Baby sleep

Why won't my baby sleep?

These tips will help your baby (and you) finally get some rest.

By Today's Parent
Most-Googled-Questions12 Illustration: Stephanie Baxter

If your baby won't sleep, here are four common reasons that may be the case.

Day-night confusion

According to paediatric sleep consultant Alanna McGinn, day-night confusion happens because newborns have yet to develop their internal rhythms. “These clocks drive our circadian rhythms and create an internal timing mechanism that makes us more awake during the day and more tired at night,” she explains.

Leigh Anne Newhook, a paediatrician in St. John’s, Nfld., says that for the first six to eight weeks, many, even most, newborns have their days and nights mixed up. So what can sleep-deprived parents do when their baby won't sleep? “Keep your infant exposed to sunlight and everyday noises during the day, even while she sleeps. At night, turn the lights low and keep your interactions quiet,” McGinn says. “Nighttime feeds and soothing should be brief and boring.”

Hunger pains

Around-the-clock feedings play a big role, since little ones have a high biological need to eat, and their tiny tummies empty quickly. Newhook adds that a new mom’s oxytocin and prolactin levels are elevated at night, which means she produces more milk, encouraging babies to feed frequently.

Too young to self-soothe

Young babies just don’t yet have the skills to self-soothe, says Jennifer Garden, a registered occupational therapist and sleep consultant with Around three or four months of age, as they learn to bring their hands to their face, they can begin to develop self-soothing rituals. “This allows them to rub their ear, play with their hair or suck their thumb, which calms them,” explains Garden. But if they’re still being held or fed until they fall asleep at that point, they start to make that association and won’t sleep without it. If your baby won't sleep, she recommends giving him supported opportunities to learn how to self-soothe, but start small. Just once a day to begin. “The first nap of the day is ideal, because they’re still well rested from the night and aren’t working with a big sleep debt,” she says.

They’re too tired


Visits with friends, song circle at the library, a walk through a busy mall­—sometimes we forget that our babies are still getting used to this bustling world and need lots downtime and quiet time to adjust. “Being overtired and overstimulated really affects children’s ability to be able to fall asleep and sleep well,” says Garden. She cautions not to skip the daytime naps in hopes it will help them sleep better at night and to watch your baby and learn her sleep cues. When you see her rubbing her eyes, yawning or averting her gaze from you, it’s probably time for a nap.

A version of this article appeared in our April 2015 issue with the headline, “Your top 10 most googled parenting questions,” p.67

This article was originally published on Jul 27, 2016

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