Sleep Training for Babies: Everything to Know

It can be debilitating when you are exhausted and up again at night to soothe your crying baby, especially when you have a big day ahead. You will start wondering why your baby isn’t sleeping and how you can help him/her to sleep better.

When your baby can’t sleep, they are experiencing a struggle similar to the common life-long struggle that many people have when it comes down to bedtime.

Many people develop insomnia from certain triggers such as too much caffeine, screen time too close to bedtime, or simply excess stress.

Your baby has their own set of insomnia triggers that may keep him/her from a good night’s rest. Being aware of why your baby won’t sleep, can’t sleep, or requires constant co-sleeping is the first step to solving those problems.

Over-stimulated

When the environment is too stimulating, your baby might have trouble calming down. This can make it hard for him/her to get to sleep when bedtime arrives.

Your baby may become hyper-alert, fidgety, or even anxious. Your baby’s growing brain can start to be overwhelmed by all of the new signals it is getting. Each experience and new sensation is another neuron firing.

All of these exciting experiences are building strong networks in your baby’s brain. However, babies need a break from all this stimulation in order to process everything. During sleep, the brain has the job of cleaning up all of the construction in the neurons.

Memories are processed, experiences are filed away, and the brain cleans itself of the waste byproducts caused by the energy spent during waking hours.

Reducing stimulation close to bedtime can help your baby’s brain enter a tranquil state. Stimulation comes in the form of sounds, talking, books, toys, turned on televisions, and even talking faces looking at them.

A lack of routine

Your baby certainly benefits from a regular routine. Instead of trying to put your baby on a tight schedule, focus on helping him/her learn to associate certain times of the day with certain activities.

Routine helps to create positive expectations. It helps your baby’s body and brain look for cues as to what is next. Your baby’s body can then adjust to these expectations, getting ready for the next activity… sleep!

This type of stability is so important for babies. Moreover, this sense of consistency is beneficial for everyone in the household. This also marvelously translates into bedtime.

As evening approaches, your baby may start to pick up on the cues. The dimming lights, the quieting of activity, and the environment’s change might all help signal your baby’s brain that sleep is coming.

Overtired or nap-deprived

If you have ever had a night where you pushed yourself to stay awake and finally got to bed, but then found that your mind just couldn’t slow down, you’ve experienced what it’s like to be overtired. Babies get that too.

If your baby is pushing himself or herself to stay awake when their body starts giving sleepy signals, they’ll likely develop a habit of doing the same thing when it’s time to go to sleep.

They’ll wake up more, fuss more, and try to avoid going to sleep. Try to offer your baby more naps throughout the day and an earlier bedtime.

It may seem a little counter-intuitive, but if your baby isn’t getting in enough naps, it’s more likely your baby won’t be able to go down for bedtime either.

Babies under one year typically need to sleep every two hours. A baby under six months old only needs to be awake for 1.5 hours before going down for a nap.

The baby has a sore throat or an ear infection

You may know what it’s like to try to sleep with a cold. A sore throat can be agonizing and keep you in a cycle of pain that keeps you from relaxing.

If your baby is waking up all of a sudden and crying in discomfort, it could be a sign of distress caused by the pain of an ear infection or a sore throat.

While these are generally normal for a baby to experience, fighting off infections can be taxing on their under-developed immune systems. If you suspect this is a problem, please seek medical advice. Watch for thick yellow discharge from the nose or swelling and puffiness around the nose and eyes.

Food allergies or sensitivities

With the rise of food sensitivities, an increasing number of babies are being diagnosed with food allergies. Your baby may be sensitive to certain food, too. These sensitivities can irritate the digestive system and cause general discomfort for your baby.

Your child may feel itchy or have acid reflux that is keeping him/her awake at night. If your baby is showing signs of colic distress or developing unexplained or excessive rashes, food allergies should be included in your investigation.

You can start by removing common food allergens to see if the baby reacts positively. Foods such as dairy, wheat, and corn are common culprits.

If your baby begins to demonstrate signs of relief resulting from the previously mentioned dietary changes, you should continue your baby on their new diet.

When your baby won’t sleep, it is possible multiple food allergies are at play. If you are breastfeeding, you may also need to temporarily remove these foods from your diet as well. Babies can still get small amounts of these food particles through your breastmilk.

Acid reflux

While every baby experiences some spit up, babies who have forceful episodes of spitting up and discomfort when being put down may be suffering from acid reflux.

If your baby is arching their back, squirming uncomfortably, and screaming when put down, then this uncomfortable problem may be the culprit.

This may also be the case if he or she is not responding to regular comforting or calmed by a swaddle. You may be able to relieve this pain by lessening the amount of milk your baby receives at each feeding.

If you are breastfeeding, it is possible to be making too much milk. If your baby is overeating, their stomachs may just be struggling to take in all of the milk.

You can help to lessen this by keeping your baby upright for 30 minutes after eating. However, please notify your pediatrician if you suspect your baby has acid reflux or allergies.

Transitioning through sleep cycles

The body naturally goes through phases of deep and light sleep. There are times at night where you will wake up for just seconds before dosing off to sleep, perhaps with no memory of it.

Similarly, your baby will do the same. This is natural and related to REM sleep and circadian rhythms. Your baby must learn how to get themselves back to sleep after these short phases of waking and dreaming.

A baby may wake up during the night and crave the rocking or sleep prop they’ve become accustomed to when falling asleep. This may be a contributing factor as to why your baby won’t sleep.

A good remedy for this is to let your baby lay down when sleepy, but ensure he or she remains awake to get used to the feeling of drifting off in that environment. As a result, your baby’s brain will begin to create sleep associations and cues.

Baby is hungry for solid food

Depending on your baby’s age, if he/she is older than 6-months, their digestive system may be craving more solid foods.

Milk will provide strong nutrition, but a baby’s stomachs may need something more to work with. Try gradually introducing more solid food into your baby’s diet and observe if they stay full for longer.

It’s too hot or too cold for baby

If your baby is waking up at night or oversleeping, check their bodies for sweat and check both hands for cold fingers. Babies need a little extra warmth than adults to be comfortable.

You can also try including an extra blanket. Ideally, a baby is most comfortable at a room temperature of 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit (0-22.2 degrees Celsius).

Growth spurts

You may have experienced growing pains when you were a child or teenager. Babies also experience these painful sensations. Babies might go through a week of having a bigger appetite to accommodate this growth.

They may also wake up in the middle of the night hungrier than usual. A growing baby can become more sleepy, but it can also cause sleeplessness. They may be more interested in playing when they’re entering a new developmental phase, making it harder to calm down and go to sleep.

Around two months is a common time for babies to experiences what’s called sleep regression. This means your baby will wake up more frequently at night, even if they previously were sleeping fine.

If your baby doesn’t stay asleep, please try the Sleep Baby Workshop. If your baby won’t sleep, you need to take a proactive approach. Losing out on sleep is unhealthy for both you and your baby. Please don’t allow your baby’s sleep problems to escalate.