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Baby Cries In Sleep: What To Know And How To Soothe Them

baby cries in sleep in crib

Sleeping like a baby doesn’t always mean you get a full night of rest. Unfortunately, crying in their sleep is normal for babies.

We know you’re hoping for a quiet night once bedtime rolls around, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Hang in there, parents, because just like everything else in your baby’s life, this is a passing phase!

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know when your baby cries in their sleep.

Baby Cries In Sleep: The Science Behind It

 twins sleeping in crib

Babies cry in their sleep for many different reasons, but it’s important to start with understanding your baby’s sleep patterns and schedule before you can determine the reason.

Newborns, for example, sleep 16 to 20 hours per day, and they wake up every three to four hours to eat, even at night, until they’ve reached their birth weight.

In addition, nursing babies digest breast milk differently than formula-fed babies, so they may wake up and eat more during the late night (or early morning!) hours. But by three months, your baby can sleep about eight to nine hours at night with a few naps during the day.

Their long nighttime stretch may have a few interruptions that cause them to cry. If this happens, you may wonder if it has something to do with their crib. The first order of business is to check the quality of their crib mattress.

Our Crib Mattress is known to give babies a safer, more comfortable sleep. If you’re already using a Newton Baby Crib Mattress, check out some other possible reasons for your baby’s nighttime tears.

Switching Sleep Stages

Babies switch from rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. The REM stage is known as “active sleep,” and NREM is known as “quiet sleep.”

Your newborn will spend 50 % of their nighttime sleep in the REM stage and the other 50 % in the NREM stage. It’s during the REM stage that you might hear your baby cry in the middle of the night or move around and whimper.

That being said, the reason your baby cries in their sleep might be because they’re switching sleep stages. Fortunately, these stages change as they grow.

For example, as your baby gets older, they won’t spend the same amount of time in each sleep phase as they did when they were a newborn. Instead of spending 50% in the REM stage (which is when you would hear your baby crying and whimpering), they might spend 30%.

This means that, as your baby grows, they won’t cry as much in their sleep since their sleep patterns and phases are changing. There’s light at the end of the tunnel! You will get some nighttime sleep...eventually.

Uncomfortable, Sick, Or Hungry

There’s always the chance that your baby is uncomfortable (diaper change, anyone?), not feeling well, or hungry.

Newborns especially tend to wake up a lot in the middle of the night because they’re hungry (or just need to be held).

Separation Anxiety

Sometimes your baby just misses you and cries out for you to come be with them. Or they thought about you while they were sleeping and started crying because they wanted you to hold them.

This doesn’t happen too much in younger babies, but it’s pretty common in babies around nine months old. This could also be labeled as a type of “nightmare” for infants, being away from their parents.

Sleep Regression

When your baby masters a new milestone, like sitting up or crawling, they might experience sleep regression (a disruption in their sleep cycle). This is because their brain activity increases during this time.

Sleep regression happens around four months, six months, eight months, 10 months, and 12 months — and that’s just during their first year.

Due to this disruption and increased brain activity, their REM and NREM sleep changes, which might make your baby cry in their sleep.

Baby Cries In Sleep: Nightmare Or Night Terrors?

 baby sleeping with a pacifier

Many parents wonder if their baby could be experiencing nightmares or night terrors that cause them to cry in their sleep.

It’s really unclear when nightmares start, but they usually occur between the ages of two and four. Night terrors, on the other hand, could start happening in babies as early as 18 months.

However, there are always exceptions to the rule. If you think your baby crying in their sleep is due to nightmares or night terrors, reach out to their doctor to get more information on this topic.

How To Soothe Your Baby When They Cry In Their Sleep

 Mom soothing her newborn after baby cries in sleep

When your baby cries in their sleep, don’t rush right in. Instead, give them a few beats (if it even takes that long) to attempt to self-soothe.

However, sometimes it can be hard to tell if your little one is actually awake or asleep when they’re changing from one sleep stage to the other, so always pay attention to their cry.

As your baby grows, you’ll begin to recognize their hungry and sick cries and learn to tell them apart from their uncomfortable or transitioning cries.

Remember, babies who are wet, uncomfortable, hungry, or sick will continue crying. Use your best judgment and check your baby’s temperature and crib.

Cuddle With Your Baby

Sometimes your baby just needs middle-of-the-night snuggle time with mom or dad, especially if they’re having separation anxiety because of a change in their daytime schedule (like mom or dad going back to work).

You can also rub their back or belly to help soothe them.

Adjust Their Swaddle

Your little one might squirm out of their swaddle and become uncomfortable while they’re sleeping. Simply adjust their swaddle blanket so they’re tight and cozy in it.

(Expert tip: Our Organic Swaddle Blankets keep your baby comfortable and at the perfect temperature, so they won’t start crying in their sleep from a sweaty back.)

It’s also important to remember to only swaddle babies younger than four months old. At this age, babies tend to start rolling over, which makes swaddling them an unsafe sleep practice.

Ways To Help Your Baby Sleep Better

 baby cries in sleep while mom lays her down in crib

Use A Sleep Sack

One way you can help your baby sleep better is by using a sleep sack, which is the next step after swaddling.

Sleep sacks keep your baby nestled in but give them more room to move their arms. This is important for when they start rolling over because their arms are free, allowing your little one to push themselves back over.

Keep Their Room Dark

Some babies cry in their sleep because their environment is not to their liking. Specifically, any type of light may startle them while they’re sleeping, causing them to cry.

Set the mood for the night for your little one by closing the door all the way and using a nightlight that gives just the right amount of light so your baby can see their surroundings if they do wake up.

Use A White Noise Machine

Bedtime is often when you are able to get things done around the house, but that’s not always feasible if your baby continually wakes up crying.

Maybe there are older siblings in the house who just make a lot of noise because, well, they’re kids and that’s what kids do. Or possibly your home gets a lot of street noise.

Whatever the case may be, using a sound machine can help block out these noises in the house. Plus, the soothing sounds can help lull your little one back to sleep if their crying wakes them up in the middle of the night.

When To Call The Doctor

If your little one cries in their sleep every now and then, it’s really no cause for concern. However, you know your child best and what’s normal and what’s not.

If your baby has excessive crying at night that disrupts their daytime routine, it could be caused by:

  • Colic
  • Acid reflux
  • Milk allergy
  • An upset tummy (for example, something you ate is bothering their tummy if you’re nursing)

If you suspect any of the causes above or have concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s doctor.

Sleeping Soundly

 baby sleeping on side in crib

We know how important it is for your baby to have healthy sleep patterns and a safe sleeping environment. We also know it can be hard to wake up to your little one crying in their sleep.

Most of the time, there’s no need to rush in to save the day. More than likely, your baby is just changing sleep stages, and it causes more disruption to your sleep than it does to theirs.

However, there are ways you can soothe your little one if they don’t stop crying, and it’s always important to pay attention to their cry. Use your best judgment, and if their cry seems to linger, check their temperature and crib.

Keeping their room dark and using a white noise machine are a couple of great ways to help your baby sleep soundly. And, of course, sleeping on a Newton Baby Crib Mattress gives your baby the best chance of snoozing safely and soundly!

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