Many parents struggle with getting their babies to fall asleep. They try sleep training, cry-it-out methods, co-sleeping or a combination thereof. However successful you may be at getting your baby to sleep, some babies just will not STAY asleep. This can be a frustrating experience for parents. Here we will explore some reasons why your baby may be having difficulty staying asleep.
1. He is not tired. Let’s face it; we sleep when we are tired. If your baby uses something to get to sleep (motion, pacifier, nursing, bottle, etc.), he may fall asleep even when he is not tired. Those activities may have become sleep cues to him and when he is engaged in one of them, he becomes sleepy even if he is not. The scenario may look something like this: You are feeding your baby and he starts to drift off to sleep. You assume that means he is tired. You put him down but then he proceeds to wake up within 10 minutes. You are now frustrated with the fact that your anticipated respite is gone and that you are unable to read your own baby. The solution: watch for sleep signals (rubbing eyes, decreased muscle movement, slowed respirations, or staring off into “space” are good signs to watch for) and emerging sleep patterns (late morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, etc) and put your baby to sleep at those times.
2. He is over-tired. As counter-intuitive as this may seem to a desperately tired parent (who would take a nap in the middle of the grocery store if able), babies who are over-tired have problems staying asleep. Over-tired babies’ bodies react to such a state with a systemic response involves the release of chemicals in the brain and a subsequent increase in brain activity. These systems, once engaged, are hard to shut off. The solution: see #1. Nothing helps more than knowing your baby’s pre-tired signs.
3. He is too cold or too hot. Uncomfortable babies can’t stay asleep. Check the back of his neck. This will be a good indicator of his overall body heat. Heavily clothed body parts and hands are not good indicators of your baby’s temperature. If your baby has fallen asleep in your arms, have your partner rub the bassinet or crib mattress to create friction to heat up the sheets before laying him down.
4. He is sleep aid dependent. If your child is accustomed to using a pacifier, nursing, rocking, or being held to fall asleep, once he cycles out of the initial phase of deep sleep (you know, the one when a truck could come through the house and he wouldn’t notice it), and into a lighter phase of sleep, he will become aware that the aid that was there when he fell asleep is now gone. He will stir to find it or re-create it, waking himself up more. Once he has woken himself up fully in search of it, he will proceed to wake you up with his “calls” to bring it back. The solution: pick your battles. If your child has long stretches of sleep between awakenings, and the periodic interruptions in your sleep are not that bothersome, don’t worry too much about it. However, if it your baby is awakening more frequently than you would like, consider weaning him from the sleep aid gradually. For example, if he sucks on a pacifier while you hold and rock him to sleep, consider eliminating the rocking first. Simply sit in a chair. Next, change how you hold him; instead of cradle holding, having him flat across your legs. This gradual elimination of his sleeping aids will be easier on everyone than going “cold turkey.”
5. He is highly sensitive. Unfortunately, this is often discovered in retrospect when your baby grows into a toddler and can tell you his needs. Sensitive babies are extremely bothered by internal sensations (such as from their digestive tract) and external conditions (such as the amount of light or sound in the room). For a good description of the traits of a sensitive baby, click here. For these babies, there is often no quick and easy solution. It may be a matter of trial and error with a foundation of love and compassion until you find what works. However, if you keep at it like a scientist testing a hypothesis, you will likely find what works for him.
Sleep is such a basic element of our human existence. No one can function well without enough. Well rested babies make for well rested parents which together creates an environment of mutual enjoyment. Push through your frustration to get to the bottom of your child’s sleep disturbance and you will both be better off for it.