Baby Suddenly Crying in Sleep: Causes & Ways to Soothe Him

Baby Crying in Sleep – Causes and Ways to Soothe

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Gunjan Baweja (Paediatrician)
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Every parent is wired to respond to their child’s cry, although each parent may have a different way of soothing their child. Some try skin-to-skin contact, while some try to make soothing sounds or gentle rocking movements to calm the baby down. There are also moms who may try breastfeeding in case their baby is crying due to hunger. This works in most cases, but what about the times when babies cry out in their sleep and appear to be distressed? Finding out what causes your baby to cry is the first step in solving the problem. We shall talk about this and more in the article below.

Is It Normal for Babies to Cry While Sleeping?

Babies crying before bedtime or when they are feeling really sleepy is quite common. It may be unsettling for a lot of parents, but it is really nothing to be concerned about. What parents need to understand is that the sleep pattern of a baby is different from that of an adult.

Babies spend most of their sleep in the REM state, which is the sleeping state in which dreams occur. During this time, twitching or fluttering of the eyelids may be noticed. Their breathing may also seem a bit irregular, they may whimper every now and then (even cry out!), and it will seem like they are about to wake up.

Experts say that it is very common for children to cry softly and for a small amount of time between the ages of four months to a year old. While some babies do outgrow this behaviour naturally, there are some who will require a change in their routine to sleep soundly through the night and to develop healthier sleeping habits.

Why Do Babies Cry in Their Sleep?

Babies are still learning how to express themselves, and crying is a way of communication for them. Some causes could be those that make the baby physically uncomfortable, and hence, he won’t restrict his cries to a simple whimper. Here are some of the reasons why a baby cries in sleep:

1. Dirty Diapers

This is easy enough to figure out and is what most parents will think to check first. Dirty diapers are not comfortable to wear, and the only way your baby can tell you he needs a change is by crying.

2. Hunger

Tiny tummies cannot hold much at a time, and your baby will get hungry quite often and require many feedings. If you notice your child whimpering, but he is not fully awake, it is most likely that he is hungry.

3. Temperature Problems

Your baby may start to feel hot or cold during the night and will need your help in sorting himself out. If the temperature changes, your baby will become uncomfortable and will cry out for you. Do not bundle up your baby too much if it is not very cold, as this may make him more uncomfortable than cosy.

Baby wrapped heavily

4. Needs Attention

Your baby may simply cry for some cuddles and the security that he feels when you are with him. Babies need to feel your touch and know that you are around them frequently, as there is so much that is new to them. Your little one may cry in his sleep to get your attention and bring you physically close to him.

5. Nightmares, Fear, or Anxiety

Babies are still new to this world, and they are experiencing several things for the first time. Like adults, they also process things in their sleep in the form of dreams. Therefore, it is natural for them to experience fear and anxiety due to nightmares. Can infants have nightmares? They most certainly can, but nobody is sure what they have nightmares of.

6. Overstimulation or Overtiredness

Babies can become overstimulated during the day, especially with new experiences and activities. This overstimulation may carry over into their sleep, causing them to cry. Similarly, overtiredness can also contribute to nighttime crying as a tired baby may struggle to settle into a deep sleep.

How to Soothe Babies While They Are Sleeping?

Every parent has different ways of soothing their babies when they cry. If your baby is fussing about a bit, it could mean that he is transitioning from one sleep state to the other. In such a case, it is better to first wait and see if your baby needs any comforting at all. If you do decide that you need to intervene, here are some common tried-and-tested methods to prevent your baby from crying in sleep suddenly.

1. Rock-a-Bye Baby

Hold your baby close to your body and move back and forth to comfort your little one. Whether you choose to rock your baby in your arms or use a rocking chair instead, the movement will certainly help soothe your little one into slumber.

2. Wrap Him Up

The womb is not a very spacious place, and your baby is used to having something wrapped around him all the time. This is why babies feel more comforted when they are swaddled or wrapped up close to you. Try tucking your baby in more comfortably to help him maintain his uninterrupted sleep.

