My Baby Won’t Sleep
Here’s What to Try When You’ve Tried Everything
You’re doing all the right things. You’ve created a consistent bedtime routine to help your baby get settled. You always try to wait for the right time to put him down.
But no matter what you try, your baby won’t sleep.
What do you try when you’ve tried everything?
Don’t give up. Sooner or later, all babies will learn to sleep on their own. If you’re still not getting that great night’s sleep you want, there are still plenty of things you can try.
Here are my top suggestions for parents who have already tried everything. Let’s get to it.
Your baby hasn’t learned that nighttime is for sleeping
Simply being born is a pretty big change for your little one. After spending nine months in a dark, warm womb, your baby is suddenly brought into a world of bright lights and pretty colors. Sometimes everything is abuzz with activity, and sometimes it all goes quiet.
One common reason that babies have sleep issues is that they haven’t worked out that nighttime is for sleep.
If your baby hasn’t established a regular daytime-nighttime pattern yet, start by setting regular times for waking up each morning and going to bed each night. A predictable, consistent schedule will help your baby get accustomed to sleeping during the nighttime hours.
Spend more time outside in the mornings to get your baby exposed to natural light and orient her circadian
rhythms. Consider a daily morning walk. When that’s not an option, keep lots of lights on inside the house to help your child form the right associations.
Keep the lights low in the evening. Try not to expose your child to bright, artificial light. Bright light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that regulates your baby’s sleep and wake cycles. By keeping the lights low, you’ll make it easier for her to unwind.
Finally, consider blackout blinds. Blackout blinds shut out all light, helping your child get used to sleeping in a dark environment. They’re especially useful for midday naps and in the summer months, when it may stay light out until very late in the evening.
Your baby isn’t ready for sleep
“Drowsy but awake.” If you’ve done your homework on infant sleep, you’ve heard this mantra again and again.
Putting your child down in a relaxed state so he can fall asleep on his own is a key part of effective sleep training.
But it’s easier said than done.
One incredibly common mistake is putting your child too early, just because you’ve decided it’s bedtime. We’ve all been there. It’s the end of the day. You’re exhausted. And the clock hits 7:30. FINALLY, bedtime, amirite?
Just one little thing: your child is still wide awake.
Putting him down on your schedule sets you up for a long night. He may simply not be ready to fall asleep yet. And if you’re doing this on the regular, research shows you may actually make your child resistant to being put down in the crib.
It’s also common to wait too long. You want a good night’s sleep, so you wait, just to be sure your little peanut is tired out before you put him down. Bedtime comes and you even spot a yawn, but you give him a little longer.
“Ten more minutes” turns into another half hour. And by the time you put him down, he’s so overtired that he can’t relax. He’s fussy and irritable. And it’s gonna be a long time before either of you goes to sleep.
“Drowsy but awake” is a delicate balance. You can’t force bedtime before your child is ready. And you can’t wait too long.
Aim for a happy medium. When you start to see signs like rubbing eyes or yawning, jump into action. Clean diaper. Lullaby. Crib.
And then your reward: a glass of wine and Game of Thrones.
Your baby is going through sleep regression
Your baby has been sleeping four, five, even six hours at a time. And then, suddenly, everything falls apart.
Maybe he just won’t settle down at night. Maybe he’s up and crying over and over through the night.
You’re going through a sleep regression. And they’re way more common than you might think.
Sleep regressions happen when babies with established sleep patterns suddenly start to have difficulty sleeping. Infants usually have them at around four, eight, and twelve months. But really, they can happen at any time… it all depends on your baby’s growth.
Sleep regressions are normally caused by your baby’s natural development. Your baby is growing incredibly fast. Exploring the world around him is fascinating. And sleep takes a back seat.
If there doesn’t seem to be any obvious cause for your baby’s sleep challenges, you might be dealing with a sleep regression. Just remember, it’s totally normal. There’s nothing wrong with your baby — or you as a parent.
Sleep regressions generally work themselves out in time. The best way to handle them is to stay consistent. Keep your normal sleep schedule and bedtime routine, and before long your child should return to baseline.
You’re being more responsive than you need to
The other day a few friends and I had a girls’ night out. One of my friends, Aimee, brought along her son Finn, just six weeks old. As we sat chatting and drinking wine, he sat in his carrier by Aimee’s feet, snoozing peacefully.
And then… he stretched and started quietly fussing.
Everyone exchanged nervous glances. “Uh oh!” “Look out!” “He’s gonna blow!”
But Aimee wasn’t rattled at all. She completely ignored Finn and went right on with the conversation. And after a minute or so, Finn settled down and went right back to sleep.
It happens all the time. Babies wake up every now and then during sleep. They’ll cry or fuss for a minute or two, stretch, yawn, rub their eyes. It’s totally normal.
How do you react?
If you’re like me, your first instinct as a parent is to jump out of bed, run to the nursery and comfort your baby.
But pediatric studies have confirmed that by three months, most babies can settle themselves back to sleep on their own. Even at this incredibly young age, what your baby needs more than your comfort is the space and independence to solve problems for himself.
Every situation is different. If you’re hearing full-blown wailing coming from the nursery, it’s time to get in there.
But if you’re running to the nursery at the slightest disturbance, you’ll teach your baby that crying leads to attention — making it much more likely that nighttime crying will happen again in the future. It might be time to take a step back.
It’s hard. But stay strong. Give your child space. You can do it.
All babies can learn to sleep
These are some of the most common reasons why I see babies struggling to sleep in my one-on-one work with parents.
And if you’re dealing with one of these challenges, these strategies can help you get the great night’s sleep you need.
Looking for more guidance?
I’ve helped thousands of families just like yours get a great night’s sleep. And I can help yours, too. Check out my sleep packages to learn more!