Every new parent is familiar with that feeling. The awful, I’ve been up all night insane feeling. To some, it happens only a few days to a week because the baby is unwell, teething or going through a routine vaccination period. To some however, it's a seemingly never-ending hole that can take over your sanity and make everybody in the house a zombie.
If you have an infant who doesn’t sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time during the night, here are three common reasons why and what you can do about it.
1. Their body clock is out of whack
When a baby is born, they don’t know the difference between day and night. While they sleep more than 15 hours a day, most of that sleep is during the day. This abnormal schedule however should not take more than 2 weeks. If normal sleep schedule doesn’t happen naturally, here are some tricks you can use to correct their body clock;
- Get the baby outside. Dress your baby in a nice sun hat and take them outside in the sun when it’s not too hot. Natural light helps to reset the baby’s internal clock and keep them awake more during the day. If the baby is born during winter, you can use artificial light to mimic the same effect.
- Avoid exposure to artificial light at night. Blue light from LED lamps, television and mobile gadgets blocks the brain's melatonin production, a hormone that promotes sleepiness.
- Keep them awake during the day. While this won’t be easy in the beginning when all they want is to sleep, you can try to keep them awake as much as you can by playing games, staying away from sleep-inducing situations and going outside.
- Swaddle the baby at night. This helps them to feel snug and secure, which promotes sleepiness at night.
2. The baby has not learned how to put themselves back to sleep
Every person has several sleep cycles that often involve waking up as you transition to the next cycle. For adults, you simply roll over and go back to sleep. This is not so with some babies however, which is why it feels like you are waking up seven times every night to soothe them back to sleep.
The solution here is to teach the baby how to soothe themselves back to sleep without fully waking up or needing your help. If the baby is used to breastfeeding, swaddling or rocking to go to sleep, you need to include something else that the baby can associate with sleep and start taking yourself out of the equation. At the start, you can have some soft music or white noise going on when you put them to bed. Make sure the music is still on when they wake up at night, and don’t run to the rescue unless it’s dire. The hope is that soon they will learn to go back to sleep without you, and you don’t have to wake up anymore.
3. They are overstimulated or too tired
Have you ever been so tired and when you went to bed you couldn’t sleep? This happens to babies too. If the baby was involved in too much activity during the day, they might be too wired to sleep at night, no matter how tired they are. During the first year of life, you should keep overstimulating activities to a minimum and start slowing down activities at around 4 o’clock so their bodies won’t be too stimulated by bedtime. This also means no TV, phone or playing at night.
By sorting out those three issues and creating a bedtime routine, your baby should sleep soundly most of the night. If the lack of sleep starts occurring out of the blues, investigate other factors such as pain, discomfort and stress.