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What to do when baby won't sleep

We share our top tips for helping baby fall asleep without any hassle
It's some ungodly hour in the morning, your little darling isn't hungry, they're not wet, they're not ill and they're perfectly warm, but still they're wailing like a banshee - sound familiar? There's nothing more frustrating, not to mention tiring, than when your baby won't sleep - particularly if they were already starting to settle into a routine.

While babies sometimes wake 'just because', if it happens night after night it can be because it's something that they've learned to do. Like all habits, changing your baby's sleep patterns is something that will take a little perseverance to begin with. However, once he or she has mastered the new 'going to sleep routine' it will quickly become something you both settle into.

Things to remember:

It's important to remember that newborns will naturally wake, and need feeding, around the clock as they haven't yet learned the difference between day and night. However, by the time your baby is around 4 months old, and providing they're feeding well, you can begin to try and establish a sleep routine with them.

Before you decide to embark on a 'getting to sleep' mission there are two very important points that you need to consider:
  1. Which 'method' is right for you? - There are so many different schools of thought on the best way of getting baby to sleep that it can be confusing. However, it's vitally important that you choose an approach that you feel happy with. Ultimately, this will be best for you and baby and give you the best chance of success.

  2. Whether you'll be able to stick to it - Once you introduce your baby into a sleep routine it's really important that you persevere. Teaching your baby new sleep habits can take anything from a few days to a couple of weeks but you will get there. Stopping the routine mid-way will only confuse baby and teach them that waking and crying is the best way to get your attention.
To help you help your baby into the land of slumber, we share some of the most common reasons why baby won't sleep and what you can to about it:

Baby is too excited to sleep:

Why? -
Infants need some time to wind down before bed or getting to sleep can prove incredibly difficult. If your baby is finding it difficult to settle then playing, watching TV or doing anything too stimulating in the hours before bedtime is generally a bad idea as they simply won't want to miss out on all the fun.

The same can apply in the day - if you put baby down for a nap but they can hear lots of 'exciting' noise, they are not going to want to dose off.

What can you try? -
Try to establish a bedtime routine that you stick to each night. This can involve some quiet time, a bath (although bear in mind that some babies find bath time very exciting and so just before bed isn't always the best time), a story and a cuddle before you put them down to sleep. This will help your baby to relax and to learn that this 'wind down' routine means it's time to get ready for sleep.

Baby is overtired:

Why? -
Strange as it sounds babies can sometimes become too tired to sleep. They become so fatigued that they appear to be full of energy but soon become irritated and unable to settle when you try to put them to bed.

What can you try? -
Try to establish a specific bedtime that you stick to every evening no matter how awake baby appears. Somewhere between 7pm and 8.30pm is usually best - try watching for 'sleep' signs such as fussing, eye rubbing and ear tugging when you're deciding on the best time for your baby.

As much as is reasonably possible try to stick to a daytime nap routine too as this will ensure that your baby is ready for bed when the time comes. Leaving an afternoon nap too late will simply make baby unable to settle in the evening.

Baby is waking for a feed:

Why? -
Babies, just like adults, will naturally wake every couple of hours throughout the night. However, if you've always fed your baby to sleep (particularly in the evening) they will have learned to associate this action with dropping off and will find it very hard to fall asleep without it.

What can you try? -
You'll need to teach your baby that they can fall asleep without being fed but if you're not a fan of 'immediate action' methods such as controlled crying you could try this gentler approach.

To start with you should continue to feed your baby when they wake in the night but rather than feeding them back to sleep, take away the breast or bottle after a few minutes. Look for ' getting full' signs such as your baby slowing their sucking rate to figure out the best time to do this.

If baby start to fuss then offer the feed again but repeat the process until they fall asleep without sucking. You may find that placing your finger gently on baby's chin when he or she starts to root may make this easier.

After your baby has fallen asleep without the teat or nipple in their mouth a couple of times over a number of days it will start to become easier. Once you have this mastered you'll notice that baby gradually begins to wake less in the night and are able to settle themselves to sleep without feeding.

