6 Troubleshooting Sleep Variables for Baby

Are you wondering why your baby isn’t sleeping well? Check this list of 6 common reasons for poor baby sleep for help troubleshooting. 

Baby sleeping in mom's arms

Whether your baby has never really slept well or was sleeping well and isn’t anymore, you are probably feeling very anxious to help your baby sleep.

If your baby is not sleeping well, consider these 6 reasons as to why. Find the description of the poor sleep behavior of your baby and discover the reason for the poor sleep!

Reasons Baby Isn’t Sleeping Well

In the Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, Tracy Hogg lists six variables to consider when troubleshooting sleep issues.


Are any of these true of your baby:

  • Baby doesn’t fall asleep easily
  • Baby wakes up every hour at night
  • Baby sleeps well in the day but is up all night

If so, you might be suffering from a lack of a well-established routine. You want to feed, play, then sleep. You want this to be about every three hours (though be sure to adjust for growth spurts, age, and baby’s hunger patterns).

You don’t want to let baby sleep too long for naps–if baby sleeps all day, then, of course, she will be up often in the night. You also don’t want baby not sleeping long enough in the day. Sleep begets sleep

You want to be sure baby is staying awake for feedings.

You also need to respect baby’s needs and not haul (or schlepp as Hogg puts it) your baby around with you everywhere throughout each day. “Consistency is vital” (page 179). Also, keep track of your baby’s eating and sleeping patterns so you can know your routine well. See pages 176-180 for more on these topics. 

Read: Tricks for Getting Baby on a Consistent Schedule

Sleeping baby on white linens


Are either of these statements true of your baby:

  • Baby doesn’t fall asleep easily
  • Baby falls alseep, but is then awake 10-30 minutes later

Hogg says falling asleep is not an event, but a journey.

You have to make it as easy as possible for her to fall asleep. Your baby has a sleep window (just like adults) of when she will fall asleep the easiest. When you recognize your baby’s sleep cues, you need to act on it immediately.

This is especially true for the newborn. For your newborn, a one minute window might be all you have. You need to be ultra observant of your newborn while you try to figure her out.

I know, it isn’t convenient, but just look at the positive. Enjoy staring at her 🙂 She isn’t awake very long anyway. Take notes of what sleep cues you saw and what happened. Did baby fall asleep well? Did she stay asleep well? If so, stick with that waketime length and those cues. If not, keep trying!

Get a copy of my Book of Logs here to help track everything.

Help your baby transition to sleep mode. You can’t take her from playing to sleeping in 30 seconds and expect her to fall right asleep. Have a naptime routine. Rock, sing, cuddle…do what you like, but make it consistent. Keep it short (Hogg says under 15 minutes for under age 3 months. I kept mine to less than 5 minutes).

Use Hogg’s 4 S’s if you are interested in gentle sleep training (I had great luck with this with McKenna and Brinley).

See pages 181-186 for more on this.

Read: Gentle Sleep Training: The Four S’s

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Are any of the following true for your baby:

  • Baby won’t sleep unless I…(rock, feed, put in swing…)
  • Baby seems tired, but as soon as I put her down, she cries
  • Baby wakes up habitually at night
  • Baby eats at night, but not much
  • Baby won’t sleep longer than 30-45 minutes
  • Baby wakes at 5AM to start the day
  • Baby won’t sleep in her own crib
  • Baby wakes when the pacifier falls out

Accidental parenting is the opposite of PC Parenting (Baby Whisperer: P.C. Parent ). With accidental parenting, you are looking for a quick fix. You do what is easiest at the moment without considering the long term effects.

Read: Common Parenting Mistakes that Cause Sleep Problems

You want to avoid sleep props. A prop is anything your baby doesn’t control that she needs to fall asleep. Keep in mind that prop and a comfort item are not the same thing. A blanket or a stuffed animal that the child attaches herself to are comfort items, not props.

Read: When Sleep Props are Oka (and when to avoid them)

The pacifier is something that can become a prop. If your baby wakes as soon as it falls out, it is a prop for her. If she can stay asleep without it in her mouth, then it isn’t a problem.

You also want to avoid rushing into your baby. This doesn’t mean you ignore needs. It means you give her a chance to resettle.

Newborns are very noisy sleepers. They cry out often during sleep transitions. Be sure you know that baby is in need and not transition before you react. This can be hard during the night because you can often react before you are even fully awake 🙂 I find waiting for ten minutes before going in to be very effective and baby will often go back to sleep in that ten-minute window.

Read: The Problem with Credit Card Parenting

You also don’t want to take baby to bed or play with her in the middle of the night. One of my best friends once told me that when her oldest was 13 months old, she (baby) was sick and mom was pregnant.

