What to do and how to cope if your baby is not sleeping

Having a baby that just does not want to sleep is tough.

I don't think anyone will ever understand what it really means to be sleep-deprived unless you are sleep-deprived.

Maybe your baby is waking multiple times a night. Maybe they fight their nap. Maybe getting them to sleep takes a long time. Or maybe they are going through just another sleep regression.

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Experiencing sleep loss and taking care of a baby at the same time is not easy. So the next time you are trying desperately to get your little one to sleep, or they are waking for what feels like the 100th time at night, I want you to think of the 5 reminders below.

They helped me get through all the bad sleep phases and shift my mindset on the whole subject of baby sleep.

1. Think about your expectations

I know that sleeping sounds easy, especially when you are so so tired yourself.

I can't tell you how often I have asked my babies why they don't just sleep. But I never got an answer, usually only a surprised look. I think it's because they knew it was a rhetorical question.

Here is the thing: babies are not supposed to sleep very long stretches. Night wakings, short naps, and all those sleep problems are normal.

Think of it like that...

Is it really possible that the majority of newborn babies are born broken? Research shows how important night wakings are and that they protect your baby from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Nighttime sleep is supposed to be disrupted.

The truth is that your baby has a sleep pattern than differs greatly from yours. And we have a hard time coping and acknowledging that.

Especially in western countries. Because culture impacts how we think our baby should sleep.

Babies that have to self-settle from a very young age. 6-month-old babies that sleep through the night and do not need any nighttime feedings are constantly advertised to us. Sleep training is necessary. Otherwise, your baby will never ever sleep. It seems as if every baby on our side of the planet has a sleep problem or sleep disorder.

But this is not the norm in other countries. Co-sleeping, contact napping, and baby wearing are very normal in other parts of the world.

Our way of living seems to clash with the natural behavior of infants and young children, which makes it hard for us to accept what is normal behavior.

And all these outside opinions and high standards put so much unnecessary pressure on parents and their babies.

Why are we trying so hard to change evolutionary behavior that has shaped humans for millions of years?

Why are we trying so hard to change evolutionary behavior that has shaped humans for millions of years?

I am most definitely not saying to wait it out. But learning what is truly normal when it comes to baby sleep will help us get our expectations straight and relieve pressure from any parent.

Related Article: Infant Sleep - What To Really Expect 0-12 Months

2. Remind yourself you are not alone

Sometimes it feels like your baby is the only baby in the world that is not sleeping.

But believe me when I say that most babies do not sleep so perfectly.

I mean, look at all the forums, blogs, and Facebook groups. If a baby not sleeping was really so unnormal and rare, then why, on the other hand, are there so many of us desperate parents?

You can search for any baby sleep-related "problem," and you will find tons and tons of search results.

You may hear some stories about blissfully sleeping babies, babies that sleep through the night from day one. But these are EXCEPTIONS.

A study in 2019 found that babies older than 6 months did not wake less often but did not wake their parents as often (Tikotzky, L., & Volkovich, E., 2019). One large study reported that 26.6% of toddlers had still nightly awakenings at 18 months (Hysing et al., 2014).

Don't look for babies who sleep. Look for babies who don't.

So instead of looking for babies who are apparently perfect sleepers, look for parents whose babies do not sleep, and you will find much comfort there.

Remember, shared pain is half pain.

Related Article: Surprising Things No One Tells You About Motherhood

3. Learn to control your mind and thoughts

Ok, you may wonder how controlling your thoughts and your baby's sleep are actually related.

Well, our thoughts are creating our reality. The more you think about something, the more it becomes your reality.

The unfortunate thing is that our mind chooses negative thoughts over positive thoughts. It's a survival thing. Your brain has a tendency to concentrate on negative things as a revolutionary result. It's a way of trying to keep us safe and thinking of possible exit strategies in case something bad happens.

Our thoughts shape our reality. Even if they are not the reality.

So, what do those negative thoughts look like in our case?

"My baby is NOT sleeping."

"My baby will NEVER sleep through the night."

We concentrate on the fact that our baby is not sleeping. And sometimes, it is all we think about.

This will make getting through this phase much harder. But, believe me when I tell you, if you learn to control your thoughts about this whole baby sleep thing, it will get easier for you even with the same amount of sleep.

But positive thoughts are hard. It takes work and practice to concentrate on the good things.

Whenever a negative thought about your baby's sleep pops into your head, try to think about these things instead:

"My baby's sleep is normal."

"Every night waking protects my baby."

"My baby loves me and wants to be close to me."

"I am my baby's safe place."

Related Article: 20 Powerful And Motivating Affirmations For Mothers

4. Remind yourself that this is a phase

Whatever it is that your baby is doing (or not doing) - I feel you.

I understand how tired you are. I know how you just don't understand why they won't sleep. I had the same tears in my eyes you maybe have now.

I have been there.

But let me tell you something. Today I am not there anymore. I left that phase behind me.

I know it is the most cliche saying ever, but this is a phase, too.

And this shall pass.

Motherhood is full of hard phases. And yes, it's annoying as hell to hear it over and over and over again. You absolutely have my permission to be annoyed at my advice.

But one day, it will be easier. One day your child will eat alone. One day your child will play by themselves. One day your child will sleep through the night. Even if you don't sleep, train them or have them on schedules or teach them to self-soothe (which does not really exist anyway).

They will go to bed early and sleep until the next morning.

And when they wake up, they will call for you, and they will smile at you and cuddle with you, and both of you will have slept soundly.

And let me tell you something else, too: it is not that far away, even if you are counting the hours to bedtime today. It's not that far away.

Until then, stay strong, mama.

5. You can set the stage, but you cannot force sleep

You cannot force babies to sleep.

Even if it is your baby's bedtime or nap time. Even if they are supposed to be tired. Even if they are the best sleepers in the world.

If they are not tired, they will not sleep—end of story.

I have desperately tried to get my babies to sleep. I have rocked, patted, and sang lullabies for one hour straight because I was DETERMINED to get them to sleep.

But it only left them and me in frustration. The bitter truth is that if it is not supposed to happen, it will not happen.

I can only give you this advice which I wish I had given myself back then:

If your baby does not fall asleep, stop trying.

Instead, get them out of the bedroom, crib, bassinet, or whatever, and try again in 15-20 minutes.

Wake windows and schedules are helpful tools, but they are not the bible. They serve as guidance.

You can provide enough stimulation for your child. You can watch for awake times. You can time naps and their lengths. And you can have the perfect bedtime routine. You can do a lot to promote better sleep.

But the very last thing of actually sleeping, you are not in control of that. Only your baby can do that. Even if your baby is supposed to sleep already. Even if it's past their bedtime or they are longer awake than the age-appropriate wake window. It does not matter, and your baby doesn't give a butt.

Your baby is not a robot with an on/off button.

Think about it this way: How frustrating is it for us if we lie in bed and cannot sleep. How annoying is it when we switch from one side to another? When we look at the clock and think to ourselves, "ok, 6 more hours until I have to get up"?

Not being able to sleep is frustrating. And your baby will be frustrated, too, if you try to get them to sleep when they are simply not tired.

Sometimes you will do everything right, and still, your baby will not sleep. There are many things in life that we cannot control. And sleep is one of them.

Related Article: 9 Secret Tips to Help Your Baby Fall And Stay Asleep

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