Our Baby Won’t Sleep

It’s the complaint we hear from every exhausted new parent. We’ve got the solutions that put an end to all-nighters.

What’s Stopping Baby’s Slumber?

Baby in crib surrounded by sheep	Jeff Harris

My son, Zachary, spent the better part of his first week on this planet asleep, and my husband and I took all the credit. We’re second-time parents: We know what we’re doing this time! Everything is so much easier! And then Zachary woke up. The next few months were a blur of night wakings, napless afternoons, and pre-bedtime battles. And, of course, when he didn’t sleep, neither did we. Little did we know that there were a number of reasons behind his erratic sleep habits — and “he’s just not tired” wasn’t one of them. Read on to see if any of these culprits are keeping your family up all night.

    He’s too excited to sleep.

    Whether he’s being tossed into the air by his daddy, watching a video, or simply splashing in the tub, your baby may be spending his evenings doing the exact opposite of winding down. Not only will he think that going to bed equals missing out on fun, but those good times can make an already sleepy baby overtired. “When that happens it’s actually much harder for him to fall asleep,” says Jodi Mindell, PhD, Parents advisor and author of Sleeping Through the Night. “And he’ll wake up more often during the night.”

    Sleep solution: Give his bedtime routine a makeover. Ditch the tickle-fests and replace them with a massage, lullaby, storytime, or swaddling for a younger baby. And skip Baby Einstein screenings — TV is stimulating and makes it harder to fall asleep.

    You should also consider your baby’s temperament when you choose a ritual — not all bedtime staples are relaxing for every baby. Even baths may be a don’t. “Some babies find them thrilling and get wound up,” says Ann Douglas, author of Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler. If that’s the case, move tub time to earlier in the day.

    Pay attention to your mood too — if you’re tense, your baby will probably pick up on it. “When you’re getting him ready for bed, you should slow down too,” says Dr. Mindell. “Move quietly and dim the lights. Bedtime should be a cozy time with your child.”

      She’s the sensitive type.

      You spent your pregnancy in search of the perfect lullaby CD and cozy bedding for your baby’s nursery. But despite your hard work, she may not be comfortable. “Some babies are very sensitive to their external and internal environment,” says Harvey Karp, MD, creator of the DVD and book, The Happiest Baby on the Block. “They may be bothered by the phone ringing, the feeling of a clothing label, or even sensations in their body, like food digesting.” Babies can ignore these sensations during the day when there’s a lot of noise, but it’s much harder at night.

      Sleep solutions: Make her environment as soothing as possible. If you’re not sure what’s bothering her, start by removing pajama tags, using softer sheets, and darkening her room. And while parents assume babies need lots of bundling, your little one may be overheated. “Feel her neck and ears,” says Dr. Karp. “If they’re hot, remove one or two layers of clothing.”

      On the other hand, your child may be upset by the lack of stimulation in the room — especially if she’s less than 4 months old. “Babies were constantly held, rocked, and touched in the uterus, and there was always white noise,” says Dr. Karp. “Many babies can’t relax because they miss that rhythmic calmness.” A tight swaddle may help re-create that womblike feeling; it can work for babies up to at least 4 months of age, and sometimes well past that. It’s also a lifesaver after the 6-month mark because it drowns out household sounds; that’s when kids are more aware of (and unwilling to miss out on) the world around them.

        Conquering a Crazy Sleep Schedule

          He’s not seeing the light.

          Baby among sheep	Jeff Harris

          Too tired to go for a walk with the baby before 3 p.m. — or too busy to open all the shades? Keeping your baby in the dark may be causing his crazy sleep schedule. “Infants who get more exposure to light during the day sleep better,” says Dr. Mindell.

          Sleep solutions: The key is exposure to morning light. “It suppresses melatonin — a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle — so that it peaks at the right time,” says Dr. Mindell. Move your baby’s high chair or nursing pillow to the sunniest spot in the house and feed him there. A morning walk is a good idea too, even on a cloudy day, but if it’s not doable, turning on a bunch of lamps is a decent substitute. Remember to dim them an hour or two before bedtime, though. “You want your baby to associate light and activity with the day and darkness and inactivity with nighttime,” says Dr. Karp.

