When you're a new parent, your number one wish is for your baby to sleep through the night - but what do you do if your baby crying in sleep becomes a common occurrence?
Not only can this be alarming for family members, but starting to cry in the middle of sleep can wake up your little one in the middle of their rest. If your baby cries in sleep, you want answers. And we’ve got them for you.
Don't worry, though, as most of the time your baby will be crying for a reason that isn't serious, and that you'll be able to solve in a few easy steps. So, why do babies cry in their sleep? More specifically, what is the science behind a baby crying in sleep but not awake?
Find out below, along with tips on how to soothe a newborn crying in sleep. First - is this normal, or cause for concern?
Is it normal for babies to cry in their sleep?
It's actually quite common for babies to cry in their sleep. This is because they are still learning to regulate their emotions and may not be able to control their crying reflex. It's also possible that they are experiencing a dream or nightmare. If your baby is crying in their sleep, it's important to try to soothe them and see if they will settle down
That being said, your baby crying in sleep may be normal - but it’s not ideal. You want to know exactly what causes a newborn crying in sleep and you want tips on how to soothe your child so that both of you can get a good night’s sleep.
Don’t stress - we’ll offer insights on how to help if your baby cries in sleep in just a moment. Let’s get to the root of today’s conversation, though - why does my baby cry in her sleep?
Why Do Babies Cry in Their Sleep?
So, why do babies cry in their sleep? Though it may be stressful and feel serious in the moment, the reasoning behind your baby crying in sleep is typically not anything to be worried about.
From standard sleep behavior to typical teething pains, there are plenty of factors that can cause your baby to cry during sleep or wake themselves up crying - and lots of ways to calm them down too!
Common Reasons & Solutions for Baby Crying
Anxiety - Lack of human comfort can cause separation anxiety.
Relax yourself before trying to soothe the baby
Allergies - Common food allergies can cause baby discomfort after feeding
Simply adjust your baby's diet
Discomfort - A myriad of factors can make your baby uncomfortable & lead to crying
Check the Diaper
Gas - Babies sensitive tummies can make gas quite unpleasant
Burp your baby during and after feeding
Hunger - Small baby tummies must be topped up every few hours to be satisfied
Feed baby before they even know they're hungry
Moro Reflex - This activates when your little one is exposed to sudden noises and movements
Avoid loud noises, moving baby too quickly, putting your baby to crib when they are fast asleep
Normal newborn development
Baby crying in sleep is considered normal when they’re only a few weeks old as they adjust to their new sleep patterns. This is because newborns go back and forth between non-rapid eye movement and rapid eye movement (or REM sleep).
When they're in the latter phase, it means that they're dreaming, and that can often come with some noises and maybe a few tears. However, it's nothing to be concerned about, and is similar to an adult talking a little in their sleep - a little strange, but nothing dangerous!
As a parent you want nothing more than for your newborn baby to sleep - so it can be especially frustrating when they get so tired that they struggle to doze off!
When a baby begins crying in their sleep, caregivers may worry that something is wrong. However, in most cases, for babies, crying while asleep is a phase rather than a sign of a serious problem. - Medical News Today
This happens because fatigue can actually cause a stress response in your baby, leading to chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol being released and keeping them alert and stressed when they should be relaxing. This can result in crankiness, sudden movement, a high-pitched cry, and sometimes crying a little after they've started falling asleep.
Transitioning between sleep cycles
When your baby is a newborn, they only have two different stages of sleep, NREM (nonrapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement), with these stages being split 50/50 across a single stretch of sleep.
However, when your baby gets to be a few months older, they'll start experiencing two additional NREM stages as adults do, These stages tend to be lighter, and this means that as your baby adjusts to this, their sleep is more easily disrupted by wakeups and nighttime crying.
Nightmare and Night terrors
Most of us get nightmares from time to time, and your baby is no different - but experiencing them for the very first time can make them much scarier! Bad dreams can start occurring from when your little one is around a year old, as this is when they start to develop more fears and anxieties about the world around them.
Worse still are night terrors, which can take effect from around 24 months or so; your child will remain asleep for these, but they can still result in crying and sudden, frightened movements.
All of us have gone through teething, but as adults, it's hard to remember just how much discomfort it can cause, especially when we were trying to get to sleep. Baby teeth usually start coming in at between 6 and 12 months old, leading to symptoms like red, swollen gums, a slight fever, a hot cheek, and sometimes crying at night.
