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Why does a child sleep poorly: 6 reasons

Home › Child up to one year › Skill development

Author of the article

Ekaterina Rakitina Doctor Dietrich Bonhoeffer Klinikum, Germany

Reading time: 8 minutes


Article last updated: 05/15/2019

Many mothers want to relax during the day or do business while their child sleeps peacefully in the crib. But suddenly the child does not want to sleep for more than 40 minutes. Typically, such a dream occurs in babies from 3-3.5 to 6-8 months. If the child is healthy, feels great, is active and sleeps well at night, such sleep is only an inconvenience for the mother. Some associate such short-term sleep with intestinal colic and look forward to when the baby turns 3 months old and everything goes away. Then the child will sleep soundly for a couple of hours and it will be possible to rest or do something. But in most cases this is absolutely not the case. And mothers soon realize that until 3 months the baby slept very “comfortably”, but now he will take a nap for 20-40 minutes - and “we are with you again.”

Why does a baby sleep for 40 minutes, and then wake up and it can be difficult to put him to sleep? How to make your baby sleep a little longer and what is needed for this?

The baby's daily routine is disrupted.

A small child cannot sleep all night or stay awake all day like an adult (see chart). It’s worth thinking about if your child can’t fall asleep for more than half an hour or wakes up too often at night. In this case, it is possible that his daily routine is disrupted.

“All people have a so-called “sleep window” - the time when it is easiest to fall asleep. Surely you have noticed that at 10 pm, for example, you really want to sleep, but after an hour it’s difficult to fall asleep? For young children, the “window to sleep” is very short, literally a few minutes. If you skip it and let the child play longer, it will not be easy to put the baby to bed,” explains Varvara.

Staying too much awake is bad, but sleeping too much is no better. Parents sometimes hesitate to wake up children who sleep peacefully during the day, and then suffer at night. If you feel sorry for disturbing your peacefully sleeping child, experts offer an alternative: about five minutes before waking up, turn on the sounds of nature - birdsong, the sound of the forest. The baby will wake up gradually and in a good mood

During the day, the child must be active: the baby must be loaded both physically and emotionally.

“It is very important for a child to interact with mom or dad. It is clear that it is difficult to constantly entertain. You can alternate periods when you are involved in the game with periods when you are busy with your own affairs. Read to your baby or tell him a poem, talk to him, show him a bright toy and ask him to crawl to it, bring the child to the mirror - children really like this. 15-20 minutes of intensive exercise will create the right load on the baby’s nervous system, and then you can leave him alone for the same 15-20 minutes and go about his business,” recommends Varvara.

If a child has mastered something new - learned to make sounds, roll over, crawl - he strives to practice the skill: this is how the nervous system works. Therefore, if the baby does not have enough practice during the day, then he begins to exercise at night.

What to do:

Experts advise parents to focus on the table values ​​of sleep and wake time for different ages and try to follow them. It is important that if the child sleeps well, there is no need to “adjust” him to the standards.

If you notice that your baby is fussy a lot, cannot fall asleep for a long time and wakes up every 20 minutes, most likely he is not getting enough sleep. If a child plays at night, he probably sleeps too long or does not have time to throw out his energy during the day. We talk about such nuances in detail on our blog on Facebook.

Reasons for short sleep in babies

But on average, such a 40-minute nap is typical for children from 3–3.5 months to 6–6.5 months.

Then the child adjusts to longer sleep. And there are several reasons for this (short sleep):

  • immaturity of the nervous system (this is not a pathological condition, many systems and organs of a person are improved after birth);
  • excitability;
  • the coincidence of the child's movement from arms to bed with the transition from one phase of sleep to another (when the child begins to fall asleep on his own in the crib, he will sleep longer);
  • the child gets enough sleep (it is believed that a baby gets complete rest after 50 minutes of sleep, but there are children who objectively need less time to sleep).
  • persistent anxiety (baby wakes up when mom leaves his room, this should go away after 7 months)

What you need to know about your baby's sleep stages

A baby's sleep phases alternate with each other, just like an adult's. Each phase has its own type of sleep, and it is impossible to confuse them. The calm, slow phase is characterized by a relaxed posture, the body is resting, breathing is even, and the face is calm. In the calm stage, external stimuli have little effect on the baby. Even sudden sounds or flashes may not wake him up completely. In this phase, he can be put to bed without consequences.

Light sleep is something else entirely. The child is restless, he moves, sobs or laughs, his eyelids may open slightly, they may even open completely, the baby will look around the world around him, and if nothing attracts him, he will fall asleep further.

During this period of sleep, his breathing is uneven, intermittent, the facial muscles twitch (the child frowns, smiles, twists his face, as if he is about to cry).

If the mother is lying next to the baby, you can put your hand on his tummy and he will calm down. If the mother is busy with something, then there is no need to run to the rescue and grab the child in her arms as soon as he moves or sobs. Most likely, he will cry and fall asleep further, then his sleep will go into a deep phase.

During this period, it is very important not to wake the child and allow his sleep to enter a deep phase.
*On a mobile device there is horizontal scrolling at the bottom of the table

and sleep phases of the newborn


Total sleep duration per day16–20 hours
REM (shallow)
Deep sleep phase24—30%

The child did not relax before bed.

Recommendations that some time before bedtime you should not actively engage in sports, watch TV, eat heavy foods and sweets are valid not only for adults, but also for children.

The baby needs to be prepared for rest, to build a “bridge to sleep.” Calm activities will help your child relax and get ready for sleep.

“Many parents believe that children must be bathed before bed, but this does not always work. Some babies laugh, play, and end up overstimulated in the bathroom. Monitor your child's reaction to bathing. If he is calm and relaxed, this is a good option; if not, it is better to splash around in the bathtub during active waking hours,” the specialist advises.

