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Help! My Baby Won't Sleep

Updated on January 31, 2014

I'm writing this hub as an answer to a question that has been asked. What do you do if you have a six month old baby who refuses to sleep, refuses to nap and falls to sleep spontaneously so a routine is difficult to establish.

The advice and techniques I am going to share in this hub are based on healthy babies who have nothing wrong with them which might be preventing them from sleeping and napping normally. The question was posed about a six month old but I will try make the advice relevant to all young babies.

Learn Your Babies Sleepy Cues

All babies need sleep, all babies want sleep and all babies will sleep if you provide the right setting for them to do so. Some babies sleep like a dream and as a parent you hardly have to put any effort in to getting them to sleep, nap and stick to a routine. Other babies find it harder to get to sleep and need a bit more help but that doesn't mean such babies don't want to sleep they do.

There are two main reasons why a baby wont go to sleep when you put her down for her nap or for bed:

1- She isn't tired yet- in other words you are putting her down too early

2- She is overtired- in other words you are putting her down too late.

It has taken me three babies to really nail this but putting your baby down to sleep when they start to get tired is the single most effective way to ensure peaceful naps and peaceful bedtimes.

So how do you know when your baby is tired? They can't talk to you right and by the time they are making it really obvious they are tired it's too late - they are over tired. There are a few ways you can workout when your baby is starting to get tired:

1- Look out for sleepy cues- all babies are different but most will rub their eyes, pull their ears and make a fussying sound while wriggling round. If left they will quickly become overtired and start crying loud. If you let it get to this point you are going to have a job on putting your bubs to sleep.

2- Work out your baby's wake time. All babies have a certain length of time they are able to stay awake for. This is known as their wake time. There are some general rules about this related to age but every baby is different so observe how long it takes them to show sleepy cues from when they wake up and you should have their wake time. My baby for instance only has 1 hour and a half before he needs to go for his nap. Here are the rough guidleines according to age but go with what your baby is telling you:

A newborn will sleep all the time, waking for feeds then falling to sleep again very quickly

2-3 Month olds will stay awake for about an hour
3-4 month old will stay awake between an hour and an hour and half
4-5 month olds will stay awake between an hour and half and two hours
5-6 month olds will stay awake for about 2 hours
7 to 8 month olds will stay awake for 2 and a half hours
Between 9 and 12 month olds can stay awake from anything from 3 hours to 5 hours.

Once you have worked out your baby's wake times and his sleepy cues you should be able to whisk him off to bed as soon as he starts to get tired.

Hungry or Tired?

Unless your baby is going through a growth spurt they should be feeding at regular intervals after the newborn stage. Depending on their age this can be from every 2 1/2 hours to every 4 hours. Now one of the main slep problems with babies is due to the fact that the overtired cry sounds a lot like the hungry cry. This means that a lot of parents. at their wits end, trying to get a screaming baby to sleep will mistakenly think Oh he's hungry he needs feeding.

Now if your baby is offered the breast or the bottle she will take it even if she is not really hungry. Imagine being offered some of your favourite Ben and Jerrys - you'd eat it even if you weren't hungry right? Well it's a bit like that. So you've got a tired baby on your hands who you've now overfed. This has made them windy and they are still exhausted so you're back to square one. AS well as causes problems such as wind feeding your baby when he is not in fact hungry can have a knowck-on effect for the rest of the day's feeds. Do think about when your baby last fed- chances are if it's nap time and he's screaming it's because he is so over tired and not because he is hungry.

Routine, Routine, Routine

If you want your baby to sleep well, both through the day and at night you really do need some form of a routine. I'm not suggesting it has to be really rigid or based around set times. What I mean by routine is a set way of doing things in a set order that happens every day. Babes love repetition and consistency. It makes them feel safe and secure and it gives them a little feeling of control if they know what is going to happen next.

To start a routine do the following:

Over three days observe your baby's sleepy cues and wake time. Once you have got this sussed you can begin a routine.

Day 4: Begin Routine.

  • Feed baby upon waking- it is useful to wake your baby up at the same time everyday but if you really don't want to you don't have to.
  • When your baby shows she is tired take her up to her room
  • Perform a mini-verison of your bedtime routine. For instance my mini-version involves putting him in his sleeping bag and singing him the same song I sing on a night, kissing him, saying "have a nice nap". putting him in his cot and sitting on the bed next to him while he relaxes, then leaving the room. It might sound silly but if you do exactly the same words and actions at each nap time your baby will settle into sleeping much better.
  • Repeat this each time your baby shows he is tired throughout the day and again at bedtime. You may wish to do an extended bedtime routine at bedtime involving a bath and story etc...