Her husband was out of town. There was a bad thunderstorm one night. My friend was so tired that she brought her baby to bed with her.

She told me it was a huge mistake. She said not only did she not sleep well that night (because her daughter kept kicking her), but for two weeks, she had to work to get her daughter to happily sleep in her bed again.

She warned me that it was not worth it. One night of bad sleep would have been better than 14.

Be intentional with your parenting.

For more about accidental parenting, see pages 187-195.

6 reasons your baby won't sleep Pinnable Image


Are any of the following true for your baby:

  • Baby wakes crying and takes a full feed
  • Baby can’t sleep more than 3-4 hours straight at night
  • Baby was sleeping longer, but has suddenly started waking

If your child is waking in the night due to hunger, you don’t necessarily need to ride it out. That does not mean that you leave baby to be hungry. It means you can do things in the day to try to get more food in her in hopes she will make it longer through the night.

One method is to try is cluster feeding, which is basically feeding every two hours in the evening before bed.

Another method is the dreamfeed, which is a feeding between 10-11 PM. An important thing to be sure of is that you are getting enough feedings in the day. You want to be feeding every 2.5-3 hours for the newborn. If your baby doesn’t get the needed calories in the day, she will request them at night.

If your baby is going through a growth spurt, she might seek more food in the night instead of the day. If this is the case, add a feeding to the day by feeding more often.

For more on hunger, read up on pages 195-200.


Are any of the following true for your baby:

  • Baby doesn’t fall asleep easily
  • Baby wakes frequently and/or sleeps fitfully
  • Baby fights his afternoon nap
  • Baby falls asleep but jolts awake a few minutes later
  • Baby resists naps, and when she does fall asleep, she wakes 40 minutes later
  • Baby has something new in life and is suddenly waking in the night

If your baby isn’t getting enough daytime sleep, she won’t sleep well at night. Avoid keeping baby up too long in the day in order to get better sleep at night. While too much sleep in the day can interfere with nighttime sleep, too little will make it so your baby can’t sleep at night.

Read: How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby

Also, as your baby comes to develop new skills, these will often interfere with sleep. Baby wants to play with her fingers, practice rolling over, or listen to her beautiful voice more than sleep.

Read: How To Stop New Skills from Disrupting Naps and Sleep

For more on overstimulation, see pages 200-204.


Are any of the following true for your baby:

  • Baby doesn’t fall asleep easily
  • Baby wakes often at night
  • Baby falls asleep but wakes within a few minutes
  • Baby will only sleep sitting up
  • Baby seems tired but cries as soon as she is put down

As you get to know babies better (not just your baby, but babies), you will come to recognize cries of pain quickly. They are pretty universal. Babies also have common body language. If your baby is in pain, he will grimace, his body will go rigid, and he might flail his limbs. His cry will be shrill and high pitched. Be sure your baby does not have gas or Reflux.

Read: What To Do If Your Baby Has Gas

Also, your baby can cry because she is too cold or too hot. She might be one who dislikes having a wet diaper, or she might be poopy (there are things you can do about a baby who poops in the night).

See pages 204-207 for more on baby discomfort.

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There are always so many variables to consider when baby is waking early from naps or waking in the night. Without fail, any time my baby is waking suddenly, I can think of at least five possible reasons for the waking. You have to work your way through the possible reasons until you find the one.

When baby wakes early, deal with more vital issues first. It is always wise to treat early waking as a hunger issue first. This is because you don’t want to spend a week running through other fixes if baby is actually simply hungry. Feed hungry babies.

If it is pain, there is nothing you can do to train your child to not be in pain. You need to find some way to relieve the pain. 

So as you troubleshoot, run through the more critical possibilities first, then move on to less important ones. For example, make sure your baby isn’t hungry, in pain, or uncomfortable before assuming baby simply isn’t sleeping because she enjoys her newfound skill of crawling.

Poor Sleep Pinnable Image


30 thoughts on “6 Troubleshooting Sleep Variables for Baby”

  1. Okay, here's my problem. My 8 month old gets up about 8am, usually after "talking" for a half hour. (I'm working on a wake time of 8am.) She eats breakfast, plays and is ready for a nap at 9:30am. Usually she only sleeps about an hour, sometimes an hour and a half, and rarely 2 hours. I try to keep her in bed the full two (or two and a half) hours unless she gets too loud. I feed her at noon, and usually she is ready for nap again between 1 and 1:30pm. This is totally not following the four hour schedule where she eats as soon as she wakes up, plays and then naps. She only sleeps about an hour in the afternoon also and sometimes an hour in the evening. I really want to get her on a set sleep schedule as it is very difficult to plan anything. I've tried to keep her up for 2 1/2 or 3 hours, but she cries when she does go down. I'm thinking that's too long? Also, all she wants is for me to hold her when she's awake that long. I don't know what else to do – should I just keep her in bed for the whole two hours even though she's not sleeping and put her afternoon nap at 2pm, even if she's ready at 1pm? I would appreciate any suggestions you could give me. She goes to bed at 8pm, so she's getting a good 11 hours of sleep at night. Thank you.

