Advice? My baby is a terrible sleeper

My kid’s five and a half months old, and has screaming fits almost every time he’s put down for a nap, nightly drama about bedtime, and wakes every two hours or less all night.

In fact, he’s crying right now.

He can (on his best days) cry for only about five minutes about napping, and twenty at bedtime. He needs to sleep every hour and a half, and he sleeps for forty minutes. On his worst days, he cries for an hour and a half before falling asleep, in spite of lots of tired signs (ear pulling, rubbing eyes, yawning). He frequently wakes up still rubbing his eyes, i.e. still tired. I don’t expect him to sleep through the night (although it would be nice), but I think his frequent night waking makes him tired during the day, which makes it harder to fall asleep, which makes him crankier… argh.
Right now the only two things which can put him to sleep at all are nursing (sometimes) and crying it out, which is supposed to eventually teach them to fall asleep on their own, yes? Except it hasn’t. He still cries and cries. I’m cosleeping with him at night because it was killing me to get up all the time. He has a crib but it’s in our room- we’re in a one bedroom apartment.

We’re considering a sleep psychologist, but they’re expensive. I know, I can’t put a price on sleep blah blah, but it’s still expensive, I’m on sixty percent of normal salary, and I’m looking for any alternative.

Any advice?

I was going to recommend sleeping with him, but I see you’re doing that. Keep doing it. Don’t listen to people who say it’s dangerous; it’s not. (Unless you’re on drugs or something.)

This sounds horrible and you’re going to think I’m unsympathetic, but you’re probably just going to have to wait it out. “It’s a phase” is something I rebelled against when I was a new mother (“My child is not like all those other kids!”) … but honestly, they don’t do the same thing forever. He’ll grow, get a little more weight on him, move to the next milestone, cut that tooth … whatever it is that’s going on with him now will resolve itself and then you’ll be on to the next thing to perplex you.

Credentials: I’ve had four children and was mother-second-in-command to my twin baby sisters, born when I was 17.

Disclaimer: I don’t know your baby and there could be something medically wrong. Have you discussed it with your pediatrician?

Not yet. I’m going to make an appointment. Unfortunately, he’s been doing this since he was six weeks old. I’m sure he’ll eventually grow out of it (although I know a woman with a toddler who wakes every hour. Ugh). He’s not teething yet.

I think he’s got enough weight to be able, technically, to sleep for longer. He’s about eighteen pounds. Bigger than some toddlers around here.

It might be a ‘just wait it out’ problem (and no, I don’t think you’re unsympathetic), but he acts so tired- that worries me. Especially since it’s been going on for months.

Aside from the sleep problem he appears perfectly healthy (and enormous), smiley, active, and really, I think he only ever cries because of naps. Aside from this he’s a really good baby. The ‘aside from’ is huge, though.

My first son was a terrible sleeper. I was frustrated and sleep deprived because he slept at most for two hours at a time, and would be up for at least four hours between those two hour blocks.

All the so-called normals for babies did not fit him. There were many times I would cry along with him because I was so tired and so frustrated.

When I had my second son, he slept all the time, exactly as all the baby books say babies should.

I’ve come to realize I just had two very different children. The older one never has been much for sleeping and still gets by (and thrives) on such a small amount of sleep I know I would be insane if it were me getting so little. The younger one sleeps a lot–like 10 hours a day.

All of that is no comfort or help to you except to say you may have a baby like my older son–not much need for sleep and very unhappy with the whole process :frowning:

I will say when the older one got a bit older and could understand me, I would let him know he needed a quiet time (a nap was right out). I gave up insisting he sleep, so he could sit quietly in his room looking at books. Really I needed that quiet time to catch up on my sleep.

Sympathy, but no good advice, I am afraid.

Is this your first baby?

Feel free to take him to the doctor. Don’t be surprised if the doctor says that as long as he is otherwise healthy, he will out grow it. You mention that he is big for his age. Possibly he has grown to the point where he can keep himself awake longer than most babies do. That means he can also learn to put himself to sleep. Does he ever fall asleep on his own?

Shodan, father of two, but neither get out of bed before noon

The only thing I can suggest is try getting him to sleep earlier - before the obvious sleepy signs begin. Colin is 4 1/2 months, and once he’s yawning and rubbing his eyes, I know I’m in for a fight. The thing that works best for him is basically sensory deprivation. I swaddle him in a blanket and go into our bathroom with the light off and the exhaust fan on. And then I bounce and rock and sway and swing while "hush"ing right next to his ear. Sometimes it takes two minutes, sometimes it takes twenty. When he’s finally calmed down, we leave the bathroom and then snuggle and/or nurse to sleep.

