How to cope with baby sleep issues

Bringing home a new baby from the hospital is one of the most special moments of your life. It’s also often the start of a fairly sleepless few weeks or months for your home!

Because even if you are lucky to have a baby who sleeps well, newborns don’t sleep through the night from day one. And many don’t sleep a full eight hours for a few weeks or even months. 

It can feel incredibly frustrating and exhausting when your baby doesn’t sleep well – for both of you. So whether your baby is a chronic non-sleeper, or is just going through a rough patch sleep-wise, in this article we’ll look at four of the most common baby sleep issues and how to cope with them. 

How long should your baby sleep for?

To start with, let’s find out how long you can expect a baby to sleep for. Here’s how long babies commonly sleep at each stage of development.

Newborn babies

Pretty much all newborns will spend more time asleep than awake. They’ll often sleep from eight to 18 hours a day, but will wake up during the night for feeding. 

Babies aged three to six months

As your baby gets bigger, they won’t need to feed at night, so will sleep for longer periods. By this stage, some babies will sleep eight hours a night, but many won’t. By the time your baby is four months old, they might spend twice as much time asleep at night as during the day. 

Babies aged six to 12 months

By the time your baby reaches six months old, you may not need to feed them at night. Some babies can even sleep up to 12 hours a night by this age (though don’t worry if your baby doesn’t). Discomfort from teething can wake babies at this stage. 

Babies aged over 12 months

Once your baby turns one, they can sleep for as much as 12 to 15 hours a night. And when they turn two, many babies will sleep for 11 to 12 hours a night, and have one or two daytime naps.

Four common causes of baby sleep issues

Of course all the above is a guideline. Every parent will hear about babies who sleep through early, and they’ll come across parents who are tearing their hair out with a toddler who still wakes during the night. 

If your baby is struggling with sleep – whether they are a chronic night-waker, or if their sleeping pattern has recently changed, here are some reasons why this might be. 

1) Your baby is too hot or too cold

One reason why your baby might be waking at night, especially if there’s been a change in the weather lately, is that they are too hot or too cold. 

This can sometimes happen if they kick their covers off, so one popular way to solve this sleep issue, is to dress your baby in a sleep sack at night. A sleep sack is a bit like a sleeping bag with straps that ensure your baby can’t kick it off. You can get sacks for winter and summer, so your baby is always comfortable, whatever the temperature. 

2) Your baby is hungry

We expect young babies to wake in the night for a feed, but as your baby gets older they should be able to sleep the night through without needing nourishment, unless they have weight or health concerns. 

A 3 month old eating regularly should usually be able to sleep through. So if your baby is over three months and a healthy weight, and you are feeding them when they are waking at night, you can try to wean them off the night feed. They may simply have got into the habit of waking for a feed.

3) Your baby is teething

Teething can be miserable for babies, and it can understandably make them irritable and lose their appetite. So if your baby is teething, you may well find them waking at night. Many babies start teething between six and 10 months, so check their gums if your former good sleeper has started waking at night. 

If your baby is waking with teething pain and they are over three months old, you can give them infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen. Make sure that you check the dosage information on the packet first, or speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure how much to give them. 

4) Your baby has got into the habit of waking at night

One of the most common reasons why babies can wake at night and call for you is because they have got into the habit of doing so, and need help from you to fall back asleep. So if you’ve checked your baby isn’t hot or cold, sick, in pain or hungry, and they frequently wake at night, this might be something to explore. 

When you put your baby to sleep at night, do they fall asleep by themselves, or do they need you to rock, pat or rub them? Or even just need you to be in the room with them? Babies who need help to fall asleep are more likely to get into the habit of waking at night, and need you to comfort them. 

The good news is that if you can change your sleeping routine and encourage your baby to fall asleep on their own, it is possible to break this pattern. Once your baby has got into the habit of falling asleep independently they will no longer need you to help, and will be able to go back to sleep again if they do start rousing in the night. 

Baby sleep issues won’t last forever

When you are being woken every night by a crying baby it can feel like it will never get any better. You’re sleep deprived and desperate for an uninterrupted night’s sleep. 

But it might help to know that baby sleep issues don’t last forever. Your baby will grow, their teeth will come through and eventually they will sleep through the night. And you’ll never take for granted a full night’s sleep again!