  2. As far as parenting your infant/baby, troubleshooting sleep problems is the BIGGEST challenge of all!!!! So many variables to consider. One thing I learned in looking back at how I began with Sophia: We were new parents and very excited, and I am sure we totally overstimulated her. I am sure she would have cried at lot less, but this was before we knew about your blog, Valerie :-), and so we just didn't know any better. The stores and advertising market wants you to overstimulate baby it seems. Bright flashing lights and loud musical toys and the suggestions from the manufacture say "birth and up!" In my opinion, you can hold off on these toys until about 3-6 months of age! I just ordered the Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, and I hope she does!!Amy

  3. I have to say I totally agree with Amy! As a first time parent I know now that I was overstimulating my little one. They are just so fun to be around but they don't stay awake very long so I made the mistake of cramming in as much interaction as I could during his 30 min wake time. I didn't discover Babywise or this blog until he was 3 months old. Once I realized what I was doing, some of the sleep problems went away. I've also come to learn that there are some things you have to ride out. Teething is one of those, along with learning new skills. You can't force a baby to sleep but you can do all in your power to make their environment conducive to sleeping. Anyway, just thought I'd add my two cents! Thanks for such a wonderful blog!

  4. Thanks for the post today. I am really thinking on the overstimulation, lack of bedtime routine and hunger points you mentioned. DD went down this afternoon without crying, fell asleep in 5-10 min and is sleeping over 30min already:) I also like your points about addressing more vital variables first. It is so helpful how you have laid this out. Thanks!

  5. Hi Kim,This is just a suggestion and Valerie might have some better ideas, but I think you might want to work on an earlier bedtime. You said your little one goes to bed at 8:00pm and wakes up at 7:30am. That is only 10.5 hours of sleep at night and at this age you should be shooting for 12 hours. Also if her afternoon nap is only from 1:00pm to 2:00pm and doesn't take an evening nap than her wake time in the evening is too long. You might try dropping the evening nap and going for a much earlier bed time. We had to do this with my son for a while. Around 7 months he dropped his evening nap and then we put him to bed by 7:00pm. (Meaning we started his routine at 6:30pm and he was asleep by 7:00pm) I know it might sound odd, but the more sleep she gets at night, the better she will sleep in the day. Then I would work on keeping her up between naps 15 mins. longer every couple of days. Your goal is to get her sleeping longer at night and staying awake longer between naps during the day. I hope this makes sense. And again, Valerie might have a much better plan of action for you, but I thought I'd give you something to try until she gets a chance to respond. Good luck!

  6. Thanks Janelle, I will try the earlier bedtime. But she does take an evening nap. She woke up today about 2pm (after going down for nap at 1pm). I let her play and talk until about 3. Then she went down for evening nap at 4:30 and fell asleep right away. It is now 5:45 and she is still asleep and I will wake her up at 6pm so I can put her to bed at 8pm. How long do you think an 8 month old should be able to stay awake in the evening before bedtime and also during the day between naps? I'm stumped because when she does wake up, she is happy and talking, not crying. Could she still not be getting enough sleep? Any suggestions from anybody would be appreciated. I feel like pulling my hair out some days. 🙂

  7. Hi Kim,Personally, if my 8 month old slept as well as yours I'd be LOVING LIFE! I just (like three days ago) started pushing wake time a bit, extending to at least 2 hours. It hasn't helped the morning nap at all, but it's definitely helped the afternoon nap. My LO just dropped his third nap a couple weeks ago, but I still put him down for a 30 minute "rest time" to recharge his batteries.Seems like if she's happy with the amount of sleep she's getting there's not a lot you can do. You can leave her in her crib for her nap period, or get her up and play with her a bit before she eats.I'll trade ya for mine – he wakes up at 5:45 every morning! 😉

  8. Kim, I know that you are wanting an 8 AM waketime, but here is my thought. My guess is that she is overly tired from the start of the day. She is up for two hours in the morning, which might be too long for her. If it were me, I would just go for a 7:30 waketime. Once you get that first waketime/naptime worked out, you can work on the rest of the day. It likely will fall into place easier because she will be well rested.Also, see the post Eat/wake/sleep cycle

  9. So true Amy! I was ultra protective of McKenna's stimuation coming in as a newborn. I basically kept her in her room all day 🙂 I think that was a big contributor to her sleeping so well. I agree, they don't need toys for a long time.

