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Why Does My Baby Cry While Sleeping?


Is Your Baby Crying While Sleeping?

You’ve probably experienced this scenario many times as a new parent. Your baby has been asleep for an hour, maybe two, when suddenly she cried out in her sleep. Understandably, you may feel confused or concerned about why your baby is crying during sleep.

However, most of the time, there is no reason for alarm if a baby cries while sleeping. Many reasons exist that would make your baby cry during sleep. Here’s the scoop on why your baby starts to cry after the Sandman has come and gone.

Sleep Cycles

According to Working Mother, your baby has sleep cycles that run for about 50 to 60 minutes per cycle, (unlike you who goes through your sleep cycles about every 90 minutes or so).

Each cycle has a transitional phase, where the sleeper – in this case, your baby – moves from one phase to another. During these transitions, say when your baby moves from REM to a deeper sleep cycle, he/ she may cry out.

When a baby cries while sleeping, it is often an indication that his/ her sleep cycles are transitioning. In all actuality, your baby really isn’t awake. Like pretty much everything else a baby must learn how to do, he/ she must learn how to fall asleep properly and to stay asleep.

Other Challenges

Granted, while much of the time a baby cries while sleeping because of sleep transition, you well know that he/ she may be experiencing other issues. Your baby could be hungry or wet, for example.

So, how do you tell why your baby is crying during sleep? Healthline offers this bit of advice when you’re asking yourself “Why is my baby crying while sleeping?”

If after a few minutes your baby’s cries escalate instead of calming down, you know that there is an issue. In other words, if your baby is transitioning from one sleep cycle to another, his/ her cries will not escalate.

However, if your baby cries while sleeping and he/ she seems more and more distressed, it’s time to go check on your baby. As we have already mentioned, the baby could be wet or hungry or even cold, and of course, sick.

Complications to Sleep

Without knowing it, you can inadvertently cause your baby to wake up during the night. A baby who does this is called a “trained night crier,” according to the Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Your baby should develop a regular seven- or eight-hour sleeping schedule by the ages of two months to four months. By this time, your baby’s caloric needs will change: He/ she will no longer require calories during the night and therefore, will not need nocturnal feedings.

If you’re wondering why your baby cries while sleeping after about the age of four months, you will find that there are some pretty common triggers for this.

  • You entertain your baby after she wakes up. Ideally, you should help your baby get used to a more settled routine at bedtime. After story time is over and the baby has fallen asleep, don’t get the books back out or play with your baby. Even consistent rocking at nap time can train your baby to wake up during sleep and cry. Crying during sleep if it happens on the regular could be an indication that your baby has a secondary gain from waking up. That is to say that he/ she expects to be entertained or is expecting mom and dad’s attention.
  • You rock your baby in order to make him/ her fall asleep. Granted, in the earliest stages of life, a baby needs to be rocked and soothed in order to fall asleep. However, one of your goals as a parent should be to teach your baby how to self-regulate. A good sleeper in the baby years can become a good sleeper in later years. If your baby cries while sleeping, it could be an indication that he/ she doesn’t know how to fall asleep without rocking.
  • Your baby is getting used to changes in environment or schedule. Babies cannot talk the way that we can. Unlike you, your baby must cry to communicate. The crying that comes from these changes is called “protest crying.” It’s the natural result of a change that your baby doesn’t like.

Should I Call the Doctor If My Baby Can’t Sleep?

The simple, most maddening answer to this is, “It depends.”

If the crying is relatively recent and doesn’t seem to be escalating, it’s probably just normal night time sleep transition crying. If it’s escalating and you’ve tried feeding your baby or changing him/ her or whatever, then you could have a more serious issue.

Sometimes, your baby can develop reflux. If he/ she spits up quite a bit or is wheezing, you may want a checkup.

That said, it is also okay to get support from your doctor as you learn about your baby. If your baby cries while sleeping, it may be nothing. It could also be a sign of something more serious. If you are prone to worry, go ahead and give yourself the peace of mind that may come from a call to your baby’s doctor.


If your baby cries while sleeping, it could be a sign of something serious. However, it could also just mean that he/ she is transitioning from one phase of the sleep cycle to another. (Your baby has sleep cycles just like you do.) Very often, trying to determine the cause of crying during sleep is what makes parents most frustrated.

Usually, your baby will cry out during the night for brief periods of time, often because of a change in the sleep cycle, but also due to hunger, wetness, or cold. The way to determine the difference between these various types of cries is to listen for escalation. If your baby cries while sleeping but stops after a few minutes and the crying doesn’t get more urgent, it’s probably a sleep cycle thing.

However, if the crying gets louder or more insistent, then it’s time to check for other issues. Many parents that face this issue wind up being surprised to learn that their babies have not woken up, despite the crying.

That said, too much fussing over the baby for night-crying can cause a baby to become a night crier. In this case, a baby cries while sleeping because your baby has a secondary gain from waking up. In other words, if your baby has learned that he/ she will get to play or get mom or dad’s attention, staying asleep will prove to be difficult.

Finally, some sleep issues arise from medical conditions like reflux. Having your doctor check your baby out will eliminate the worry that it causes you when your baby cries while sleeping.

Remember, letting your baby cry for a few minutes after he/ she has fallen asleep isn’t the same as letting him/ her cry during the day. Often these daytime cries indicate something more serious or are your baby’s way of communicating to you. Learning to distinguish between the types of cries that your baby produces will eventually help all of you get some much-needed sleep.

2 thoughts on “Why Does My Baby Cry While Sleeping?”

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