The Reasons for a Baby Not Sleeping

By Lucy Saunders
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Most parenting books agree that babies need at least 12 to 15 hours of sleep over the course of each day. Most babies, however, have never read a parenting book. The already-exhausting job of parenting can feel impossible when your baby decides to give up sleeping in favor of other activities.

Too Much Daytime Sleep

Less daytime sleep means more nighttime sleep.
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When parents complain that the baby is not sleeping, they usually mean that the baby is not sleeping at night. When a baby sleeps a lot during the day, it almost always cuts into the baby's nighttime sleep. This is an especially common problem with newborns. Oddly enough, this can be a result of habits formed in the womb. Unborn babies are often most active at night, while the mother is resting or sleeping. This is because the mother's daytime body movements gently lull the baby to sleep. Then, when the baby is born, she is already accustomed to sleeping during the day. Thus the common complaint of new parents that their baby has her "days and nights mixed up."

Try to keep your baby awake more during the day, and nighttime sleep will probably increase naturally. Engage in lots of stimulating daytime play with your baby, and try to keep naps relatively short. If your baby spends part of the day in childcare, ask your childcare provider to keep the baby active as much as possible.

Too Much Nighttime Stimulation

Stimulating play is best saved for the daytime.
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Sometimes, your baby is just too excited to sleep. In some families, the evening is the largest chunk of time parents get to spend with their babies. As a result, some parents try to cram a lot of "quality time" into those few hours.

The antidote: keep evenings with your baby relaxed and quiet. Save stimulating play for the daytime. If you turn the energy level down in the evening, nighttime sleep will most likely follow.

Sensitivity to Environment

Movement in a swing or bouncy seat can help some babies sleep.
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Some babies are just more sensitive than others. Sensitive babies find it difficult to wind down for nighttime sleep because they are distracted by their environment. Distractions may include irritating clothing tags and seams, small noises that the rest of us don't even notice, or even the movements of their own bodies.

Anything that can help these sensitive babies shut out distractions can help them sleep. Keep clothing simple and comfortable. A baby who is distracted by small noises may benefit from "white noise" such as a radio static or a recording of a washing machine. Babies who are distracted by their own body movements can be soothed with a tightly wrapped blanket that keeps their body still. (Remember to always keep blankets away from the baby's face, and never wrap a baby so tightly that he cannot make any noise. Normal swaddling is sufficient.)

Constant movement soothes some sensitive babies. A bouncy seat or swing can help these babies fall asleep. Once the baby is in a deep sleep, he may accept being moved to his normal bed.

Dietary Issues

Baby's diet can affect her sleep.
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Sometimes, what a baby eats keeps her from sleeping well. Many parents offer solid foods to a young baby, hoping the extra food will help her sleep longer. This is not the case. Plus, offering solid food too early (before the baby is showing readiness signals, usually about six months) may give the baby indigestion. Even adults know it's hard to sleep when your belly aches. On the other hand, sometimes simple hunger does play a role. Increased night waking can be one of those "readiness signals" that let parents know a baby is getting ready to eat solid foods.

If baby is breastfed, she may be reacting to substances in the mother's milk. Caffeine in the mother's diet can find its way into her breastmilk and keep the baby awake. Experiment with cutting other foods and supplements out of the nursing mother's diet to see what helps.

About the Author

Based in central North Carolina, Lucy Saunders has been writing professionally since 2005. Her instructional work has appeared in publications by Buckle Down Publishing and Curriculum Associates. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.