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Quick fix: Help – my baby won't sleep

 This post is written in collaboration with Sovende Børn.

Moonboon works closely with the NGO Sovende Børn and their team of specialists to provide updated, relevant advice and guidance on children's and babies' sleep. Read more about Sovende Børn at the bottom of the post.

 

Your baby eats and eats, but won't sleep.

Your baby won't sleep during the day, in the evening, or at night.

Your baby won't sleep in the pram, cot or anywhere alone.

And even if the baby is overtired – it seems as if the baby won't sleep, no matter what you do.

 

At least, that is how it feels. Because you are tired. You are more tired than you thought was even possible. However, it no longer feels like merely "being tired" – it feels like you're about to go literally insane if you don't get some sleep soon.

If you feel this way, it can be hard to remember and hold on to what you know deep down; that the baby actually wants to sleep, but just needs a lot of help to get there.

When you are in over your head, can't take any more, and your thoughts are getting less constructive – what do you do? 

In this article, we will look at what parents can do if they are struggling because of sleep disruption and deprivation.

 

Interrupted sleep affects both your body and your psyche

All people are different. So, how we deal with the interrupted sleep that usually comes with having a baby varies greatly. 

However, what is common to us all is that interrupted sleep affects us both physiologically and mentally. When we don't have the opportunity to sleep "as we used to", and as we need to, being woken up repeatedly at night, the body's fine-tuned sleep/wake balance – and sometimes the circadian rhythm itself – is disrupted.

As a result, depressive thoughts and feelings can arise. It seems that all you can think about is getting some sleep. Irritability, being more prone to crying, inability to see the big picture and to put oneself in the shoes of others. These are just a handful of examples.

And that is just the mental impact of accumulated sleep issues. On top of that, there are the physical impacts, where the body just slows down, feeling heavy and almost sick. It is no wonder that sleep deprivation and/or interrupted sleep can really put a strain on us.

 

Why is it that we are so stressed by too little or interrupted sleep?

The more you get only interrupted and insufficient sleep, the more your body will try to compensate with deep sleep in order to "rush" to catch up with the essential deep sleep that we all need.

However, it is really difficult and deeply unpleasant to be awakened when in the deep sleep state. Most people can probably already envision the vicious "sleep cycle" that can occur with a baby in the house.

You are woken by the baby's legitimate need for care, while your adult body tries to compensate with deeper sleep, from which you are also woken – and so the spiral continues.

Depending on the family's unique situation (e.g., the availability of practical and emotional support from one's network, one's job situation, prior psychological stress, as well as expectations for the baby's development and your own parenting skills), the interrupted sleep will affect both the individual parent and the overall dynamics and well-being of the family.

For some, waking up briefly 2-3 times between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. will be extremely stressful, while others find it manageable to wake up every half hour when the baby needs continuous breastfeeding or rocking.

 

How you handle interrupted sleep does not, in any way, reflect your parenting skills

It is important for us to make clear that you are not a "better" parent if you are less affected by frequent nocturnal awakenings. Neither are you a "bad" parent if you find it extremely difficult to be woken up: fortunately, this is far from the case.

The need for support during periods of highly interrupted sleep has nothing to do with one's ability as a parent. In the same way, the number of times your baby wakes up, or how much support they need when they wake up, does not say anything about how "good" a baby you have, or how "good" a parent you are.

There are myriad factors that play a role, both in the baby's sleep and in their overall development, as well as in each parent's ability to cope with interrupted and insufficient sleep.

 

Quick fixes for sleeping

If it is the baby hammock that gives you sleep – use it.

Unfortunately, you can't make a baby sleep just because you need them to sleep; there are no magic tricks to resolve that situation.

What you can do is think about how to get the most sleep with the least amount of "work".