The book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Mark Weissbluth has some good information in it about how much sleep children need at different stages in life. He’s a proponent of cry-it-out, which I am not, but the information itself is good. As for getting a child to sleep, we used the book “No-Cry Sleep Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley for our first son. We coslept with him until he was a year old and then transitioned him to a crib. He STILL wakes up at least once a night, and he’s 25 months.

Good luck!

How’s the teenage humiliation going, Shodan? :smiley: I loved your thread.

It is our first baby. I know I’m lucky that he doesn’t stay awake when he wakes in the night. I think I would have whapped him with a hatchet before now. He might be big enough to stay up longer, but he definitely gets tired and cranky around the hour and a half mark, every time.

He does put himself to sleep, but only after frantic crying for (usually) long periods.

Middlebro hated going to sleep when he was a bit older because he’d figured out the world went on without him and he didn’t want to miss anything.

Littlebro was a “morse sleeper” for all his first year. Then when he grew more stable patterns, he turned out to be a late sleeper (still is), which was a huge blow to my parents’ pride, as they’d been thinking that the reason myself and Middlebro fell asleep so fast when ordered into bed was “discipline.” No, it was that we’re both early folk.

The Nephew was a “morse sleeper” for about 9 months; then he lived on an “early” pattern for about 15 months. He almost wasn’t able to: he cooed to himself when he was falling asleep, like his Dad; since this behavior was unknown to his maternal family, they’d hear him and think he was calling them :smack: Then Christmas rolled around and during two weeks of late nights he found his true calling as his mother’s son: he’s definitely a late sleeper. They’re now expecting a girl come September; Middlebro bets she’s going to be an early sleeper just to throw everybody out of whack. I’ve suggested splitting the kids’ bed-and-wake care between late-sleeper SiL and early-sleeper Middlebro along “natural sleep” lines, but apparently this is unacceptable.

Ideas, not many really. All I can send is sympathy, best wishes and an assurance that little folks eventually do learn to sleep for longer periods.

I wouldn’t know the first thing about baby care, but this is from a very reputable source, my grandma. She is famed for her knack with infants and pets (she trained her cat to go on the toilet, turn the light off/on at bedtime/in the morning, and follow various other telepathic commands :D), and she has lent a helping hand in raising many babies in our extended family. She says that she got me and my sister to sleep by doing the following: saving time for a bath right before bedtime, making it as blissfully drowse inducing as possible (nicely warm water, letting us spend energy splashing around as long as we want, give us little baby massages, etc), and then feeding us right afterward. The combination of glowing and refreshed body and full stomach should be enough knock him right out. The key thing is your son shouldn’t be lying in his crib waiting for sleep, he should be out while you’re taking him there. Good luck, and here’s to many well rested nights in your very near future! cheers

The teenage humiliation is proceeding. She got straight A’s on her report card for the fifth year running and her driver’s license, so it is working.

All I can offer is support - it does get better, eventually, although it never seems like it will at 2:00 in the morning after an hour of crying.

What I was asking is if he ever falls asleep outside his crib - in the car (if you have one) or while you are carrying him someplace, or like that. I know there are devices you can get to duplicate the noise and vibration of a car, but I suspect most of the success parents encounter is mostly due to tincture of time rather than anything specific to the gadget.

You say he seems to need sleep every hour and a half or so. What happens if you keep him up for three hours straight? Especially if you can take him outside - fresh air is good for producing sleep, IME. Do you have a front pack or something similar? Would he sleep, or at least be quiet, if you carry him around in that?

This is often like colic - there is nothing to be done but let him grow out of it.

The only other suggestion is to see if you can arrange it such that you can take an uninterrupted nap. Have your husband take Jr. out of the apartment for a couple of hours, if possible. If both you and the baby are exhausted, things are a lot more difficult.


If he’s sleeping with you in your room but in his crib, take him into your bed. We fought and fought that and for what? We gave in eventually and slept with him for three years. Now he’s walking around with his butt crack hanging out of his underwear and giving us updates about the wrestling draft. We’d love another night of our baby in our bed!

Does he have some self-comforting stuff like a binky or blanket? If not, try it.

Both of my kids were horrible, horrible sleepers (my son was the worst I’ve ever heard of; led to a truly frightening sleep-deprivation situation with me). I wound up Ferberizing him at 3 months - far earlier than the book suggests actually but it was very, very necessary for us.

