Simple solutions for tricky newborn sleep problems

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Newborn sleeping with pink hat

Waking up frequently at night and sleeping short stretches are the most typical newborn sleep problems.

Crying (excessively) also troubles many new babies at bedtime. This can be because of colic, gas or more serious discomforts such as reflux, apnea or a structural bone or vertebra issue.

Let's have a look at why newborn sleep problems happen, how you can prevent the worse and cure when necessary.

And also ... you may not think it's possible, but good sleep for yourself is really important right now so let's also find out how to maximize sleep for you.

Waking up frequently and sleeping 30-60 minutes only

Your newborn's natural sleep patterns are nowhere near our own. Entirely governed by the survival necessity to feed/hydrate regularly and to arouse lightly in case of health risks, sleep is naturally fragmented. It takes both physical and brain development to evolve from this in the next weeks, and for sleep to settle.

Adapting to the difference between day and night is also part of newborn development. We are not born with that earthly rhythm all set. It usually takes about 12 weeks before it actually sets in. Helping your newborn baby get a feel of this day and night rhythm will actually be one of your main tasks right now.

In any case waking up frequently is absolutely normal for a newborn - and necessary to keep hydrated and fed.

But when it's extreme and your new baby rarely sleeps for longer than 30-60 minutes, that is tough for both of you. It usually has to do with the short sleep cycles at this young age, and you can work to improve:

What to do
  • Both carrying in a wrap sling for extending naps and my Catch Her Before Waking Up technique are good to teach her to sleep through the in-between sleep cycle awakenings. With the latter technique, you sneak in just before the usual awake moment, and use touch and your presence to keep your little one asleep.
  • Solve newborn sleep problems before they get worse ... or even before they appear

    The Complete Newborn Sleep Guide - FREE e-book download - gives you hands-on techniques to optimize your baby's sleep environment, solve the most typical newborn sleep problems, know what to do, what never to do and how to avoid and treat more serious issues like acid reflux and apnea.
  • General safety advice: when putting your newborn to sleep, remember to always put her on her back, the only recommended safe sleeping position at this age. You may have heard that lying on the tummy may help her sleep for longer but it is simply not safe right now.
  • Consider swaddling: it can help reduce frequent wakings due to the Moro startle reflex.


Crying is your new baby's first and only way to talk to you.

Newborn in pink blanket, with mother

"I'm cold"
"I'm hungry"
"Can you please hold me?"
"I can't sleep"
"I'm scared"
"I'm in pain"

... all kinds of messages that sound nearly the same: a simple cry.

You will learn to understand different types of cries but sometimes it's just not possible to tell what's going on. And sometimes there's nothing wrong and then all you need to do be there and comfort gently.

What to do
  • Read my newborn crying tips to learn what to do when your baby is crying, recognize excessive crying, colic and spot serious disorders early on.
  • As a rule of thumb remember that it's OK to hold, touch, rock, sing, ... to soothe your newborn baby as much as necessary. We're far from spoiling age so do offer the comfort and reassurance your little one asks for.

    Even better, rather than spoil her by holding, you help her build the confidence she needs to develop healthy independence later on.

    You may find a carrier handy because you can keep your hands free while comforting and soothing, see the baby wearing benefits pages for more about this.
  • How about a gentle bath, the "Sonia Rochel" way? Learn more about Sonia's uniquely soothing Thalasso baby bathing technique.

Physical discomfort

Tiny as she is, your little treasure can suffer from a number of physical issues that all too often keep her from sleeping.

Gas, colic and the harmless form of reflux are the most common ones. But also GERD (severe reflux) and sleep apnea can occur. Your priority will be to relieve her as much as possible. Usually simple remedies will be all you need.

What to do
  • Read the gas and colic pages for tips and ideas to relieve your little one as much as possible.
  • Newborn acid reflux can keep your new baby from sleeping well but is not necessarily serious. Simple good habits can prevent most of the trouble.
  • All newborns have breathing pauses during sleep (up to 15-20 seconds) which are normal. When the pauses are longer, the may mean central sleep apnea. Sleep apnea in young babies is a potentially life threatening condition that needs medical attention. Make sure you know how to recognize it so you can seek treatment in time.
  • Jaundice in newborns is a very common yellow skin coloring that is usually harmless but may need treatment. More dangerous but luckily rarer is kernicterus, the severe form of jaundice.