            She’s a midnight snacker.

            “This is probably the number one reason why babies have trouble falling asleep,” says Cathryn Tobin, MD, author of The Lull-A-Baby Sleep Plan. When you feed your baby immediately before you lay her in the crib, she’ll associate nursing with sleeping — especially if you let her fall asleep at your breast. That may not be a problem at 7 p.m., but it can become one when she wakes up at 3 a.m. and needs to eat in order to drift off again.

            Sleep solutions: You don’t have to get rid of pre-bedtime nursing all together — just move it earlier in the napping or bedtime routine, says Dr. Mindell. Try nursing, then doing a diaper change, then putting her down when she’s awake. And consider not feeding your baby in her bedroom — she needs to learn that the nursery is just for sleeping.

            Eventually your baby will learn to soothe herself when she wakes up at night. But if she isn’t getting the hang of it, her stomach might actually be empty. Dr. Karp suggests packing in extra calories so she’s not hungry at night by feeding your baby every hour or two in the evening. For example, if bedtime is 8, feed her at 5, 6, and at least one more before you tuck her in. Another option is doing “dream feed”: Put her down for the night at 8, then wake her for a feeding before you go to sleep.

              He’s anti-nap.

              Babies who refuse to snooze do more than cost you some free time during the day. “A child who misses a nap or only takes a short one has a harder time falling asleep and will wake more often during the night,” says Dr. Mindell.

              Sleep solutions: “For babies under 12 months, it’s typically a timing issue,” says Dr. Tobin. “You have to hit that exact moment — the beginning of the yawn, the heavy eyes — or you often miss the opportunity for a nap.” At that point, they’re overtired and too wired to fall asleep. Watch for your baby’s sleepy signs and put her down immediately. And be consistent — if your bedtime routine is a lullaby and a story, do the same before naptime. If he sleeps, great. If he spends an hour cooing, fine — restorative downtime is still better than nothing. Newborns sleep whenever they feel like it, but by 4 months, babies typically fall into a nap schedule consisting of two longer naps a day (one in the morning and another in the afternoon) or three shorter ones.

                When She’s Too Attached to You

                  He can’t nod off without you.

                  Baby reaching up to mobile	Jeff Harris

                  Whether you rock him or pat his back until he drifts off, your baby has become dependent on your presence to fall asleep.

                  Sleep solutions: Don’t abandon him entirely. Instead, gradually spend less time in his room each night and use a transitional object like a pacifier or a blankie to make the process easier. (Yes, pacifiers are okay at night — the new American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines actually recommend them.) However, a baby must be around 6 months old before he sleeps with a lovey — before that, anything loose in his crib increases the risk of SIDS. But you can start swaddling him with the blanket that will eventually become his lovey, says Dr. Tobin. If your baby gravitates toward his fuzzy lamb, incorporate it into his bedtime routine until he’s old enough to cuddle with it in his crib.

                    She’s struggling to give up co-sleeping.

                    You’re finally ready to reclaim your bedroom, but your mini roommate isn’t interested in her lonely crib. And the longer you’ve co-slept, the harder this process is going to be.

                    Sleep solutions: “This takes a while, so make the break gradually,” says Dr. Mindell. First, have her nap by herself; once she’s used to sleeping alone, do her bedtime routine in her room. Then move her crib into your room or put her down in her own room but continue to bring her into your bed if she wakes up during the night. If she doesn’t seem able to make the final transition to spending the whole night alone, you’ll have to let her fuss in her room for a while. But once she realizes you’re not coming to get her, she’ll learn to soothe herself.

                      You can’t stand to let her fuss.

                      Think about it: Do you fall asleep the minute you get into bed? Probably not. Well, neither does your baby. So when you burst into her room at the slightest whimper, you may be distracting her from falling asleep, or even waking her up.

                      Sleep solutions: Fight the urge to check on her for a few minutes. “If you don’t give your baby a chance to calm herself, she won’t learn to do it as quickly,” says Dr. Tobin. And if you’re glued to the baby monitor, just turn it down so that you only hear the major screaming — not the murmuring that babies naturally do in their sleep.

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