  • The way you sleep: There are sleeping arrangements that you think will work, and there are sleeping arrangements that turn out to work. The two are not always the same.
    • Own bed versus parents' bed. For many, night-time waking will feel less overwhelming if the baby is in bed with one person or in an open bed next to the double bed; it can seem tougher if your baby is in their own bed and maybe even in their own room. There is a big difference between having to get out of bed and maybe go to another room, compared to having to move a little and just reach out to soothe your baby.
      Comparing these two situations, the baby sleeping in their own bed, separated from the parents’ bed or in their own room, will typically wake up more and need more help to continue sleeping than if they are just an arm's length from the nearest parent. 
  • How the baby is offered milk: How you offer the baby milk at night can also play a role.
    • Premixed versus powder. If you are bottle-feeding, consider offering your baby pre-mixed infant formula instead of powder formula, as the ready-mixed milk in a carton does not need to be cooled or heated. It can stand next to the bed at room temperature. 
  • Lying versus sitting: If you are breastfeeding, you can practice lying down while breastfeeding, so you don’t have to get up and sit up until the baby has finished feeding. 
  • Good technique: For both types of milk, a good sucking technique minimises the amount of air the baby swallows. This, in turn, minimises the need to burp the baby – allowing for faster sleep. 
  • Whatever works to help your baby fall asleep: Now is not the time to listen to concerns about “bad habits”, or even worry about what will happen “one day” when X, Y or Z no longer works. We think such worries are a waste of time, because nobody knows what the future will bring, anyway. Thinking about it in the middle of a sleep crisis doesn't help, either. Find the method that works for you, instead.
    • If it is the baby hammock that gives you sleep – use it.
    • If it is the stretchy swaddle wrap that gives you sleep – use it.
    • If it is sitting on a yoga ball with "Best of the 80's" on full blast that works – then do it.
    • If it's a shower on dad's arm, followed by breastfeeding and then dad's rocking arms – then do it.
  • When the baby needs constant rocking or body contact: By their very nature, parents cannot sleep if they have to rock their baby at the same time, or, if, for example, the baby only sleeps when lying on top of one of the parents.
    • A baby hammock is, of course, an option that offers a huge amount of relief to many parents and caregivers.
    • A living substitute for mom or dad may also be an option to explore. In many cases, the baby can easily find peace in the arms of an extra caregiver. The extra caregiver can also be the one who "watches" the child when sleeping. Sleeping without having to be "on guard" and listening for your baby is a different kind of sleep.
    • Split up: You can, at least for a very limited time, take turns sleeping. This is not a sustainable solution, but it can be used, for example, in the case of an acute illness lasting several days, or while other, more sustainable solutions are found.

 

Quick fixes that relieve and support sleep

Sometimes, it is not sleep that is the real stressor – it just feels that way because, in your sleep-deprived haze, you can't think straight. Sure, sleep is part of it, but if you are at ease in other areas, you have a whole different starting point for dealing with sleep, or lack thereof.

In our experience, it is helpful to look at what practical tasks can be postponed, or eliminated altogether, to ease the workload on the family.

 

  • Food:
    • Is this the time to order a meal plan, or can the family/your network make double portions when cooking to help ease dinnertime stress?
    • Can people paying you a baby visit perhaps swap the bouquet of beautiful flowers and (another) cute bodysuit for a take-out gift voucher?
    • How about keeping "back-to-basics" dishes on the menu for a while? Rye bread, pasta with sausages, noodles or a TV dinner from the nearest convenience store?
  • Cleaning and laundering:
    • Let fluff and dust balls be and let laundry stay in the basket just a little longer – or perhaps get the help of a willing and able grandparent to sort the house out once in a while.
    • If you are more comfortable doing it yourself, you can probably entice someone to bring a cake and a helping hand – especially if they are rewarded by holding your darling baby for a while.
  • Paying grandparents a visit when on maternity leave:
    • Nightmare or welcome care – there are different interpretations of how it feels to pack the changing bag and a change of clothes for yourself and go "home to mum and dad". For some, this can create more pressure than relief. For others, it is just what is needed for a few days – someone else providing food, clean-up and a fresh pair of arms to rock the baby, while you get some much-needed sleep. However, remember to be clear that you are visiting to get help – not to socialise. The vast majority of grandparents really want to help; they just don't always know how, so it is most helpful to tell them exactly what you need and don't need. 
  • Invite guests to be social with the baby or older siblings while you sleep: We often hear that grandparents or others in the family network offer to "put the baby to sleep" or to have older siblings over for a sleepover, but this doesn't work at all in practice.
    • Instead, try inviting your network to be with the baby while the baby is awake and you are asleep.

