Is My Child’s Sleeping Issues Normal?

You’re a new parent and you’re confused. 

You’re trying to navigate through exhaustion, isolation, postpartum depression and just when you think you can’t handle any more bewilderment, your baby exhibits a behavior that makes you say “what the eff is this about???”

Babies and toddlers do weird things. 

I once witnessed my 8 month old son hoist himself to his feet, using the couch to steady himself and then do standing push ups against the couch for 10 minutes or so. It was repetitive and it worried me. I now realize he was learning to walk but at the time, it seemed strange. 

Sleep related behaviors and so-called “issues” often alarm parents. They wonder “Is My Child’s Sleeping Issues Normal?”

The wonder turns to worry and then they do what I did: start searching the internet only to read about how sleep is important for the development and growth of babies. 

Then they really start to fret.  

Clients often ask me if their children’s sleep behaviors are “normal” and I usually give the following answer: there is a difference between typical and normal. Most children exhibit typical sleep behaviors that are not a cause for alarm. 

Abnormal sleep behaviors include sleep walking, prolonged insomnia or excessive night terrors. 

I’ve compiled a list of the sleep behaviors that parents often think are abnormal, when in fact they are completely typical behaviors, despite being difficult for parents to deal with. 

Is My Child’s Sleeping Issues Normal?

Short Napping

There are few things in life that you can set your watch to, but a child who takes short naps is one of them. A short nap, in pediatric sleep science terminology, is a nap that is less than an hour. Every short napper is different but parents often find that their child’s short naps are associated with a specific amount of time. It could be 40 minutes, 30 minutes, 20 minutes; I recall speaking to a mother who told me her son would only nap for 15 minutes – every time. 

Parents are usually dumbfounded by the behavior but it is completely typical for babies. 

It is especially typical for babies who are not able to put themselves to sleep. Usually a parent has assisted them to sleep by rocking, feeding or holding. The parent then transfers the baby to their sleep space and a short time later, they wake up crying. This is because they come to the end of a sleep cycle, stir from sleep and are not able to settle back into sleep because they don’t know how. If they normally wake up after 30 minutes, it’s likely that their sleep cycle is 30 minutes long. 

Rest assured this is typical sleep behavior. Most babies eventually grow out of it. However, if your baby is over 5 months of age and short naps are becoming a problem, sleep training is a good option. 

Excessive Night Wakings 

In general, night wakings are completely typical. Particularly when babies are in the newborn stage, they need 2 – 4 night feedings per night. After the newborn stage, night wakings are still typical but some children have more than others. It is also completely normal for babies to go through periods where night wakings are more frequent. During growth spurts or when babies are reaching milestones like rolling over, crawling and walking, night wakings become more frequent. I often get calls from parents who are in the midst of these periods. Usually these behaviors show up out of nowhere, leading to alarm for the parents and the feeling that something must be wrong. It is possible that there could be a medical problem and parents should seek advice from a health care provider if there are symptoms such as fever, excessive intense crying and/or vomiting but if your baby is simply waking up for additional feedings or comfort, it’s likely that they are going through something that will resolve itself after a few weeks.   

Refusing to Sleep in the Crib

Many babies resist sleeping in their own sleep space, especially if they are used to being held to sleep. Think about it – if you fell asleep in a loved one’s warm comfy arms, you would probably want to stay there too. 

As much as we love to hold our babies, eventually we want to put them down, which leads to situations like this: the parent holds the baby until they are asleep, the baby is placed in the sleep space and immediately wakes up and starts crying. The parent picks up the baby again, they calm down, fall back asleep, place them in their sleep space and again – and they wake up and start crying. 

This can go on for hours. 

Parents are often confused and frustrated by this behavior because they don’t understand why the baby continues to resist sleeping in the crib. 

The answer is simple but the solution can be complicated. Your baby won’t sleep in the crib because she has gotten used to falling asleep in your arms. She doesn’t recognize that the crib is her sleep space and doesn’t understand why you keep putting her there when she is perfectly happy sleeping in your arms. 

Part of sleep training is making your baby understand that the crib is his sleep space and that being placed in the crib is not abandonment. This is the tricky part but with a solid plan and consistency, it can be done. 

Being tired but still not sleeping 

This is the behavior that parents find absolutely confounding. It’s obvious that the baby is miserably tired but simply won’t settle down and sleep. 

Parents will turn to their child and say “aren’t you tired?” After trying endlessly to settle them down. 

There are several reasons for this. The first is over tiredness. Babies get overtired very easily and the more tired they get, the harder it is to get them to sleep. The best way to combat this is to keep on a consistent schedule and a solid routine. 

Try your best to follow age appropriate wake windows and bedtime when building your schedule but don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go exactly as planned. I always say that a schedule should be solid but flexible. As long as you keep to a regular sleep schedule, your baby will not get overtired. 

Babies also have difficulty settling down if they are over stimulated. This can happen after a day of fun with family and friends or playing with toys that are bright and noisy. Excessive screen time is also a culprit. If you suspect that your baby is overstimulated, take them into a dimly lit room with minimal stimulation. Rock or gently bounce your baby or better yet, walk around the room with them in your arms. It may take a little while for your child to settle but it will happen eventually. 

Babies respond to even the slightest stimulation. Something as innocent as a night light or a crib mobile could make it impossible for your baby to settle. Sources of light can also negatively affect your baby’s circadian rhythm so it’s best to make their room as dark as possible. These small changes can make sleep time a lot easier. 

With all of these behaviors, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Many parents experience the same things. Take comfort in the knowledge that these behaviors often resolve themselves and do not last very long. If you are noticing a sleep behavior in your child that is truly concerning, feel free to reach out to me to book a complimentary 15 minute consultation.