The 4 most common reasons why your baby isn’t sleeping

Kelly Martin putting a baby to sleep in a cot

Are you struggling to get your little one to sleep?  Have no idea why, some days it comes so simply and other days you feel like you need to do handstands underwater to achieve this for your little one?  I have been there too and it can feel like a fine balancing act trying to get your little one to sleep, never mind stay asleep for a period of time.

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    Let’s take a look at 4 of the most common reasons why sleep may be opposing your little one’s system.

    Better yet, let’s see how we can change these to work in our favour from a holistic perspective.  No sleep training method alone will “fix” your child’s sleep if you are always out of sync with their bodies hormones and not addressing possible environmental factors that could be influencing their sleep or lack of.


    We have all been there with an overtired baby.  I understand just how difficult it is to get these little one’s to sleep.  The reason a baby doesn’t sleep “better” or “longer” if they have been kept awake for a longer period of time is that their little bodies simply cannot handle it.  They start to have a chemical reaction due to this lack of sleep.  This means that they start to produce excess cortisol (stress hormone) and this converts over to adrenaline.  As we all know, once adrenaline is in our system it triggers that “fight or flight” mode and makes it tricky for a baby to unwind and slip into sleep unaided.

    Now, despite the battle of eventually getting them down for their nap or bedtime is over – they will still wake shortly after a sleep cycle as they have effectively been tipped over the edge and are plummeting back down the slippery slope.  To avoid this over-tiredness, download my nap routines and use this as a guide for when your little one could be settling for sleep and how to prevent over-tiredness becoming a regular occurrence for your little one’s sleep.


    Say what?  I thought you were just talking about how babies can so easily get overtired.  Under-tired is also a contributing factor to sleep – although it is the less likely of the too, especially in younger babies.

    Under-tired represents if a child has not built the right amount of sleep pressure to influence a naps length.  Sleep pressure builds throughout the day and can either be levelled off with a longer nap or provide a small speed bump with a shorter nap.  If your child is under-tired, they are likely to take a while to settle – may be smiling, rolling around or just having a good old chat.  Or they may settle easily for the nap, but then wake after 45 minutes bright eyed and bushy tailed and feel near impossible to re-settle.

    If you baby is over 3 months of age, we are aiming for around 1-1.5 hours between naps and around 3-4 naps totalling 4-5 hours during the day and 11-12 hours overnight (broken for feeds).

    If your baby is between 3-6 months of age.  Their awake times are moving towards 2-2.5 hours and around 3 naps a day, but the amount reducing towards 3-3.5 hours and 11-12 hours overnight (broken for feeds).

    If your baby is between 6-12 months of age, we move towards a 2 nap pattern and your baby can be awake for up to 2.5-4 hours.  The great news is once, you settle into a two nap pattern you stay there for a significant period of time, ideally until between 15-18 months of age.

    You can learn more about nap transition signs here.

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    Babies don’t sleep well if they are hungry.  To rule out hunger from the equation, I would suggest that until a baby is established on solids – breast of bottle can be fed on demand or minimum every 3-4 hours during the day to ensure that they are receiving enough calories during the day to sustain them longer stretches overnight.

    Once your baby is established on solids – generally anywhere between 6-9 months of age and eating plenty of complex carbohydrates and protein, we can expect them to reduce their night feeds or even potentially look at night weaning.

    If you want to know more about how and when it might be time to drop a night feed click here

    Sleep Environment

    I always recommend a nice dark sleep space after 3 weeks of age, for naps and night sleep.  This will be more conducive to your little one’s sleep and assist them to settle and link their sleep cycles at an earlier age.  When we are in a dark sleep space our body releases melatonin – the sleepy hormone.  If the room has too much light, it will likely trigger the body to wake up fully at the end of a sleep cycle and encourage your baby to want to get up and play rather than re-settle into the next sleep cycle.  Block out blinds or curtains will be your best friend, especially over the long summer months.

    Temperature can also play a role in your little one’s sleep.  Children under 18 months of age cannot self-regulate their body temperature.  They rely on us to dress them appropriately and keep the room at a steady temperature.  I recommended between 16ﹾ-20ﹾ over winter and 20ﹾ-24ﹾ over summer.

    The final piece of the sleep environment trilogy is white noise.  I absolutely love white noise.  This acts as an additional buffer from the outside world.  Think older siblings that have impeccable timing right when you are trying to settle for a nap!  It is additionally great to buffer from day to day household noises or noisy neighbours.  White noise is non-addictive and can be played safely for all naps and overnight at around 50-60 decibels.  Download a free app through your phone, I-pad, tablet or use a specific white noise machine.  When you are ready to stop using it – turn it down and off over a one week period.


    Kelly Martin Sleep Consultant

    Helping babies get a good nights sleep

    Our mission is to empower parents with the knowledge and education about how they can help their little one develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. Are you ready to regain your sleep?

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