 

Quick fixes that may not be quite so "quick", but that actually work!

Acquiring knowledge about the workings of sleep, sleep aids, circadian rhythms, sleep pressure, etc. can seem laborious and definitely not a quick-fix solution.

However, it is important knowledge that can give you a basis for understanding your baby's sleep. It may be just what you need as parents to make the small adjustments that help you all sleep better. If nothing else, it can be the key to understanding why it is hard for your baby to fall asleep.

In addition, it can make a huge difference when trying to figure out how to deal with that situation.

We have gone through a lot of it in the blog posts here:

 

Summary

  • It is entirely normal to experience a feeling of "going crazy" when you experience interrupted and/or insufficient sleep.
  • It is also perfectly normal to have trouble managing even basic tasks, like cooking dinner or writing a shopping list, when you are sleep-deprived.
  • It is very common, and quite meaningless, to have thoughts of being "not good enough" as a parent if you are struggling to cope with interrupted and/or insufficient sleep.
  • How you deal with sleep deprivation has NOTHING to do with whether you are a good parent. Your child's waking up and need for help say nothing about your parenting skills.
  • Sleep deprivation and how quickly you are affected can feel very different from person to person, depending on a whole range of personal factors.
  • Particularly effective quick fixes when you are pressed for sleep are "whatever works", as well as setting yourself free from society's, culture's and your own expectations of how a baby "should" sleep.
  • Quick fixes that address overall relief are quite underrated and can be useful to prioritise in a stressful situation.
  • Knowing how a baby’s sleep actually works provides a good foundation for managing normal baby sleep. Moreover, it allows you to make small adjustments that support better sleep over time. 

 

ABOUT SOVENDE BØRN 

Sovende Børn is an online universe for parents and professionals seeking guidance and information about babies and children's sleep and sleep issues. 

The purpose is to give parents and professionals the right tools to make informed choices that suit the individual child's sleep situation.  

On the website and social media outlets, you will find updated and reliable information about available research, as well as webinars, workshops, courses, etc.

Author cover

Quick fix: Help – my baby won't sleep

 This post is written in collaboration with Sovende Børn.

Moonboon works closely with the NGO Sovende Børn and their team of specialists to provide updated, relevant advice and guidance on children's and babies' sleep. Read more about Sovende Børn at the bottom of the post.

 

Your baby eats and eats, but won't sleep.

Your baby won't sleep during the day, in the evening, or at night.

Your baby won't sleep in the pram, cot or anywhere alone.

And even if the baby is overtired – it seems as if the baby won't sleep, no matter what you do.

 

At least, that is how it feels. Because you are tired. You are more tired than you thought was even possible. However, it no longer feels like merely "being tired" – it feels like you're about to go literally insane if you don't get some sleep soon.

If you feel this way, it can be hard to remember and hold on to what you know deep down; that the baby actually wants to sleep, but just needs a lot of help to get there.

When you are in over your head, can't take any more, and your thoughts are getting less constructive – what do you do? 

In this article, we will look at what parents can do if they are struggling because of sleep disruption and deprivation.

 

Interrupted sleep affects both your body and your psyche

All people are different. So, how we deal with the interrupted sleep that usually comes with having a baby varies greatly. 

However, what is common to us all is that interrupted sleep affects us both physiologically and mentally. When we don't have the opportunity to sleep "as we used to", and as we need to, being woken up repeatedly at night, the body's fine-tuned sleep/wake balance – and sometimes the circadian rhythm itself – is disrupted.

As a result, depressive thoughts and feelings can arise. It seems that all you can think about is getting some sleep. Irritability, being more prone to crying, inability to see the big picture and to put oneself in the shoes of others. These are just a handful of examples.

And that is just the mental impact of accumulated sleep issues. On top of that, there are the physical impacts, where the body just slows down, feeling heavy and almost sick. It is no wonder that sleep deprivation and/or interrupted sleep can really put a strain on us.

 

Why is it that we are so stressed by too little or interrupted sleep?

The more you get only interrupted and insufficient sleep, the more your body will try to compensate with deep sleep in order to "rush" to catch up with the essential deep sleep that we all need.

