Baby not sleeping

Is your baby not sleeping?

It can be exhausting to care for a baby who resists sleeping. For a process so essential and natural, sleeping is something a lot of babies just aren t very good at. Babies often need their parent's help to learn how to go to sleep and then stay asleep for a reasonable length of time. Well rested babies, who have regular routines of sleep and wakefulness, tend to be more content and easier to care for.

Every individual baby has their own unique needs for sleep. What is normal when it comes to sleep may not be for another. It can be hard not to compare your child with others and baby sleep is a common topic of shared conversation for parents.

Remember that your baby's temperament, personality and age will play a big part in their sleep and settling behaviour.

Common Reasons for Babies to not Sleep:

  • Parents missing tired signs. Babies give signals such as crying, grizzling and yawning when they're tired and need to sleep. Missing a baby's sleep window by keeping them up can mean they take longer to settle.
  • Over stimulated and overtired babies resist sleep. They demand lots of attention but their tolerance for play and interaction is short.
  • Lack of opportunity for sleep. Babies thrive on predictable, stable routines which support their general health and physical needs. Some babies are more sensitive to change in their usual routines, causing them to not sleep as well. Try to follow a regular pre-settling wind down routine so your baby knows that it's almost sleep time.
  • Hunger or feeling uncomfortable. Babies need to feel tired, calm and content before they will go to sleep.
  • Being unwell. Babies who are sick often have changes in their feeding, sleep and settling routines. Have your baby checked by a doctor if you are concerned.

Realistic Sleeping Guidelines:

Newborn baby sleep patterns vary, though most babies generally need around up to 18 hours or more every day. As your baby gets older, they'll need less frequent sleeps and is likely to be happy to stay awake for longer periods. By six months, many babies are sleeping for longer, continuous periods overnight. However, most will still need at least one overnight feed.

  • Your baby may sleep more on some days than others. Your baby's sleep will be a constantly changing process and will be impacted by their maturity and development.
  • Young babies need their parents help to regulate their emotions and to feel safe and secure. Most young babies like to be cuddled or rocked to sleep.
  • Babies from around three months can gradually learn skills to self-settle after all of their needs have been met. They may also sleep for longer periods at night without waking their parents.
  • Your baby's sleep is not under your direct control. Your responses to their sleep and settling will influence how they calm down and learn to go to sleep.

When Does Not Sleeping Become a Worry?

Though parents understand how important sleep is, most little ones don t seem to care too much. A baby not sleeping doesn t generally cause significant physical problems other than causing the baby to become overtired and difficult to live with. That said, we shouldn t underestimate the impact this can have on the whole family. Parents can become frustrated and overwhelmed when they don t get a break.

  • Constant crying and not being able to get anything else done can be exhausting. Ask your partner, relatives, trusted friends or neighbours for practical support and help.
  • Recognize that you have needs as well. It is reasonable to have some time away from constantly caring for your baby.
  • A sudden change in your baby's sleeping behaviour may be a sign of illness. Be aware of symptoms which could mean changes in your baby's health. Trust you own judgement in knowing your baby better than anyone else.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by your baby's lack of sleep, seek advice from your health care professional. Recommendations for managing a baby who is not sleeping depends on their age and what may work for each individual family.

For more information see Baby sleep or Baby Care

Edited and reviewed by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, August 2021.

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