3. Temperature

Your baby may feel cold or hot during the night if the temperature changes, so one of the things you will need to check is if he is covered appropriately depending on the climate. If you live in very cold climates or if it is winter, you will need to layer your little one to keep him warm. If the temperature is warm, get rid of some layers and let him sleep in a cotton onesie.

4. Hush Hush

This may seem surprising, but the womb is not very silent. Your baby is used to hearing all the noises that take place inside your body; so sleeping in silence may actually be uncomfortable for your child. Making hushing sounds should help to soothe your baby.

Making hushing sounds to soothe baby

5. Go With the Flow

If you can, play soft soundtracks of waves on a beach, a waterfall, or rainfall so that your baby can listen to all the whooshing and calming sounds that will help him feel more at home. Alternatively, white noise, like certain gentle sounds that appliances make, can also help your baby relax.

6. Pacify

Pacifiers can work wonders on babies who have a stronger need to suckle. They usually lose interest and dependence on the pacifier by the age of seven months, but experts say that it is unlikely to harm their development even if they do prefer to hold onto it for longer.

7. Stroke of Luck

Skin-to-skin contact is very comforting for your baby as it gives him a feeling of security, knowing you are there with him. Keep stroking your baby’s skin lightly until you feel he is sleeping peacefully.

Parents also wonder if they should let the paediatrician know about the baby crying in the sleep. Read below to know when you should consult the doctor.

When to Consult a Paediatrician?

Usually, there is no need to consult a paediatrician if your baby cries during sleep a couple of times. But, if you have tried every trick in the book and you still see your baby crying when asleep, you probably need to see a doctor to check if there’s something wrong. Always remember an inconsolable baby even after doing everything above needs attention and you must try to find the cause or consult your Pediatrician. Your baby may just be teething or may have an illness, both of which will need a paediatrician’s advice.

Baby at the doctor

FAQs

1. Should You Wake Your Baby When They Cry in Their Sleep?

It depends on the age of the baby and the reason for the infant crying in sleep. Newborns may need feeding, changing, or soothing. As they get older, it’s generally recommended to let them self-soothe unless there’s a specific need.

2. Why Does My Baby Cry in Her Sleep and Then Stop?

Babies can cry in their sleep due to various reasons such as dreams, growth spurts, discomfort, or hunger. They may stop on their own as they transition between sleep cycles or if the issue resolves.

3. When Will Your Baby Outgrow Night Time Crying?

The frequency and intensity of night-time crying typically decrease as the baby grows. Most babies start to sleep more soundly around 3-6 months, but individual variations exist. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help promote better sleep habits.

Making sure to have a fixed routine and looking after the health of your child will definitely have a big impact on your baby getting a peaceful and uninterrupted sleep. Try to develop a bedtime routine for your child and keep any waking moments during the night time quiet and short, so that your baby quickly associates night with sleep.

References/Resources:

1. Why does my baby cry in their sleep? NCT; https://www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/crying/why-does-my-baby-cry-their-sleep

2. Night Terrors; Nemours Kids Health; https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/terrors.html

3. Hiscock. H, Davey. M; Sleep disorders in infants and children (Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health); Wiley Online Library; https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jpc.12033; December 2012

4. Mindell. J, Leichman. E, Composto. J, et al.; Development of infant and toddler sleep patterns: real-world data from a mobile application (Journal of Sleep Research); Wiley Online Library; https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jsr.12414; June 2016

5. Understanding Children’s Sleep Habits; SleepForKids.org; https://sleepforkids.org/html/habits.html

6. Stages of Newborn Sleep; American Academy of Pediatrics; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Phases-of-Sleep.aspx

7. Kids and Sleep; Nemours Kids Health; https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sleep.html

Also Read:

How to Make a Baby Sleep at Night
Sleeping Position of Baby – Which is Safe?
Sleep Training For Babies – Best Methods & Tips

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