However, it is really difficult and deeply unpleasant to be awakened when in the deep sleep state. Most people can probably already envision the vicious "sleep cycle" that can occur with a baby in the house.

You are woken by the baby's legitimate need for care, while your adult body tries to compensate with deeper sleep, from which you are also woken – and so the spiral continues.

Depending on the family's unique situation (e.g., the availability of practical and emotional support from one's network, one's job situation, prior psychological stress, as well as expectations for the baby's development and your own parenting skills), the interrupted sleep will affect both the individual parent and the overall dynamics and well-being of the family.

For some, waking up briefly 2-3 times between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. will be extremely stressful, while others find it manageable to wake up every half hour when the baby needs continuous breastfeeding or rocking.

 

How you handle interrupted sleep does not, in any way, reflect your parenting skills

It is important for us to make clear that you are not a "better" parent if you are less affected by frequent nocturnal awakenings. Neither are you a "bad" parent if you find it extremely difficult to be woken up: fortunately, this is far from the case.

The need for support during periods of highly interrupted sleep has nothing to do with one's ability as a parent. In the same way, the number of times your baby wakes up, or how much support they need when they wake up, does not say anything about how "good" a baby you have, or how "good" a parent you are.

There are myriad factors that play a role, both in the baby's sleep and in their overall development, as well as in each parent's ability to cope with interrupted and insufficient sleep.

 

Quick fixes for sleeping

If it is the baby hammock that gives you sleep – use it.

Unfortunately, you can't make a baby sleep just because you need them to sleep; there are no magic tricks to resolve that situation.

What you can do is think about how to get the most sleep with the least amount of "work".

  • The way you sleep: There are sleeping arrangements that you think will work, and there are sleeping arrangements that turn out to work. The two are not always the same.
    • Own bed versus parents' bed. For many, night-time waking will feel less overwhelming if the baby is in bed with one person or in an open bed next to the double bed; it can seem tougher if your baby is in their own bed and maybe even in their own room. There is a big difference between having to get out of bed and maybe go to another room, compared to having to move a little and just reach out to soothe your baby.
      Comparing these two situations, the baby sleeping in their own bed, separated from the parents’ bed or in their own room, will typically wake up more and need more help to continue sleeping than if they are just an arm's length from the nearest parent. 
  • How the baby is offered milk: How you offer the baby milk at night can also play a role.
    • Premixed versus powder. If you are bottle-feeding, consider offering your baby pre-mixed infant formula instead of powder formula, as the ready-mixed milk in a carton does not need to be cooled or heated. It can stand next to the bed at room temperature. 
  • Lying versus sitting: If you are breastfeeding, you can practice lying down while breastfeeding, so you don’t have to get up and sit up until the baby has finished feeding. 
  • Good technique: For both types of milk, a good sucking technique minimises the amount of air the baby swallows. This, in turn, minimises the need to burp the baby – allowing for faster sleep. 
  • Whatever works to help your baby fall asleep: Now is not the time to listen to concerns about “bad habits”, or even worry about what will happen “one day” when X, Y or Z no longer works. We think such worries are a waste of time, because nobody knows what the future will bring, anyway. Thinking about it in the middle of a sleep crisis doesn't help, either. Find the method that works for you, instead.
    • If it is the baby hammock that gives you sleep – use it.
    • If it is the stretchy swaddle wrap that gives you sleep – use it.
    • If it is sitting on a yoga ball with "Best of the 80's" on full blast that works – then do it.
    • If it's a shower on dad's arm, followed by breastfeeding and then dad's rocking arms – then do it.
  • When the baby needs constant rocking or body contact: By their very nature, parents cannot sleep if they have to rock their baby at the same time, or, if, for example, the baby only sleeps when lying on top of one of the parents.
    • A baby hammock is, of course, an option that offers a huge amount of relief to many parents and caregivers.
    • A living substitute for mom or dad may also be an option to explore. In many cases, the baby can easily find peace in the arms of an extra caregiver. The extra caregiver can also be the one who "watches" the child when sleeping. Sleeping without having to be "on guard" and listening for your baby is a different kind of sleep.
    • Split up: You can, at least for a very limited time, take turns sleeping. This is not a sustainable solution, but it can be used, for example, in the case of an acute illness lasting several days, or while other, more sustainable solutions are found.

