Why won’t my baby sleep through the night?
Sleep deprivation can feel horrific, and once you have a baby it can feel like those nights of broken sleep are never going to end.
While you want to have an uniterupted night’s sleep, your baby has other plans. She wants to be fed, burped, cuddled and soothed and it’s down right exhausting. Sadly, you can’t will your baby to start sleeping through the night, but there can be a few things you can do to improve the situations.
Sometimes new parents (unwittingly) contribute to their baby’s night-wakings. Here’s five common situations that can affect your baby’s sleep.
1. EXPECTING TOO MUCH, TOO SOON
You’ve sung the lullaby and drawn the blackout blind, but your little one still won’t nod off. That’s because babies aged 12 weeks and under have no concept of the difference between night and day.
In fact, the hormones that control our patterns of sleeping and waking don’t start to kick in until around three-months-old. Younger than that and there’s no point in expecting anything from her sleep-wise – she just has to follow her own needs.
Babies of this age are also so small that their stomachs can’t hold much milk. They need to feed frequently and, when they get hungry, they wake up. It’s not until around 16 weeks that your baby might be able to go without a feed for long enough to give you a decent stretch of sleep yourself.
‘Even at nine months old, 60% of babies still wake at night. It’s normal,’ says Sarah Ockwell Smith, author of BabyCalm: A Guide For Calmer Babies And Happier Parents. ‘You will save yourself a lot of heartache if you go with the flow.’
So, lessen your expectations and, remember, it’s normal for parents to be this tired.
“She can become over-stimulated, then over-tired. When this happens, it’s harder for her to get to sleep, because she’s upset.”
2. DOING TOO MUCH
Yes, you’ve had a baby, but life doesn’t stop. You’ve still got people to see, shopping to do, loads of milk-staining clothes to wash… But anything new is hugely stimulating for a baby who’s under 12 months. Every room will be full of different smells, sounds and sensations that she needs to adjust to.
Her brain is working overtime, and the result is that she can become over-stimulated, then over-tired.
When this happens, it’s harder for her to get to sleep, because she’s upset. ‘This is a juggling act for parents,’ says Siobhan Mulholland, author of Helping Your Baby To Sleep. ‘Our lives are busy, but babies less than a year old are usually very happy in an environment that’s dull, boring and familiar.’
If you want to work towards a good night, the golden rule is not to do too much that’s new in any one day. And definitely don’t introduce your baby to anything unfamiliar in the run-up to bedtime.
3. RUSHING THE BEDTIME ROUTINE
You’re exhausted. You can’t be bothered to run the bath. Or read a book. Tonight, just for once, you’ll just lay your baby down, very gently in her cot and… No, she’s not having it. That’s because, from about six weeks old, sticking to a routine is key to sleep.
It doesn’t matter what your routine is – bottle, bath, bed, or bath, cuddle, lullaby – what matters is that you do the same things every night. ‘This makes your baby feels secure and signals sleep,’ says Siobhan.
‘And it’s also calming for parents. Don’t try and get it done quickly – just enjoy this gentle time with your little one.’
Over time, these actions will start to lull your baby into sleep readiness. It won’t happen instantly. But consistent bedtime routines will help get your child into the relaxed state she needs for sleep.
4. WAKING YOUR BABY UP FROM A NAP
Your baby barely sleeps at night, but is sleepy during the day. Surely the best way to help her sleep better at night is to stop her sleeping so much during the day, right? Wrong!
Actually, it doesn’t work that way. The reality is that if you let a baby nap when she wants to, for as long as she wants to (during the day, as well as at night), the better her sleep routine will be.
‘The only person who knows how much sleep your baby needs is her,’ says Sarah. ‘If you wake her up, you’re depriving her of rest that she wants. That will make her over-tired – and, if she gets over-tired, she’ll be grumpier and less able to get back to sleep later.’ It’s a double-whammy of badness.
Next time your baby is snoozing during the day, join her. It’s not the beauty sleep you’re used to, but those extra naps will help all of you feel better.
5. KEEPING THINGS TOO QUIET
Your baby has finally gone to sleep and you’re desperate not to wake her. So you creep around the house, being as quiet as you can be. Good idea? No!
If a sound is familiar to a baby, it won’t worry her – she’ll sleep right through it. ‘For example, if she’s used to her big brother singing, she’ll keep sleeping,’ says Sarah. ‘If she’s used to banging doors and creaking floorboards, those sounds won’t faze her. It’s unfamiliar noise that will wake her.’ Go figure.
If you spend the first 12 weeks tiptoeing all over the house, all you’re doing is creating problems for yourself down the line. The best thing to do is to go about your business as normal when your baby’s asleep. The quicker she gets used to it, the easier she’ll find it to sleep through it in the future. And it’ll make it easier for you, too.
For more help and advice on sleep problems affecting your baby, toddler or you, visit our Baby Sleeping section of the Mother & Baby website