A sleep regression is a period of disrupted sleep that comes after a stretch of time where your baby is sleeping consistently during naps and through the night.
The main signs are fighting sleep, sleeping for less time at night, and waking up more frequently through the night - often accompanied by crying. Usually, these regressions hit at particular ages like 8 weeks, 4 months, 8 months, and even 18 months as this is when your baby will hit certain developmental milestones. Learn more about the signs of sleep regression in our blog.
If you've started to sleep train your baby, you'll know that it isn't always easy, and one of the main reasons why is that your baby cries in sleep.
This may vary depending on the method you're using - for example, with methods like the Ferber Method and Camping Out, you may experience more periods early on where your baby wakes up upset in the night wanting your attention. You should learn about when to start sleep training newborn babies in our blog first, though.
Knowing the Reasoning Behind Baby Crying in Sleep, What Can You Do to Provide Relief?
It can be exhausting when your baby cries in sleep constantly. It takes a toll on your own wellbeing if you're sleep deprived every morning. But don't worry - there are some simple solutions to almost all of the reasons for baby crying in sleep that will hopefully have your little one sleeping soundly through the night again in no time.
A consistent schedule
Having a consistent schedule is vital when you're facing any kind of sleep problem with your baby, and this schedule should be based on your baby's own behaviors and habits.
For example, if your baby is crying at night because of overtiredness, you should make sure that they aren't staying awake for too long between periods of sleep (newborns can usually only stay awake comfortably for around 90 minutes).
A calming routine
When your little one is having a nightmare or night terror, you might be tempted to wake them up, but this may actually cause them more distress and lose you both more sleep. Instead, you should let them snooze - but that doesn't mean you can't take a preventative approach.
Because these nightmares are often caused by stress, you can try to soothe your baby before bed with a routine that includes a cuddle and a gentle bedtime story.
Nested Bean swaddle
If your little one is crying at night and hasn't started to roll over independently yet, using a weighted swaddle could be the perfect solution. Our Zen Swaddle is gently weighted to mimic your soothing touch, and is perfect for helping a stressed-out baby feel safe and secure at night.
We have other types of swaddles too, including our arms up swaddle (the best transitional swaddle), zipper swaddle, or bamboo swaddle. Browse all our weighted sleepwear to learn more! Or, learn about the sleep sack benefits below for when you make the swaddle transition.
If your baby is a little too old to be swaddled - this is when they've started to roll over by themselves - a sleep sack is a great solution.
The Zen Sack with its weighted pad can provide some of the comforting pressure of swaddling in a way that's safe for older babies, making them feel more snug and safe as they go to sleep independently at night.
Overstimulation can cause stress and nighttime crying in babies, and waking up from a nightmare in a space that they find stressful can make your little one even more upset.
You can combat this by keeping your baby's sleep space free of too much noise - a baby-safe white noise machine can be great for this - and use blackout curtains to block out outside light.
Alternatively, if your child is scared of the dark, a small nightlight might make them feel more comfortable as they fall asleep. Discover other powerful infant sleep aids in our blog.
Final Thoughts on Why Your Baby Cries in Sleep
Infant sleep problems like crying through the night are one of the toughest parts of being a new parent, but it's important to remember that these issues are almost always temporary.
So, why do babies cry in their sleep? If you keep finding yourself having to soothe a crying baby in the middle of the night, there's often a simple reason why, and an equally straightforward solution. Here are the key things to keep in mind when you're handling a baby crying at night:
- Soft crying at night during newborn sleep is often just a sign of healthy REM sleep patterns
- Milestones like teething can often lead to sleep regressions and nighttime crying
- Nightmares can start as early as 12 months with night terrors coming a little later
- Waking a baby will likely upset them more, so take a preventative approach
- A soothing bedtime routine and space can help your baby sleep
- Swaddling with the Zen Swaddle is perfect for young babies who struggle with nighttime wakeups
- The Zen Sack is great for older babies who need a little more comfort at nighttime
Now that you know all about a newborn crying in sleep, it’s time to close out this conversation. You can learn more about childhood sleep in our blog with tips on how to help baby sleep through the night including how to navigate the 6 month sleep regression, how to help a teething baby sleep, how to swaddle with arms up, wake windows by age, when do toddlers stop napping, and more.
But now that you’re aware of why baby cries in sleep, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing there’s a sound reason behind baby crying in sleep. So, take our tips and put them to the test so you and your child can both get a good night’s rest!