5 Reasons Why Your Newborn Isn't Sleeping at Night

Medically reviewed by Katie Mena, MD on June 17, 2016Written by April Newton on June 17, 2016

“Just sleep when the baby sleeps!”

Well, that’s great advice if your little one is actually getting some rest. But what if you spend more time pacing the halls with a wide-eyed newborn than you do catching some Zzz’s?

Read on to learn five common reasons why some babies like the nightlife, and what you can do to get back on the sleep train.

1. Your baby doesn’t know if it’s night or day

Some babies start sleeping on what’s called a day/night reversal schedule. Your baby sleeps well during the day, but is awake and busy at night. It’s frustrating and exhausting, but it’s temporary.

Here are a few things you can do to help your baby learn that day is for play and night is for rest:

  1. Keep your baby awake a little longer during each waking period during the day. This will help increase the need for sleep later. Some sleep experts recommend playing with your baby for a few minutes after a feeding instead of letting your baby fall asleep.
  2. Get your baby outside and in the sun (make sure they’re well-protected, of course). Natural light helps reset their internal clock. If you can’t get outside, place your baby’s crib or sleeper near a window that gets good, bright light.
  3. Avoid sleep-inducing activities, if at all possible, during the day. Don’t fight your baby’s need to sleep. But if you can keep them out of the car seat for a bit, that extra time awake will help them later.
  4. Keep lights low or turn them out at night, anywhere near baby’s sleeping area. Likewise for sound and movement. Your goal should be zero disruptions.
  5. Some experts recommend swaddling babies at night so their arms and legs don’t move and wake them. You can also try putting them to sleep in a small crib so they feel snug and secure.

2. Your baby is hungry

Your newborn isn’t eating all that much in a single feeding. If you’re breast-feeding, the milk is digested quickly. That means a baby can wake up hungry and ready to fill their belly.

Experts say hunger is the most common reason babies wake during the night. For the sake of your child’s healthy growth, you shouldn’t try to change this need or retrain it. Even if you know that you just fed your baby a couple of hours earlier, check to see if food is what your little one needs.

Thirst is another reason babies wake up. A drink of breast milk or formula may do the trick.

3. Your baby doesn’t feel well

There’s almost always something going on with your newborn’s body, and a lot of it is uncomfortable.

Your baby may be:

  • teething
  • have a cold or allergies
  • feeling the urge to dance those busy feet
  • gassy
  • constipated

Every one of those things will cause a baby to wake up often during the night. Check with your pediatrician if you suspect pain or allergies could be the culprit. You’ll want to give the correct dose of any medications you use.

If you think gas is the problem, read this article to learn how to do infant massage for gas. If it’s teething your baby is trying to manage, check out these natural teething remedies for possible relief.

4. Your baby needs you

Some babies are so in love with their parents, they can’t waste time on sleep. Your baby wants to know what you are doing. And baby wants to play. With you. In the middle of the night.

Some parents find that safe co-sleeping in the same room helps a baby feel close while still allowing parents to get some rest.

5. Your baby is wired

Babies are sensitive. Too much stimulation can throw them off their sleeping game. Stimulation can come in the form of mom eating too much chocolate that comes out in her milk, too much pinching from Aunt Joanne, or just too much daytime.

Baby’s wakefulness at night is often a clue for mothers who breast-feed that something in their diet is not agreeing with their baby’s tummies. Other caregivers find that a busy day full of noise and activity makes it hard for their baby to switch to resting mode.

You can’t take back what’s already happened, but you can learn to gauge your baby’s threshold for activity. Maybe a trip to the coffee shop and a visit with the grandparents is all your baby can do for the day. Don’t push for dinner with the neighbors, too, if you realize that means your baby isn’t going to be able to wind down and get some sleep.

Next steps

In most cases, your newborn is awake at night during short phases of those early months of life. It can seem like an eternity when you’re exhausted, but it often lasts for just a few days or weeks. It’s also likely that most of the reasons your little one is awake are temporary, and not emergencies.

But there’s an increasing call in the medical community for pediatricians to pay attention to parents when they say their babies don’t sleep. If you think your child is suffering from an undiagnosed illness or allergy, push your doctor to take your concerns seriously. It could be the key to both you and your baby getting some much-needed rest.

Q:

When should you seek help from your pediatrician if your baby isn’t sleeping?

A:

Remember, it’s normal for babies to not sleep through the night, particularly the first three months of life. Some babies are better sleepers than others. But if you have concerns that something is causing your baby to wake during the night (such as a cold, constipation, or gas), feel free to talk about it with your pediatrician.

Katie Mena, MD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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