, such as damaged cells and protein plaques, throughout the night. Sleeping well every night can facilitate the brain’s plumbing system [3].

The Bottom Line

We do hope this article will help you when it comes to handling your emotions and solving your baby’s sleep problems. 

4 main things to keep in mind: 

  1. the mother’s mood, emotions and feelings, and physical health influence the child’s sleep 100%.
  2. suppose your baby’s sleep problems last for more than 2 weeks without an obvious reason. In that case, it’s time to seek professional advice.
  3. your kid isn’t crying to annoy or irritate you – crying is their ONLY way of communication.
  4. the thing that should motivate you is: sleepless nights will not last forever. One day, they’ll come to an end. Hopefully, this article will assist you in solving the sleeping issue as soon as possible.