Why Do Infants Cry in Their Sleep?

One of the sounds that an infant may make while asleep is genuine crying or fussing. This does not indicate that the baby is awake, but rather signifies that the baby is transitioning from REM sleep into a deeper form of sleep. Waking the baby at this point may cause the baby to act irritably for the rest of the day.


Babies make many different kinds of sounds while they are sound asleep. Babies can gurgle, grunt, coo, fuss and even cry while still remaining asleep. Some throat rattling and nose whistling may also occur during a baby’s sleep cycle. Outright crying during sleep is usually limited to a short burst or two of unhappy-sounding crying or fussing. If the baby does not settle down again within about five minutes, then he is actually awake.


The main cause of an infant crying during sleep is due to his unusual sleep schedule. Babies spend about half of their 16 to 20 hours of sleep per day in the restless form of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep 1. Even older children and adults move and make sound during REM sleep cycles. After a few months, babies will gain the ability to sleep deeper, eliminating much of the sleep crying that young infants do. Other causes of sleep crying could include colic, discomfort or hunger.


Many parents believe that if an infant makes a sound that it is an indication the baby is awake and ready to get up and eat or play. Not so. Babies may fuss for up to five minutes during sleep and then continue back to deeper sleep. It is important to keep an eye on an infant during this crying period to make sure the she is not actually awake. If the crying continues for more than five minutes then the baby is awake and needs attention.


There are not many solutions to helping to prevent an infant from crying in his sleep. Sleep crying and fussing is a natural process that will eventually go away on its own. However, it is possible to eliminate some crying by making the baby as comfortable as possible. Always place a baby to sleep when he is full and has clean clothes and diaper. Try to prevent colic by keeping the baby burped and avoid spicy foods if breastfeeding.


It is extremely important not to mistake real crying for sleep crying. Sleep crying is usually muted and broken. Real crying generally includes high-pitched wailing that does not stop quickly. Always tend to a crying baby immediately when she is awake.