Our Baby Won't Sleep

It's the complaint we hear from every exhausted new parent. We've got the solutions that put an end to all-nighters.

What's Stopping Baby's Slumber?

Baby in crib surrounded by sheep

Jeff Harris

My son, Zachary, spent the better part of his first week on this planet asleep, and my husband and I took all the credit. We're second-time parents: We know what we're doing this time! Everything is so much easier! And then Zachary woke up. The next few months were a blur of night wakings, napless afternoons, and pre-bedtime battles. And, of course, when he didn't sleep, neither did we. Little did we know that there were a number of reasons behind his erratic sleep habits -- and "he's just not tired" wasn't one of them. Read on to see if any of these culprits are keeping your family up all night.

He's too excited to sleep.

Whether he's being tossed into the air by his daddy, watching a video, or simply splashing in the tub, your baby may be spending his evenings doing the exact opposite of winding down. Not only will he think that going to bed equals missing out on fun, but those good times can make an already sleepy baby overtired. "When that happens it's actually much harder for him to fall asleep," says Jodi Mindell, PhD, Parents advisor and author of Sleeping Through the Night. "And he'll wake up more often during the night."

Sleep solution: Give his bedtime routine a makeover. Ditch the tickle-fests and replace them with a massage, lullaby, storytime, or swaddling for a younger baby. And skip Baby Einstein screenings -- TV is stimulating and makes it harder to fall asleep.

You should also consider your baby's temperament when you choose a ritual -- not all bedtime staples are relaxing for every baby. Even baths may be a don't. "Some babies find them thrilling and get wound up," says Ann Douglas, author of Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler. If that's the case, move tub time to earlier in the day.

Pay attention to your mood too -- if you're tense, your baby will probably pick up on it. "When you're getting him ready for bed, you should slow down too," says Dr. Mindell. "Move quietly and dim the lights. Bedtime should be a cozy time with your child."

She's the sensitive type.

You spent your pregnancy in search of the perfect lullaby CD and cozy bedding for your baby's nursery. But despite your hard work, she may not be comfortable. "Some babies are very sensitive to their external and internal environment," says Harvey Karp, MD, creator of the DVD and book, The Happiest Baby on the Block. "They may be bothered by the phone ringing, the feeling of a clothing label, or even sensations in their body, like food digesting." Babies can ignore these sensations during the day when there's a lot of noise, but it's much harder at night.

Sleep solutions: Make her environment as soothing as possible. If you're not sure what's bothering her, start by removing pajama tags, using softer sheets, and darkening her room. And while parents assume babies need lots of bundling, your little one may be overheated. "Feel her neck and ears," says Dr. Karp. "If they're hot, remove one or two layers of clothing."

On the other hand, your child may be upset by the lack of stimulation in the room -- especially if she's less than 4 months old. "Babies were constantly held, rocked, and touched in the uterus, and there was always white noise," says Dr. Karp. "Many babies can't relax because they miss that rhythmic calmness." A tight swaddle may help re-create that womblike feeling; it can work for babies up to at least 4 months of age, and sometimes well past that. It's also a lifesaver after the 6-month mark because it drowns out household sounds; that's when kids are more aware of (and unwilling to miss out on) the world around them.

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