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8 reasons your baby might be refusing sleep

Viva Bianca

Viva Bianca

Viva is a writer, editor and mum (AKA professional snack bitch) – and not in that order. With a background in film, feminism and culture journalism, Viva brings her curiosity for storytelling to her role as Culture & Lifestyle Editor at Kiindred, and loves offering advice and tit-bits to other parents - it takes a village!
Created on Oct 22, 2023 · 7 mins read
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Let’s face it, when you become a parent there’s little that dictates your life more than sleep. Not only do baby nap times provide parents with those cherished gaps in the day to get across housework, catch up on admin, prepare a meal or even catch some zzz’s themselves… baby’s nighttime sleep directly affects their parent’s sleep – and consequently their wellbeing. If you know, you know.

If your baby is struggling to settle for naps or bedtime, refusing naps completely or is a sleeping beauty during the day – and a party kid at night, waking you up countless times throughout the night – you’re not alone. Babies and sleep remain one of the biggest conundrums for new parents, and most parents have been exactly where you are right now.

In partnership with H&M, we asked mothercraft nurse (or as we like to call her, baby whisperer) Chris Minogue her top reasons why your baby might be refusing to sleep.

1. Sleep associations

Routine, routine, routine. Establishing a nighttime routine with your baby will, sooner or later, set you up for sleep success. Beginning a nighttime routine at around 6 pm can help your baby wind down for bedtime by around 7 pm. For example, a bath, followed by a gentle massage on the changing table, getting them dressed in their pyjamas and then reading a bedtime story, can help establish sleep associations for your baby.

The same principle applies for daytime naps; while the routine before a daytime nap will be shorter than your nighttime routine, the repetition of these rituals establishes predictability for your baby. If they are older than 7 months, a favourite soft toy or comforter can also signal sleep time.

2. Is your baby overtired – or not tired enough?

There is a fine line between a baby who is not yet ready to go to sleep and a baby who has been pushed beyond their limits. Observing your baby’s rhythms can help prevent an under-tired and overtired baby (see below). As your baby grows, their awake windows will expand and so it’s important to make sure you’re offering them adequate playtime and then getting them down for sleep before they’ve become over-stimulated. It’s a fine line!

3. Are you observing your baby’s rhythms?

A baby under 3 months old needs a lot of sleep – and so will sleep, quite effortlessly, most of the time. Babies over 3 months need less sleep than newborns but still need some naps throughout the day.

‘Awake windows’ are the length of time your baby is awake for between their naps. Understanding this window of time, based on their age, is one of the key factors in settling your baby for sleep. New parents are often unaware of how frequently these windows change in those early weeks and months… but being across the rhythms associated with your baby’s age can be a game changer.

For instance, while a 3 – 6 week old is too young to have a predictable routine, introducing a gentle rhythm can set parent and baby up for the next stage. At this age, your baby’s awake windows will be between 1hr 15mins – 1hr 30mins, including the feed.

By 6 – 12 weeks old, a consistent bath and bedtime ritual is a nice way to start forming a gentle and consistent rhythm. Their awake cycle will be between 1hr 15 mins – 1hr 30 mins.

You may start to see more predictability in your baby at around 12 weeks. So, when your baby is 3 – 5 months old, following a daily rhythm will help you find a flow in your day to ensure their needs are met. Their awake window will be around 1hr 30mins.

By 6 – 7 months your baby’s awake window will be around 1hr 45min – 2hrs. A lot of people think their baby will magically start sleeping once they begin solids, but that isn’t always the case. Understanding how day sleeps can impact nights is key!

Heading out and about becomes a whole lot easier once your baby is able to stay awake for longer. By 7 – 12 months your baby’s awake window will now be between 2hr – 2hrs 30mins.

By observing and reinforcing your baby’s daily rhythm you will develop a sense of control in knowing what to expect.

4. Set up a sleep sanctuary 

Once you know your baby’s rhythms and are aware of their awake window you can plan out your day. During the day you might coordinate car travel with a baby nap, for instance. But be mindful of the length of the car journey and whether it will allow your baby to have a deep and uninterrupted sleep.

If car or public transport travel is proving to be a hindrance to your baby’s sleep, you might want to consider leaving for your outing before or after your baby’s nap. Staying at home for their naps is often the best way to establish healthy sleep rhythms for your baby.

The optimal sleeping environment is ‘calm, cool and quiet’. To create this ideal sleeping environment for your baby you might want to consider blackout blinds, a sound machine that omits white noise or running water (river, ocean, rain) and calming, sleep-inducing scents like lavender in a diffuser or room spray.

Tip: Don’t forget to check what they’re wearing – and how many layers. Is it appropriate for the current temperature? Always make sure you dress your baby in natural, breathable fabrics to ensure they don’t overheat.

Like us, babies sleep better when they feel comfy and cozy. Perhaps opt for garments made from organic cotton. Since it’s more breathable than synthetic fabrics, we recommend organic cotton clothing for all babies. H&M’s baby clothing range is mostly made from 100% organic cotton.


5. Are they teething?

This too shall pass. Drooling and excessive chewing on toys, teethers, spoons and even their own hands are all signs that your baby is most likely teething. Teething tends to exacerbate fussiness in babies and may well interrupt their sleep. Offer your little one extra cuddles and comfort during this time and remember that as hard as it feels right now, it won’t last.

6. Are they going through a nap transition?

Sometimes the reason your little one is fighting naps (or suddenly taking shorter ones) is that their sleep needs are changing. This is often a cause for stress in parents – just when you thought you had it down, the rug is pulled from beneath you! But there’s a good chance your baby is ready to drop a nap. Observe their daily rhythm and decide if it’s time to transition.

7. They don’t know how to self-settle 

Self-settling or self-soothing is an important skill for your baby to learn. Newborn babies are sent to sleep by their bodies with relative ease. But as they grow and become more alert, self-settling comes into play.

Observing the difference between a grizzle and a cry can help your baby learn to self-settle. While it’s not suggested to leave your baby crying alone in their cot for any meaningful period of time, a grizzle or a squawk can often be your baby’s way of learning to settle themselves. It’s OK to give them the time and space to develop this skill.

8. Is something annoying them?

Every parent has at some point thrown their hands in the air, unable to get their baby to sleep, only to discover a soiled nappy. Like us adults, itchy and irritable fabric and being too hot or too cold can be reasons your baby is not sleeping. Even an overly hard mattress can be enough to annoy a tired baby!

If you’re currently in the eye of the storm – overwhelmed and underslept, try taking a few moments to breathe. Then re-read this checklist and, one by one, try and apply each suggestion/question to your baby and their current sleep situation. This will pass. You’ve got this. Sooner or later, your baby will sleep.

This is a paid partnership between Kiindred x H&M

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