 

Quick fixes that relieve and support sleep

Sometimes, it is not sleep that is the real stressor – it just feels that way because, in your sleep-deprived haze, you can't think straight. Sure, sleep is part of it, but if you are at ease in other areas, you have a whole different starting point for dealing with sleep, or lack thereof.

In our experience, it is helpful to look at what practical tasks can be postponed, or eliminated altogether, to ease the workload on the family.

 

  • Food:
    • Is this the time to order a meal plan, or can the family/your network make double portions when cooking to help ease dinnertime stress?
    • Can people paying you a baby visit perhaps swap the bouquet of beautiful flowers and (another) cute bodysuit for a take-out gift voucher?
    • How about keeping "back-to-basics" dishes on the menu for a while? Rye bread, pasta with sausages, noodles or a TV dinner from the nearest convenience store?
  • Cleaning and laundering:
    • Let fluff and dust balls be and let laundry stay in the basket just a little longer – or perhaps get the help of a willing and able grandparent to sort the house out once in a while.
    • If you are more comfortable doing it yourself, you can probably entice someone to bring a cake and a helping hand – especially if they are rewarded by holding your darling baby for a while.
  • Paying grandparents a visit when on maternity leave:
    • Nightmare or welcome care – there are different interpretations of how it feels to pack the changing bag and a change of clothes for yourself and go "home to mum and dad". For some, this can create more pressure than relief. For others, it is just what is needed for a few days – someone else providing food, clean-up and a fresh pair of arms to rock the baby, while you get some much-needed sleep. However, remember to be clear that you are visiting to get help – not to socialise. The vast majority of grandparents really want to help; they just don't always know how, so it is most helpful to tell them exactly what you need and don't need. 
  • Invite guests to be social with the baby or older siblings while you sleep: We often hear that grandparents or others in the family network offer to "put the baby to sleep" or to have older siblings over for a sleepover, but this doesn't work at all in practice.
    • Instead, try inviting your network to be with the baby while the baby is awake and you are asleep.

 

Quick fixes that may not be quite so "quick", but that actually work!

Acquiring knowledge about the workings of sleep, sleep aids, circadian rhythms, sleep pressure, etc. can seem laborious and definitely not a quick-fix solution.

However, it is important knowledge that can give you a basis for understanding your baby's sleep. It may be just what you need as parents to make the small adjustments that help you all sleep better. If nothing else, it can be the key to understanding why it is hard for your baby to fall asleep.

In addition, it can make a huge difference when trying to figure out how to deal with that situation.

We have gone through a lot of it in the blog posts here:

 

Summary

  • It is entirely normal to experience a feeling of "going crazy" when you experience interrupted and/or insufficient sleep.
  • It is also perfectly normal to have trouble managing even basic tasks, like cooking dinner or writing a shopping list, when you are sleep-deprived.
  • It is very common, and quite meaningless, to have thoughts of being "not good enough" as a parent if you are struggling to cope with interrupted and/or insufficient sleep.
  • How you deal with sleep deprivation has NOTHING to do with whether you are a good parent. Your child's waking up and need for help say nothing about your parenting skills.
  • Sleep deprivation and how quickly you are affected can feel very different from person to person, depending on a whole range of personal factors.
  • Particularly effective quick fixes when you are pressed for sleep are "whatever works", as well as setting yourself free from society's, culture's and your own expectations of how a baby "should" sleep.
  • Quick fixes that address overall relief are quite underrated and can be useful to prioritise in a stressful situation.
  • Knowing how a baby’s sleep actually works provides a good foundation for managing normal baby sleep. Moreover, it allows you to make small adjustments that support better sleep over time. 

 

ABOUT SOVENDE BØRN 

Sovende Børn is an online universe for parents and professionals seeking guidance and information about babies and children's sleep and sleep issues. 

The purpose is to give parents and professionals the right tools to make informed choices that suit the individual child's sleep situation.  

On the website and social media outlets, you will find updated and reliable information about available research, as well as webinars, workshops, courses, etc.

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