“Ferberizing” is a term used to refer to teaching a child to fall asleep on his/her own, at various ages, with periodic reassurances. The book. .

It’s somewhat controversial especially with the “baby cries because he NEEDS you” line of thinking (which is my own natural tendency). However my child’s temperament improved DRAMATICALLY within a week of starting this - poor kid didn’t know how to fall asleep, so he was exhausted, which made it harder to fall asleep, which made him crankier, which made it harder to fall asleep…

Aside from that, you’ve got TONS of sympathy from me. Even with Ferberizing, both of my kids had bad sleep problems. My son slept through the night from about 4 months to 10 months… then quit doing it. He was back to 2-3 times a night of waking. The only “good” thing at that point was we could go reassure him, then he’d usually go back to sleep. He didn’t start routinely sleeping through the night until he was 2.5 (and since then he’s been fine).

My daughter was better at sleeping at first, then decide sleep was for fools. She had at least one wakeup a night until she was something like 4.

If nursing helps, what about formula? It’s heavier and fills them up more. With all our children, we’ve seen marked differences in how they sleep from breast milk compared to formula. Even our nightmare second child was much better with formula. We make the last meal of the night formula centered. If they are hungry enough they get a little breast milk first, but we make sure that they will get a full bottle of formula. It helped a lot for us.

When I was a baby, I absolutely refused to sleep on my back (still do!). I know that with the SIDS issue, you are no longer supposed to put a baby on its stomach. However, I would only settle when placed on my stomach. If placed on my back, it took forever for me to fall asleep, and I woke up frequently during the night. Again, this is definitely not standard MD recommended advice, so talk to your pediatrician about it before you try it. I also second Shodan’s advice about getting the kid outside. Exposure to sun can be really important for regulating sleep appropriately.
good luck!

I’m certainly no expert so take all of this with a huge grain of salt, but my baby girl is 7 months old so all the info and advice in the books and from the websites is fresh in my mind. Standard disclaimers apply: all children are different, what works for one may not work for another, he may just have to grow out of it, etc.

These are just some ideas/suggestions that popped into my head when I read your post:

It sounds like you’ve got a vicious cycle going. Your son isn’t sleeping for any length of time, which is depriving him of a full sleep-cycle, which is making him cranky and exhausted, which makes it hard for him to fall asleep, which makes it hard for him to stay asleep, rinse and repeat. He certainly sounds as if he’s big/old enough for him to be sleeping at least mostly through the night, so I would concentrate on that first, then work on getting him on a regular sleep schedule during the day. Tricks/possible ideas to achieve that:

  1. Is it possible he’s hungry? Have you started solid foods yet? Of course, check with your pediatrician, but a lot of babies can start solids as young as four months. I also like the formula idea someone mentioned. Also, some swear by putting a little rice cereal in the bottle. (You’ll have to have a special nipple.) At 18 pounds you’re obviously not starving him :wink: but maybe he’s just needing something a little more substantial.

  2. Do you follow a regular go-to-bed routine? For my baby, it’s bath, bottle, and bed, like clockwork. You can do whatever you like in your ritual of course (a lot of people add reading a book in there), but I would suggest whatever you do, make them soothing and quiet activities. As much in the dark, if possible. Babies thrive on routines.

  3. I have to second what someone upthread mentioned–try putting him down earlier than you think is necessary. If he’s usually giving sleepy signals at 7:30, try putting him down at 7:00. A baby who is over-tired is much harder to put to sleep. Whenever possible, put him down happy!

  4. You mentioned you’re co-sleeping. I have no problems with that theoretically, and for those it works for I say great! But you might at least consider if it’s causing any problems. Do you or your husband snore? Restless sleepers? If your boy is a light sleeper you might be waking him up.

  5. Again on the subject of keeping him asleep if he’s a light sleeper. Have you tried some kind of white noise to block out household noises? We use a humidifier, but you can also buy CDs. We also have a CD of lullabies that plays while she goes to sleep. Some babies also like movement while they sleep (like in the car or on top of the dryer)–I think you can buy some kind of device that will make the mattress vibrate.

  6. One thing that I’m still having trouble drilling into my husband’s head, is that when it’s bedtime, it’s bedtime. There should be no talking and certainly no playing. In the middle of the night, everything is very quiet, quick and business-like. Waking up in the middle of the night is not fun time, it’s sleepy-time, and that’s it. No extra kisses, no more cuddling than necessary.