Now if you like the idea of set times you maybe able to devise a set time routine from your observations. This gets easier as your child gets older and has a longer period of wakefulness. At this point if you want to introduce set times for naps, as long as it coincides with when your child is naturally tired then you should have no problems. AS a general rule most baby's after the newborn stages, have three naps, morning, lunchtime and afternoon. As they get older they drop the afternoon nap, then the morning nap and if you're lucky they'll keep their long lunchtime nap till they start pre-school.

Helping Your Child to Sleep

Now most experts will tell you that you should be putting your child down to sleep when they are tired but still awake so that they can learn to go to sleep independently. This will be better for you and better for them in the long run and it will also help them sleep through the night since they will be able to resettle themselves back to sleep without your assistance. I totally, wholeheartedly agree with this and my four month old is always put to bed while he is awake. However, as the mother to three little people I know that the ideal the experts talk about and the reality your are living is not always the same so I am going to include a list of things you can do to help your child to sleep if they are particularly sensitive or fussy. Just remember you want to do the bare minimum to help them sleep with it in mind to gradually get to a position where you can put your baby down awake and just leave them. Also you may find once you implement the putting your baby to sleep when they are tired system means that they need far less assistance than they did before.

1- swaddle- for younger babies this helps them feel secure and stops them from waking themselves up with their jerky arms;

2- put your baby to sleep in a pitch dark room- being in the dark releases a hormone that helps you sleep

3- consider using a dummy/pacifier if you have a particularly sucky baby. However most babies will have lost the urge to suck after three months unless they already have a pacifier habit.

4- comfort your baby in their cot/crib etc- most babies have something they find calming be it having their brown stroked or being patted.

5- If you are desperate pick them up and walk them or sway them but you ideally want to avoid this as for your back's sake you don't want them getting into the habit of needing it to go to sleep.

6- Sing a soothing song- I use the same song every time and it's the same song I use as part of the bedtime routine so it is especially comforting.

Remember you only want to do the active soothing until they are soothed then stop. You want to soothe them, not get them completely to sleep. You want them to get themselves to sleep.

You may also wish to stay in the room with them- not looking or interacting with them but just so your presence can reassure them. Only stay for a set time. I do no more than 10 minutes then I leave. I lie down or read a book so it's quite a nice thing for me as well to get some peace. Eventually you wont need to do this but like I say it's quite nice so I still do it.

My final piece of advice to help get your baby to sleep is nothing short of a miracle as far as I'm concerned . I only discovered it with my third baby but it is amazing. White noise. Buy yourself a white noise CD or download a clip from the internet. You can even just use a radio and tune it out. Baby's love it and find it instantly comforting. It works in two ways. It blocks out any external noise which is what a baby is trying to do when they scream and scream at naptime. Secondly it resembles the sounds a baby hears in the womb so it is comforting to them. Listen to it and you will realise it is like someone sshing them non-stop really loudly. It also has the added benefit of letting you go into the room without disturbing them if you need to get something. I personally only play my white noise CD for the one hour cycle- just enough to get baby to sleep- but you can play it on loop all night if you wish.

A Case Study

At the beginning of the hub I said I was writing it in answe rto a question someone had asked on hubpages about a six month old baby who won't sleep but then sometimes falls asleep without warning so a routine cannot be established. I want to do a quick imaginary case study therefore on a six month old.

We'll say that you get the baby up at 7am. You then feed the baby. A six month old should have about 2 1/2 hours of wake time. Again this is just a guide so observe your baby to work out their exact wake time.

Around 9:30 am baby should be starting to show you their sleepy cues. As soon as they do take them up for their nap. Go through a mini version of your bedtime routine and lay them in their cot. Do what ever you have to do to soothe your baby but aim to walk out of the room while they are still awake.

If your baby sleeps for around an hour they should be ready for their lunchtime nap at around 1pm. Their lunchtime nap is the longest and should last for 2 hours but it may be longer.

They should then be ready to get up at 3pm. Most babies at this age will not need an afternoon nap but if you feel your baby is getting tired before bedtime they can have another 30 minutes nap between 5 and half past.

At 6:30 start your bedtime routine to have your baby in bed and settled by 7pm.


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    • Meg Moon profile image

      Meg Moon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Glad you liked it- hope it will help your daughter.

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Interesting hub! Will definitely have to pass it on to my daughter for future reference. Great Job!


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