In this post you will find the science-backed reasons why your baby is crying in sleep.
If you hear your baby crying in sleep you would suspect your baby is having a bad dream. In fact, there are quite a few explanations for why you've got a baby crying in sleep.
Let's find out the reasons why your baby wakes up crying at night.
15 Reasons Why Your Baby is Crying in Sleep
As crying is the only way in which babies can communicate, having a baby crying in sleep is completely normal.
- Without crying, you'd never understand what your baby needs, whether it be food, relief from gas or something else.
There may be more to your baby’s inability to sleep than just needs, habits and routines.
You may be unaware of a medical or developmental issue that is impairing your baby’s ability to sleep well.
It’s always wise to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your baby’s health.
Here are 15 reasons why your baby is crying in sleep:
- Separation Anxiety
- Developmental Milestones and Growth Spurts
- Confusional Arousals
- Illness and Discomfort: Colds, Snifﬂes, Fever, and Immunizations
- Gas and Colic
- Ear Infections
- Allergies and Asthma
- Snoring and Sleep Apnea
- Night Terrors
The teething process is a common reason why babies cry in sleep.
Babies can’t tell us what the problem is; they can only cry or fuss. Often this behavior starts long before we see a tooth pop out, so it can be hard to tell that teething is responsible for your baby’s fussiness.
- Don’t be surprised if, after a couple of nights in a row of your holding the baby to sleep during teething process, your baby may have trouble sleeping without your help, even if he was a good sleeper before
Babies usually cut their first teeth between the ages of 6 months and 2 years.
The gum is usually sore and swollen at the spots where the tooth erupts. The pressure of the teeth pushing against the baby’s gums can be painful during night time. So, it is mostly possible that your baby will wake up crying at night.
- This discomfort can make the baby cry in sleep, but it does not usually last for longer than a week
Four or five month old babies tend to cry more in sleep because of teething.
- Remember the last time you had a headache, backache or stiff neck. Discomforts can disrupt your ability to sleep as well.
Signs of teething include being more irritable than usual, pulling on his ears, or running a slight fever.
Keep in Mind
Several parents informed that a slight fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or diaper rash accompany teething. As these symptoms also may signal an infection or virus, they should always be reported to your doctor.
2- Separation Anxiety
Seperation Anxiety can be the reason why you have a baby crying at night.
Around the age of six months, babies begin to gain more understanding of their environment and start to realize that they are separate from their mother. Between 6 and 12 months, most babies show some signs of separation anxiety.
As your baby grows, she will be aware of her “separateness” from you.
According to Dr. Avi Sadeh
"Separation anxiety is one of the main causes of sleep disorders in early childhood. The rise in the frequency of sleeping disorders during the ﬁrst year of life may be linked to the appearance of the separation anxiety that is a normal developmental occurrence at this age."
"A change such as the mother’s return to work after maternity leave, a new caretaker, the transition to day care, or any change that signiﬁes separation and a new adaptation is frequently expressed immediately in the form of a signiﬁcant sleep disorder. " Sleeping Like a Baby (Yale University Press, 2001)
- Most parents ﬁnd out that when their baby enters the developmental stages of crawling and walking, separation anxiety peaks. This is because your baby learns that she can move away from you—and you from her.
The main feeding problem that causes babies crying in sleep is underfeeding.
- Babies will be hungry as their bodies need nourishment, but each baby will express this hunger in her own way. Crying is obviously taken as the typical means through which hunger is conveyed to the world.
Newborn babies Your newborn will need frequent feeds, but this situation does not mean that every cry shows hunger. Admittedly, her hunger cries may not be clearly distinguished from those of overstimulation or soreness ; it takes time to recognize them. Within a couple of weeks your baby will start to stretch the time between feeds, and you will become familiar with her unique hunger cry.
Older babies: When your baby is ﬁve- six months old, her nutritional needs may no longer be satisﬁed with breastfeeding or formula alone. If she starts to fuss between feeds and is only satisﬁed if fed more often than before, talk to her pediatrician about the best time to start introducing solids.
Until then if you need some clues about hunger cry:
- Think back to when your baby last fed.
- Crying less than two hours since then probably does not indicate hunger, as long as she is gaining weight.
- Consider her age. Growth spurts occur at four to six weeks and at four months, and she will need to be fed more frequently at these times.
If your +6 months old baby is crying in sleep she might be thirsty.
- Thirst is one of the significant reasons of crying in sleep and especially in hot weather, with fever, or if the baby is on solids or an unmodified milk preparation, a drink of water should be offered as an alternative to a further bottle.
