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​Your Baby Won’t Sleep: Reasons Why & How To Cope 

Today, parents are faced with an overwhelming amount of information when it comes to reasons why their baby won’t sleep. From well-meaning family members and friends offering advice, to the internet, books, forums and mothers’ groups, this avalanche of information can be both confusing and overwhelming, particularly when a lot of it is conflicting and quite simply, incorrect. It is little wonder parents aren’t sure what to do when it comes to fixing their baby’s sleep issues. 

It’s very common to feel frustrated and unable to cope when mastering the art of baby sleep. From why your baby won’t sleep to tips and tricks to help establish a routine that will last for years to come. We we cover some of the most common baby sleep issues below. 


Why won’t your baby sleep? 

Very few parents will forget the exhaustion that accompanies a poor sleeper. The nights can be gruelling and the days can be filled with bleary-eyed exhaustion. If your newborn won’t sleep, this could be why: 


Underestimating how much sleep your baby needs 

Babies need a lot of sleep. Every 24 hours, it’s recommended that newborn babies sleep a total of between 14-17 hours. When they don’t get that, ‘“sleep debt’” builds. Some parents worry that their baby isn’t learning if they are sleeping all the time, but part of the reason that babies sleep so much is to consolidate what they have learned while they were awake.  


In order for your baby to form good sleeping habits, it’s important to establish bedtime routine. A bedtime routine will provide the structure your baby needs to take the regular naps they need. Establishing bedtime or naptime routines can take some time. So, once you have decided on your routine, approach it with patience and consistency. If you feel like you need help, reach out to your support network, or to one of the trusted services in our Support Directory. 


Forgetting to look at the basics 

It’s easy to overlook the basics and jump to complex conclusions when your baby is not sleeping. In a healthy baby, there will usually be basic reasons why your baby is unhappy e.g. they are cold or hungry.  


There are a few things you should always check off before launching a wider investigation into your baby’s sleep issues: 

  • Is baby sleeping at a comfortable temperature? Ensure that your baby is dressed appropriately for your climate. Check that your baby is dressed to be comfortable. Not too hot and not too cold. It’s also worth checking that your baby’s cot is not directly in line with air conditioning vents or under a draughty open window.  

  • Is the room conducive to sleep? Ensure your baby’s room is darkened and quiet. White noise is also often used to create a soothing environment and diffuse louder external sounds. 

  • Is baby feeling comfortable and secure? Ensure your baby is swaddled and feeling secure. Swaddling offers a range of benefits, including helping prevent your little one’s startle reflex from waking them from sleep. Swaddling can also help your baby learn how to self-settle. Make sure your baby’s nappy is dry when they go down for their nap and they aren’t in need of a nappy change. 

  • Is baby hungry? Ensure your baby is well fed before you put them down for their nap. If your baby becomes hungry, they will wake during their nap to feed. Also consider if you have allowed the opportunity for your baby to release any trapped air accumulated from feeding before putting them down to sleep, as gas pains can make your baby uncomfortable and irritable. 


Ignoring your baby’s tired signs 

Most babies will show signs they are becoming tired. This is your cue to put them down for sleep. Tired signs may include rubbing their eyes or fussing. If you put your baby down overtired (or under tired), they will have more trouble falling to sleep and staying asleep. Learn how to respond to baby's tired signs below. 


You will likely start to understand your baby’s unique set of tired signs. Some may be subtle. If you notice any of the below tired signs, make sure you’re in a position to give your baby the opportunity to nap: 


  • Frowning 

  • Yawning 

  • Staring into space 

  • A pink tinge around the eyebrows 

  • Trouble focusing 

  • Jerky movements or arching the back 


Every time your baby cries, you intervene 

Babies cry and not all crying means your baby needs you. Sometimes your baby will be crying simply because they are exhausted, and they are trying to wind down and fall to sleep. 


Avoid rushing straight to your baby if they are crying during the going to sleep process. Give them time and space to get there on their own, but of course, go in and provide some hands-on support if you feel your little one needs it. You may be surprised by how clever good your baby is at settling themselves, if given the chance to do so. 


Using multiple settling methods 

Whilst there may be times when your baby won’t settle and you do need to soothe them in several different ways, if you’re always using multiple different settling methods, your baby may struggle with the inconsistency. A lack of familiarity and routine may mean your baby struggles to fall to sleep.  


Creating consistency in bedtime and naptime routines is key to developing healthy sleep habits. It’s natural when your baby isn’t sleeping to want to try every trick in the book, but consider sticking to a few consistent settling methods, so your baby begins to understand, and take comfort in routine. 

Many babies can start to self-soothe from around 3 months of age. To encourage this skill, you can aim to put them down when they are drowsy, but not yet asleep.In turn, your little one can begin to learn the important skill of self-soothing. 


Making changes but not giving them time 

Breaking poor sleeping habits takes time, especially when they have been going on for weeks and even months. Your baby needs time to adjust and adapt, and they need clear, consistent messages.  


Establishing healthy sleep habits and routines takes commitment, but it will be well worth your effort. Tired people aren’t known for their patience, but if you’re implementing changes or new routines, allow some time for the routine or settling method to become familiar before you discard it. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan, so allow yourself some grace, but keep in mind that if you chop and change your settling methods and sleep routines frequently, your baby may feel confused, overwhelmed or unsettled. 


Baby is unwell 

It can be an uphill battle to get your baby to sleep if they are feeling unwell. From a common cold to digestive complaints, being uncomfortable can make your little one restless and overtired. 


If you feel like all of your baby’s basic needs have been met and they are still unsettled, consult with your GP to make sure there is no underlying pain, discomfort or digestive issues at play.  

It’s important to remember, you’re not alone. Why won’t my baby sleep? is surely one of the most frequently searched baby questions in any country. Keeping things simple, staying consistent and asking for help when you need it will help you to navigate this time. Reaching out for help may include asking someone to look after your baby while you take some rest. 

If you feel you’ve exhausted all of the above avenues and you’re unable to cope, reach out to your support network, GP or a trusted early parenting support service such as First Candle for assistance.