What to do:

Quiet activities that develop fine motor skills can become a “bridge to sleep”: offer the child familiar, dim toys, or give him a sensory box. Let the baby transfer objects from one container to another, assemble a pyramid, pour cereals or breakfast cereals - always under the supervision of adults. A massage, a lullaby, or even rocking on your arms are also suitable as a “bridge to sleep.” Plan on 30 minutes to an hour to prepare for relaxation: the older the child, the longer it takes to relax.

The baby is uncomfortable.

This reason seems quite obvious, but not all parents take it into account.

“Russian mothers love to wrap their children up. The opposite situation also occurs: the mother sleeps in pajamas and under a blanket, and the baby sleeps without a blanket or is dressed very lightly,” explains Varvara.

The optimal air temperature for sleeping is 19-21°C with a humidity of 40-60%. If you have central heating in your home, the air may be too dry. In this case, it is worth purchasing a humidifier.

Another problem is lack of fluids. If your child is not offered enough water during the day, he or she will wake up thirsty at night.

What to do:

The baby should be dressed the same as the mother. If you are comfortable in a shirt under a thin sheet, you should not put three layers of clothing on your child and wrap him in a duvet. To prevent your baby from getting thirsty at night, offer him water after every meal.

The child has developed an association for falling asleep.

Tired parents are ready to do anything to put their child to bed as quickly as possible: he only falls asleep in his arms, with his breast, so that’s what we’ll do. This approach, of course, promises a quick win, but can create problems in the long run.

“Associations for falling asleep are those things without which a child cannot fall asleep: rocking, breast, pacifier. They are usually formed during the period of sleep regression - at the age of 4 months. During this period, it is very difficult to put the child to sleep, and mothers try to solve the problem by any means. As a result, the baby has only one way to fall asleep, which is often not very comfortable for parents. It even goes so far that some mothers feed their baby and jump on a fitball at the same time. And if you consider that babies can wake up with each change in the sleep cycle, which occurs every 30-40 minutes, then some mothers have to spend the whole night on a fitball,” says the expert.

What to do:

First of all, you need to make sure that the daily routine is set up correctly, the baby has calmed down before bed, he is full and feels comfortable. If you are sure that the problem is in the association (the child falls asleep only in his arms, only with the breast, etc.), you need to get away from it by teaching the baby to fall asleep on his own. All teaching methods are divided into 3 types:

Cry it out. Benjamin Spock wrote about this method. Modern adherents of attachment theory do not recommend using it, but this method guarantees quick results - 3-5 days, and the baby will fall asleep on his own. The idea is simple - leave the baby alone in the crib, leave the room and let him cry until he falls asleep.

Tears and support. You still do not give the child what he considers an indispensable attribute of falling asleep, but at the same time you remain close and comfort the baby in every possible way: pet him, cradle him, feel sorry for him. In this case it will take about two weeks. Be patient - the child will cry and demand what he is used to, but your relationship will not suffer.

Fading. The slowest and most gentle method. Task: eliminate the desired stimulus gradually. For example, first take the breast immediately after the baby falls asleep, then a few minutes before this moment, and so on. This requires discipline and patience - it may take you up to two months.

Sleep norms for a child up to one year old

The sleep of an infant is significantly different from the sleep of an adult.
Children are like aliens in many ways, so it can be very difficult for adults to understand them. Every 3 months, their sleep undergoes changes. Its frequency, duration, and sometimes quality change. You don’t need to think that changes come strictly after every three months. Children are different, some develop a little faster, others a little slower. Everything is individual. Some mothers begin to “cry” from the short sleep of their 1.5 month old baby, while others, even after 6 months, cannot wait for their child to start sleeping for a full hour or two. *On a mobile device there is horizontal scrolling at the bottom of the table

Sleep norm for a child up to one year old
AgeTotal sleep duration, hours
NightDaily / Number of timesTotal per day
0–4 weeks8–108–10, sleep 1–3 hours with short wake intervals of 15–60 minutes16-20
1-2 months9–116–7 / 4–5 times17-19
3–4 months10–124–6 / 3–4 times16-18
5–6 months10–123–4 / 3–4 times15-17
7–9 months10–122–4 / 2–3 times13-15
10–12 months10–122–3/2 times12-14

You have set the boundaries incorrectly.

This reason is relevant for children over one and a half years old. They begin to test their parents’ strength and say “no” just to find out what will happen to them for it. Don't give in to provocation. Maintain a daily routine and do not encourage the creation of sleep associations.

What to do:

With older children, the methods we wrote about above will not work. You will have to negotiate with them, explain to them the reason for your decision. Fictitious arguments (“milk is sleeping, I can’t breastfeed you”, “the doctor forbade me to feed you at night”), and an honest explanation of the situation will do:

Everyone is very tired during the day, so neither mom nor dad can play with the child at night or feed him. One of my clients covered her breast with a plaster, showed it to her child and said that she was in pain and would not feed him until the morning. And it worked,” explains Varvara.

How to normalize a newborn's sleep

Formation of a newborn’s daily routine

Routine is a very important element in raising a baby. In the first months of a baby’s life, it is difficult to imagine any special regime; he does not yet understand the difference between night and day, and sleeps most of the day. But by the age of 2 months, even if he is fed “on demand,” a pattern of sleep and wakefulness, as well as food intake, begins to emerge. If the mother tries to feed the child at approximately the same time, walk with him for a certain number of hours at the same time, bathe him and put him to bed on a schedule, then soon the baby himself will ask for food and show signs of fatigue at a time close to what is usual for this. actions of time.

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