Baby can't fall asleep on their own:

Why? -
If you've rocked or cuddled your baby to sleep since they were born, they will have learnt to associate your presence with falling asleep. Because of this they will need to have you near both when they settle for the evening and when they wake in the night.

What can you try? -
The 'elastic band' approach is worth a try in this instance as it will teach your baby that you are still there if they need you, but also that they're able to fall asleep on their own too.

Start by placing your baby in their cot, then reassure him or her without making eye contact. Once they start to become drowsy step away from the cot towards the door. If they start to fuss, go back to them right away and reassure them again.

As you continue to repeat this process you'll be able to move further away each time before they start to fuss. Eventually you'll be able to leave the room and baby will be able to settle him or herself.

You can apply this principle to night time waking too - simply reassure baby in their cot before you start to retreat towards the door.

Baby wakes out of habit:

Why? -
Babies are very much creatures of habit and sometimes they can get into a routine of waking themselves (and you!) fully in the night even when they don't need to.

What can you try? -
If your baby is waking out of habit then you will need to teach them to settle themselves so that can drift back into the land of nod without your help when they wake in the night.

Many parents find that controlled crying is a 'quick fix' solution here - although not necessarily a particularly easy one.

To begin with, don't respond immediately if your baby wakes in the night. If they are making cooing or playing noises and don't sound distressed then leave them to see if they'll settle themselves.

If they do become distressed you should go to them, reassure them and then leave the room. Wait for a minute or so and then return to them, reassure them once more and then leave the room again but this time for a couple of minutes. Continue to repeat this, lengthening the gaps between visits until your baby settles to sleep on their own.

Persistence is the key with this one and while the first few nights may be difficult, within a week or so, baby should have falling asleep by themselves mastered.

Do you have any tried and tested sleep solutions that you can share with other members? Why not visit the AskBaby forums for a chat?