WHO and UNICEF recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. As breastmilk is 88 percent water, the water content of breastmilk consumed by an exclusively breastfed baby meets the water requirements for infants.
5- Developmental Milestones and Growth Spurts
A milestone approaching may be the reason why you've got a baby crying in sleep.
- A baby who is learning a new developmental skill wakes up in the night with a sudden need to practice it. This is commonly a short-lived sleep disruption and tends to go away as soon as the new skill is mastered.
Also, when there is a gowth spurt and your baby is doing some serious growing—day and night, your baby might suddenly be;
- Eating more,
- Sleeping less,
- Growing out of his clothes almost before the price tags are cut off.
6- Confusional Arousals
Confusional arousals generally cause baby to wake up crying at night and thrash around in the bed or crib.
When a confusional arousal occurs:
- Your baby will appear awake and may look confused or upset.
- Your baby may moan or cry out.
- If you try to comfort her, she may resist you and not allow you to console her.
- You will realize that your baby is half asleep, and she will be difficult to awaken.
- These episodes which confusional arousal cause, may last up to half an hour.
- Confusional arousals usually end with a baby calming down and returning to a deep sleep.
- Sometimes your baby will awaken briefly from a confusional arousal, only to return to sleep quickly.
Most babies and toddlers have had at least one confusional arousal. It may have happened to your child without your even realizing it.
- Often a baby who “wakes up” after being asleep for only an hour or so is having one of these confusional arousal events.
It may just seem to you that your baby seemed to wake up, fuss for a while, and then fell back to sleep. As stated before, most babies have confusional arousals. They are extremely common and primarily occur in children under the age of three.
7- Illness and Discomfort: Colds, Snifﬂes, Fever, and Immunizations
Discomfort and illness often make babies cry in sleep. A baby who does not feel well will not sleep well like an adult person. However, unlike an adult, your baby doesn’t know why she feels bad, nor does he know how to help himself feel better.
- No matter what the illness, your baby will feel better if she is well hydrated. If you are breastfeeding, nurse frequently. If your baby drinks from a cup or bottle, provide lots of breast milk, formula, juice, and water. For older babies it is a good idea to prepare soup.
When your baby isn’t feeling well, do what you can to make her happy and comfortable. You should back off a bit on your sleep plan for a few days.
8- Gas and Colic
Gassy and Colicky babies wake up crying night time more than other babies.
All babies have gas, but some babies struggle more with releasing it from their systems.
Your baby might swallow air when feeding or crying, which can lead to an uncomfortably full feeling, gas, or even stomach pains.
You must have heard the term colic applied to any baby who cries a lot. Not all crying babies have colic, yet—but all colicky babies cry.
- Although experts still don't know the exact cause, most believe that colic is connnected to the immaturity of a baby’s digestive system. Some also suppose that a baby’s immature nervous system and inability to handle the constant sensory stimulation that surrounds her might cause a breakdown by the end of the day.
For more information about the causes and signs of colic (see: Colic in Babies)
There isn't a simple, effective treatment for colic. By using their experience, parents and professionals may offer suggestions that may help your baby though this time period.
If your baby wakes up crying during the night time,
You can check these signs of colic crying:
- The baby's face is red.
- The skin around the mouth is pale.
- The belly is bulging and hard.
- The fingers are clenched shut.
- The arms are stiff, tight.
Here are several useful tips to soothe a colicky baby:
- Slowly and gently massage the baby's tummy with circular motions after ensuring adequate burping is carried out between breast-feeding sessions will ensure no gas-build-up occurs in the baby's tummy and the baby sleeps well.
- Play soothing music while holding your baby's legs up to her chest for a few minutes
- Check for any lactose intolerance or allergen which triggers in the lactating mother's diet.
- Swaddle the baby in a warm blanket and walk her in the stroller.
- Walk with the baby in a quiet, dark room
Overheating cause babies to cry in sleep.
Especially young babies cannot regulate their own body temperature very well, so make sure that your home is not too hot.
Your baby can wake up crying in the night because of overheating.
- If your baby is overheated, her neck will be very hot and her face will be red. It is very important to cool her down by removing some of the covers, or clothes if the room is very warm.
If you have a baby crying in sleep night after night, check the temperature of the room (ideally 16 to 18 °C).
If your baby sleeps in a pram or buggy during the daytime, your baby can easily get too hot if you have the raincover on and the sun comes out, or you go into a warm shop. Remember to take the cover off and let her have some air.
Babies often wake up crying from being too cold.