  7. Is he too hot or too cold? Just something else to consider.

  8. Does he have a pacifier? If not, something to try.

  9. I know I might get crucified for this, but…is he rolling over yet? Have you tried putting him on his tummy to sleep? I know you’re not supposed to, but…a lot of people do, and if your sanity’s at stake…

All this said, you definitely have my most heartfelt sympathies. I’m sure you’ve considered/tried most of the stuff I’ve listed, but hopefully I maybe hit on something you haven’t tried. If it helps any, my daughter for a long time was only taking 45-minute naps during the day, then when she hit six months she miraculously switched to taking fewer, longer naps. Sunday she slept for three hours! So hang in there–that’s a very common problem, and a lot of babies outgrow it at 6 months, so you may just have a few weeks to go.

Oh, thought of one other thing…sometimes my baby sleeps best in her car seat. Especially when she’s in that over-tired, hysterical crying place, we pop her in the car seat and take her for a drive until she’s asleep. Then, we just take her straight from the car and plop her, still in the car-seat, into the crib. When she was newborn, this is how we first got her to sleep through the night. Use caution, though…you don’t want to make a car-ride a regular crutch. Especially with gas prices being what they are! But it’s something to try as a last resort.

Number Two Nephew went through a long, long period of interrupted sleep, crying when put down, exhausted yet irritable, etc. “Colicky baby” was the first diagnosis, but it turned out the poor kid had acid reflux – every time he got laid down, it woke him up. It was a good six months before the real problem was diagnosed, and they got some medication for him. He’s now 2.5, and it is not a problem for him, although his wee little sister suffers the same (but it got caught much earlier, since they were watching for it).

Having him checked out by his pediatrician would definately be a good thing.

It sounds like you’ve discovered swaddling, which is great, but I will also make this suggestion: if you have one of those Asian-themed carrying pouches (they can be worn with the baby on the front or on your back) you could try carrying your baby for half an hour before bedtime. Our little guy is guaranteed to be out like a light after 30 minutes on Mom’s back.

Good luck… I hope it will get better.

BTW, I think the pouch is called a “Kozy Karrier.”

Oh, Lissla, doesn’t it suck sometimes? I don’t have any real advice, just sympathy – sleep is still our biggest issue with Jonah. I agree with whoever said to try putting him down before he shows signs of being sleepy. If he starts rubbing his eyes at 90 minutes after he wakes up, try starting the sleep routine at 75 or 80 minutes.

Other than that, the only thing I can recommend is very general: read a lot of different baby-sleep books, and try stuff. Even though our situation is still not great (he’s up at least 3 times a night, and getting him to sleep takes 15 minutes most of the time, if not longer), it’s better than it was – and we feel better about it because we tried a couple of things. This sounds dumb, but we took (some) control instead of just waiting for him to magically start sleeping, and it really helped our outlook.

So get some books and try a some of the things they recommend, and really give it a good shot. If it works for you, you’ll know, and if it doesn’t, you’ll know that, too. If something feels wrong to you, don’t do it – you know your baby better than the authors of the books!

And check out – look through the archives, and read the comments. You’ll find lots of good advice there!

On preview: I agree with everything PeskiPiksi says. Especially the tummy-sleeping thing – Jonah never slept well on his back, so we talked with his doctor about putting him down on his tummy, and it made a big difference! We started doing it when he was… almost 5 months old, I think. He was trying to roll over, and had very good neck control, and used a pacifier. And, of course, he had no other risk factors. This doesn’t mean I didn’t worry about it, but…

Not a parent. All advice is worth exactly what you paid for it.

Could he still be hungry? I know, you’re breastfeeding. But (even though he’s so big) maybe he’s waking up because his stomache is growling. Is he too young for a little cereal and formula or pumped breast milk? Maybe a bottle of pumped breastmilk will give you an good idea of how much he’s consuming at onen feeding.

Maybe he’s sensitive to noises that wake him. Can you put a some sort of white-noise generator/nature sounds in his room to drown out the outside noises?

What about motion? My mother used to put my brother on top of the washing machine in his bouncer. The vibration would lull him right out. Or rocking - rocking in a quiet dark room.

As much of a regular schedule as you can get, too. Hopefully his body will start getting in loop.

Oh - is it possible to take him to a Mother’s Day Out type of program, then going home and getting some sleep yourself? The more wound up you get, the more he feeds off that. Getting some rest yourself would help you both.

As I said, I’m not a mother, just an aunt. Good luck!