11 Common Sleep Problems and What to Do About Them

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  • September 26, 2018
common sleep problems

common sleep problems We’re each unique and so are our children. Parents often see this uniqueness reflected in the way their baby sleeps. Some babies arrive ready to be swaddled and have sweet dreams. Others fight sleep day and night. Your family’s sleep challenges may feel as unique as your child, but chances are they also fall into some of the common categories MANY families face along the way to getting their baby sleeping well. If you’re finding sleep difficult for your child consider the following 11 common sleep problems and what to do about them.

1. Could a medical issue be keeping my baby awake?

It’s always wise to check in with your pediatrician if your baby is struggling with sleep. Underlying medical conditions such as reflux and apnea can interfere with your baby’s ability to sleep in longer stretches. Anything that interferes with their ability to nurse well, breathe well, or lie down comfortably and without pain should be addressed before starting sleep coaching. When you know they are well-fed, calm, and comfortable you can feel confident about teaching them new sleep skills!

2. My baby only falls asleep when I nurse or give her a bottle.

Many parent’s find themselves depending on bottles or nursing to get their baby or toddler to sleep at bedtime. Those children will often need the same thing if they wake in the night because they have a STRONG sleep association with nursing or bottle feeding.

The first and most effective step to changing this habit is to move any pre-bedtime feeding to earlier in the bedtime routine. Using The Shuffle, you can then gradually teach your baby to go from fully awake — or calm but awake — to asleep on her own without nursing or bottle feeding.

3. I can’t get my baby to sleep anywhere but in the swing!

Do you have to keep your baby moving to get her to sleep at night or for naps? Do you find yourself awkwardly trying to lower your baby into bed while still swinging or rocking her? Just like babies that need to nurse or bottle feed to sleep, your baby has a sleep association — with motion.

To help your baby learn to go to sleep independently, decrease the amount of motion gradually over the course of a few nights. Then try letting your baby sleep in the swing motionless. You can also substitute another soothing method — patting, humming, shushing — at bedtime. Then slowly work that out of your bedtime routine. Chances are that because the new soothing method is a newer habit, your baby will let go of it more easily.

4. My arms are going to fall off. My baby only sleeps when I hold or rock him.

There is a lot to love about holding your baby to sleep. But you’re also not alone if bedtime has become a little unbearable. It’s common to see it taking longer and longer for babies to fall asleep as you hold them.

If you have reached your limit with holding your child to sleep, it’s time to learn to put your baby in his bed calm but awake after a soothing bedtime routine. Try switching which parent puts him to sleep, too. At bedtime, Mom or Dad can hold him until he is calm, put him into bed fully awake and then rest their hand on his belly or pat baby’s back if he needs extra calming. Need more details on making this transition? This article on The Shuffle explains how.

common sleep problems

There is a lot to love about holding your baby to sleep. But you’re also not alone if bedtime has become a little unbearable.

5. Why does my baby wake so early in the morning? It’s not even light outside.

Like night wakings, early rising can have many causes. Early waking is one of the most common reasons parents contact a sleep coach.

First, be sure to check that your baby is getting enough sleep for her age during the day. Is she taking long naps that make her nighttime sleep short? Not enough daytime sleep can also cause early rising so you have to find that perfect balance. Be sure that she’s going to sleep in her ideal sleep window. A late bed-time and being overtired before bed can lead to early waking.

Finally, be sure your child is going into her bed calm but awake. If she’s being nursed or bottle fed, rocked, or held to sleep or until she’s very drowsy, she may be unable to put herself back to sleep in the early morning hours when sleep is its lightest.

6. My baby sleeps well at night but naps are another story!

Naps are often the slowest sleep skill for babies to develop. Make sure you have a good nap time routine, like bedtime, and that you develop a flexible but predictable schedule for naps every day. Let your baby practice napping in the same place at the same time every day at least twice a day. And stick with it!

Know when and how much your baby should be sleeping during the day by age. Also be aware that developmental leaps like learning to crawl, walk, or talk can seriously disrupt your child’s day time sleep — TEMPORARILY — causing sleep regressions. When the developmental fireworks have passed, work on nap training again.

7. How do I move our baby out of our bed?

When you are ready to transition your baby from bed sharing or cosleeping, a gradual introduction of a new sleeping space/surface can be very helpful. Your baby needs to learn to be comfortable without you right next to them. In very young babies, start with naps in their own space. For babies 6 mos and over, start by playing and spending happy time in their room first. Then, either at naps or bedtime, cosleep with them in their room on a mattress then pick the big night when you decide to put them into their crib or you decide to sit up at bedtime and lay down with them to get them to sleep. Read a more detailed description of how to transition from co-sleeping, here.