- Check your baby's temperature by feeling her neck or tummy to make sure she’s not too cold or hot, and adjust her clothing and blankets accordingly. If your baby is over three months old you can use a baby sleeping bag in colder weather.
Your baby will wake up crying in the night if she is too cold, even if she is not hungry.
- Once your baby starts moving around in the night, it is easier for her to cry in sleep because she is cold. Make sure she has enough covers on and is tucked in well to prevent her kicking the covers off.
When out and in the buggy or pram, also make sure your baby has the right clothing and enough covers to keep her warm.
11- Ear Infections
Ear infection is one of the common causes of babies crying in sleep.
- If your baby has been very fussy, is waking up more than usual, wakes up crying as if he’s in pain, or pulls at his ears, your baby may have an ear infection.
Ear infections are very common in babies because their ear tubes are short, wide, and horizontal, giving bacteria from the nose and throat a fast, easy path to the ears.
- As babies get older and their ear tubes mature, they will no longer be so susceptible to ear infections. In the meantime, an untreated ear infection will prevent your baby from sleeping well.
These symptoms almost always indicate an ear infection in babies:
- Frequent pulling, grabbing, or batting at the ears that is not done playfully, but rather with apparent discomfort.
- Green, yellow, or white ﬂuid draining from the ear.
- An unpleasant odor emanating from the ear.
- Signs of difﬁculty hearing.
Acid Reflux is one of the leading causes which makes babies cry in sleep.
- A baby with reﬂux suffers from heartburn-like stomach pains, which will tend to be most uncomfortable when she is lying down for sleep.
Reﬂux means to return or ﬂow back. Therefore if your baby is suffering from reflux, it will be hard for her to fall and stay asleep.
- Reﬂux is most often caused by an immature digestive system, and almost all babies with reﬂux will outgrow the problem.
13- Allergies and Asthma
Difficulty in breathing is a common reason which makes your baby wake crying at night.
If your baby has a condition that affects her breathing, it usually affects her sleeping too.
- Parents may be struggling with a baby who wakes frequently at night and they might not be aware that the cause is allergies or asthma. It is not so easy to pinpoint the symptoms of allergies and asthma.
It’s hard to tell the difference between a common cold and a more serious condition.
Here are the signs of allergies and asthma to look for:
- Runny nose.
- Coughing, especially at night.
- Stuffy nose, especially upon waking.
- Itchy eyes, ears, or nose.
- Watery eyes.
- Sore throat.
- Difﬁculty breathing.
- Skin rash.
- Cold symptoms that last more than two weeks.
- Persistent, chronic ear infections.
- An increase in these symptoms after contact with animals or being outside near plants and ﬂowers.
Only a doctor can tell if your baby really has allergies or asthma, because many of the symptoms are similar to those we normally attribute to a cold, respiratory congestion, or other normal childhood conditions, like teething. If you suspect that your baby may have either condition, it’s significant to talk to your doctor about your concerns.
14- Snoring and Sleep Apnea
You better check for snoring and sleap apnea if you have a crying baby in sleep.
- If your baby is a very restless, noisy sleeper; breathes through his mouth; and snores or snorts loudly, she may be suffering from sleep apnea.
Apnea means “absence of breath.” The most disturbing symptom of this sleep disorder is that the sleeper actually stops breathing for up to thirty seconds, occasionally longer.
- This is very frightening for a parent to witness and should be taken very seriously, but in general, it is not life threatening and can be treated.
The main causes of sleap apnea include:
- A narrow throat or airway.
- Enlarged tonsils or lymph nodes.
- Facial abnormalities.
if snoring is loud or is combined with the other symptoms, apnea could be the problem.
Conversely, not all babies with narrow airways, enlarged tonsils, or excess weight have sleep apnea.
- Untreatedapnea can cause heart problems and high blood pressure, in addition to signiﬁcant sleep deprivation.
Check Your Baby for Sleep Apnea
All parents should check their sleeping babies from time to time. In a quiet room, your baby’s breathing should be barely audible; it should be through his nose and appear effortless and regular. (This does not hold true if your baby has a cold or stuffy nose, although it’s important to know that children with sleep apnea often have exaggerated symptoms when they have colds.)
15- Night Terrors
Night terrors are seen most often in preschoolers and early school-aged children. They may occur in toddlers, but they are hardly ever seen in babies.
- During a night terror, a baby can cry or scream and thrashes around the bed. Her eyes are usually wide open and her facial expression is strange.
Episodes of night terrors last:
- On average, between 5 and 30 minutes.
- It tends to occur early in the night, and may recur several times in the same night.
- After an episode is over, the baby will probably calm down—if she has awoken—and fall back to sleep.