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My husband and I were so proud that our second son did not take to a dummy, all he needed was one of our fingers to suck and it settled him. Its become such a bad habit now, that the only thing that settles him is sucking on one of our fingers!!!!!! He wakes at night and sometimes only need the finger!!!! have tried to get him to take the dummy, but he is not interested and screams louder. He is also such a bad sleeper during the day that we have taken to lying with him on the bed (finger in mouth) until he goes to sleep. This is causing us a lot of grief, advice please...........................
by jevans 13th Sep 2010, 9:46am
My son is 6 months and has been falling asleep on his own since he was few weeks old, day or night. He is accustomed to a routine and has been the same. He recently refuses to sleep on his own unless I pick him up and rocks him too sleep. It has been a very tiring 2 weeks. Any idea why this happens and what can I do?
by Gwennie83 1st Sep 2010, 10:14am
My baby is 6 months old and has never slept through the night, he has an excellent routine during the day and he goes to bed 7pm every night, he sleeps till 11pm when I give him a sleep feed, after that he wakes every hour maybe 2 hours!! He was having a feed throughout the night but doesnt seem to want that now!!
Can anybody help me??
by Jeni26 1st Sep 2010, 10:08am
my son who has just turned 8 months has slept through the night from the age of 7 weeks but for the past 2 months hes started waking up every night through-out the night screaming and he wont settle again easily. we have always kept his bedtime routine the same where he has a bath to wind down and then he has his last milk feed before going to bed and we do try and get him down for daytime naps too. we tried rocking him in his cot and using a mobile/night light, even leaving him to cry but nothing works. were at our witts end. if anyone has any ideas wed love to hear them thankyou.
by katiem1986 17th Nov 2009, 3:48pm
my son has just turned 2 an has never slept all through the nite i have tried the leaving him to cry, the no eye contact, sitting on the floor beside his bed with my back to him stories soothing baths singing to him nothing has worked. i am due my 3rd baby in 3 days time an am stressing that this constant battle with my son will cause problems for the sleeping routine for the baby how will she be able to sleep when he will be screaming all nite long as usual. i am getting about 3 hours disturbed sleep every nite since he bin born i have no idea what to do so any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
by pau1in3 4th Nov 2009, 3:37pm
Please help. I have a 13 month old daughter, she used to sleep really well through the the night but for the past month she gets up about 20/25 times a night. she sleeps in our room because there is nowhere else for her to sleep she has a bottle at 8pm and usually falls asleep after that but she will wake all the way through the night and will scream until she gets in out bed. I really dont no what to do i have tried laying her back down, giving her a dummy, a teddie, a blanket everything but she just cries constantly. i'm so tired i feel physically sick in the day. Please help as im at my wits end.
by lst89 20th Oct 2009, 12:35pm
my daughter is 9 months old and has never slept thru the night. for a month she started to sleep 5 to 7 hour stretches without waking, but for the last month she is back to 2 bottles a night or even 3! i've tried to just give her water only or to give her her pacifier and pat her back to sleep but she only screams until she's picked up, and then we are up, no chance getting her back to sleep. we live in a very small house and the only place for her crib is in our room, so i am not getting any sleep -- even when she doesn't wake, most nights she tosses and turns and is very restless the entire night. i don't even know where to start to try fixing the problems. she is on a pretty regular schedule and goes to sleep at a regular hour in the evening but often wakes within the first hour and we have to start the whole process over again -- it might take 2 or 3 hours to get her really settled at night. Any advice where to start? please help, i am really desperate depressed and deranged!!!! :")
by mizmommy 31st Jul 2009, 2:27pm
this is a plea for help for my friend her little boy is 2, he is a good well behaved little one, but bedtime is horrendous for her, bedtime is at 8pm same routine everynight, he will be in bed for 10 mins then gets up stands at the baby gate at his bedroom door and just screams and screams to the point when it sounds like he is hyperventerlating trying to catch his breathe, he just wont settle, he never used to be like this, only in the last 3 months has this happened? she is a single mum and is finding this really tiring and upsetting, she doesnt go to him straight away, but after an hour you can imagine the state she is getting in, she is a great mum and very patient but please any help or advice would be great.....thank you :0)
by dancingkillbill 1st May 2009, 9:15am
hi, my son is 3 years old now, does not sleep all night. he has never be able to sleep all night since he was born. what should i do about this problem with him? please help !!!!!!
by coleman28 14th Apr 2009, 12:57pm
My son is 9 months old. He started sleeping through the night at 11 weeks old (much to our delight), but then when he was 5 months he had various illnesses and teething pain which disrupted his sleep pattern and in the past few months it has gone from bad to worse. He now wakes at least once a night, but it can take up to 3 hours to get him to go back to sleep. At this point my resistance is non existant and he ends up in our bed, when he's happy to go back to sleep. I've tried controlled crying, but after an hour he was just hysterical. If anyone has any ideas please, please share.
by EmmaR1 14th Apr 2009, 12:57pm
Please help my baby is 12 months old and has just started not sleeping, he has been really good before maybe waking once in the night but easy to put back over. But in the past few weeks he WILL NOT SLEEP during the night.
he wont go down in his cot at all without going absolutly crazy sceaming, he just stands up and cries like someone is trying to murder him, even when i pick him up he wont settle he still cies and throws himself about.
Ive tried going down the cc route but he actually just wont stop crying, he stands up and just screams, for hours and hours, ive resourted to puting him in his pram in the living area watching baby tv, and he eventully will fall over and i put him back into his cot
I just dont know what to do!!! HELP!!!
by sleepy01 2nd Apr 2009, 9:11am
Hi, my baby is 7 mths old now and has never slept through a night!! He wakes for 2 feeds and needs settling at least twice a night with his soother in addition. He is on 3 meals a day and is maintaining his weight well. We have tried leaving him for small periods of time but he just gets more and more worked up. My husband and I both work full time and it is a real struggle....any ideas?
by ripcurlgirl 23rd Feb 2009, 2:43pm
my little girl is fantastic at sleeping at nighttime, she is 3months and is doing on average 11 and a half hours sleep but its getting very difficult putting her down for her daytime naps which she needs almost 4 of them, its come to the stage i dread that time of day, worry that its going to be a constant struggle and she is not fussed on her dummy but its what she needs to get her over, any suggestions
by gort 17th Feb 2009, 9:54am