8. The pacifier helps my baby sleep — sort of.

There can be an irresistible window when the pacifier is your baby’s best friend. At bedtime, it helps him drift off peacefully and when he wakes in the night you just have to pop it back in his mouth to get another hour or two of sleep.

But you’re not alone if the pacifier is suddenly more work than it’s worth! Are you spending bedtime next to your baby’s bed putting the pacifier back into his mouth every few minutes only to have it fall out again and his tears start all over again? Are you getting up multiple times a night, every 10-15 minutes to do the same routine? It may be time to consider coaching your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep by weaning the pacifier.

9. Help! We’re still up so many times in the night.

Night wakings can have many subtle causes, making them tricky to understand and change. In newborns and infants, getting too much daytime sleep and not enough day time feeds can lead to multiple night feedings. Establishing a flexible but predictable feeding schedule during the day can help your baby get more of their ounces when the sun is up.

Look at how often your baby feeds during the day and how many total ounces she is likely getting. Talk to your pediatrician about how much your baby is eating and their overall growth to determine when and if they’re ready to drop their night time feeding.

If your baby is over six months old and growing well and still waking frequently at night, consider how he’s going to sleep. One of the most common reasons babies wake during the night is because they have been put to bed overly drowsy. Are you still rocking, walking, or feeding your baby to sleep? If your baby has any of these sleep associations, they may struggle to go back to sleep as they transition to light sleep throughout the night. Address their sleep association and work on putting your child to bed calm but awake instead.

Going to bed overtired from short naps or a late bedtime can be another cause for middle of the night waking and requires working on daytime sleep.Talk to a lactation consultant about your milk supply if you plan to nurse past when your baby drops night feeds and have concerns about maintaining your supply.

10. Our toddler gets out of bed multiple times a night.

It’s really exciting to see our toddlers gain so much independence as they learn to walk and talk. Unless they’re showing off these new skills in the middle of the night. Many toddlers start climbing out of their cribs or have grown too big for their cribs. And lots of families never had their babies in cribs in the first place. But once toddlers are really walking, being out of a crib can create special — and exhausting — night time challenges.

Ask yourself some important questions about how your toddler sleeps:

  • Does your child know how to put herself to sleep independently at bedtime so she can use that skill during the night?
  • Are you falling asleep when reading a bedtime book and then leaving her room a few hours later?
  • Do you let her come into your bed in the middle of the night and want that to stop now?

To start sleep coaching, hold a family meeting where you talk, with age appropriate words, about how you want to change your family’s habits at bedtime and overnight. Make a sleep manner chart you can review before bed and in the morning and pick your first night. Then get your child excited to start this new project. Let them pick some stickers to celebrate with after a great night. Invest in a toddler clock and get ready to return them to their bed each time they wake.

If your child is under 2.5 and in a bed but getting up multiple times a night, coaching them to sleep through the night in their own bed can be extra hard. Until your child has the verbal skills to understand and follow your instructions at bedtime you may have a hard time setting the limits you need to. And this is a natural age for children to be testing our limits and their independence. On top of all that, it’s also a common age to see a sleep regression as children get insecure about all their new independence and want Mom or Dad nearby to reassure them at night. Have a plan for how you will respond to night wakings and stick to it. It may take awhile!

11. Our baby was sleeping well but is waking up all night again. What happened?!

It’s very discouraging when your baby, who was finally sleeping well day and night, is suddenly waking early from her naps and up all night you. Sleep regressions happen frequently in a baby’s first 2 years and are identifiable by:

  • Increased fussiness
  • Multiple night wakings
  • Fewer naps or short “disaster naps”
  • Changes in appetite

Their sleep, normal eating patterns, and even their overall mood may be temporarily unrecognizable. How should you respond to this temporary, exciting, and difficult phase? Check out this blog article on Sleep Regressions .

You’re not alone if you’re facing one or more of the tough sleep challenges above. Our children change so much in their first years and their sleep changes too. Sometimes, it needs help changing for the better! If you need individualized help tackling your child’s sleep problems consider whether a Gentle Sleep Coach and a sleep plan tailored to your family would work best!

Want to know more? A BRAND-NEW EDITION of The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight is out, and it’s on Audible too! Find it, here.

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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