  10. All wonderful thoughts, Janelle. I was the same way with Brayden, and I was better with Kaitlyn, but not as good as I could have been. I think I got it right with McKenna.

  11. Kim, another idea to address your situation is that BW says that if a baby in the age range of 6 months and older is on three naps a day and they are routinely waking early from these naps as well as early in the AM, it may be time to drop the 3rd nap in the evening. My DD is 8.5 months old, and she dropped the third nap at 7 mos, although the norm is around 8 mos. Her waketimes are 2 hours, 2.5 hours, and 3.5 hours respectively. They can usually do a pretty long WT in the evening before bed. So you might want to consider that in your troubleshooting.

  12. Thank you all for your suggestions. I will definitely work with some of the ideas and let you know how it goes. Valerie, you will be hearing from me again if I still need suggestions! I love your blog! Thank you!

  13. The thing about overstimulating your newborn is that I've read (And Baby Makes Three by Gottman)that they actually fall asleep when they are overstimulated. One of the signs of overstimulation is looking away. If your baby keeps trying to avoid eye-contact with you, it means they are trying to take a break. I hope this helps with getting baby to sleep.

  14. Here is an example of what our ideal schedule looked like when my son was 8 months old (emphasis on ideal!:7:00 wake up9:30 nap11:30 wake up2:00 nap4:00 wake up7:00 in bed for the nightLike I said, this was an ideal schedule. Another thing to keep in mind is that your daughter might even be waking earlier than 7:30 and you just don't hear her. That happened to me with my son at around 1 year old. I didn't realize what was going on until my husband had to go to work early one morning and I realized that my son was already awake just laying quietly in his bed. (We have a video monitor so I looked and saw that his eyes were open.) This is just something to keep in mind when working on morning wake time. Wake time starts when she wakes up, not when you get her out of the crib.I hope this is of some help. Good luck!

  15. Any ideas on how to get my 6 month old to sleep longer than 1.5 hrs at a time? She'll occasionally take a 2 hr nap in the pm and very occasionally a 2.5 hr nap but I have a very hard time getting her to go much passed 1.5 hr on a regular basis. Also, about 6 weeks ago she started waking up between 2:30 am and 3:30 am wanting to eat. I nursed her and she took a full feeding and then took another full feeding at 6:30 am when she was waking up for the day. I thought that this was a growths spurt and that it would end but it still hasn't. She's a week over 6 months and nurses 5 times during the day. Any suggestions? She's already dropped the dreamfeed. Should I try adding it back in and seeing if that helps???????????Any suggestions are appreciated!

  16. Getting Baby to Sleep,So is that book suggesting overstimulating is good so baby will go to sleep?I have read that newborns will shut down neruologically when there is too much stimulation and appear to be asleep, but it isn't true, restful sleep like sleeping in a bed is.

  17. Laura,A 1.5 hour nap is totally fine. If that is what she needs, there is nothing wrong with that, especially on a 3 hour schedule. So far as night feedings, see the post 5-8 month sleep disrutptions for more on that. It also could have been the 6 month developmental week (see wonder weeks blog label for more on that).

  18. HI there, I need a bit of help. My 11wo has started waking up at 4am this past week. I can usually get him to go back to sleep for about an hour, but he's up around 5am screaming from hunger. He takes a full feed then is wide awake. During the day I'm feeding him 6oz bottles 6 times a day. I'm cluster feeding at night at 5 and 7, with a dreamfeed around 930 or 10pm. He has slept for 9 hours before, so I know it's possible, but I don't know what was different that day that helped him sleep that long. He's on a pretty consistent 3hr rotation during the day – feed, wake sleep. He's still swaddled at night, no problem falling asleep. I just can't figure out how to get him to sleep past 4 or 5am! Thanks for your suggestions.

  19. My situation is getting to the point where I'm having a hard time functioning. I had my 4th over a year ago and he is my only one that has decided to wake every few minutes at night to nurse. I end up pulling him in bed with me at some point because I'm so tired. I also have to check my oldest son's blood sugar 3 times a night to make sure he's ok. So between him and the baby I get really no sleep. I don't know if I just need to let him cry it out or what. I usually put all my kids to be at 7:00pm Any ideas???Alesha

  20. Sarah, is he still napping well? That is a growth spurt time. If it were me, since he is very hungry at 5 AM, I would just feed him at 4 AM so you don't have to get up an hour later, too.Since you are bottle feeding, you could try increasing the ounces he gets throughout the day to see if that gets him through the night better.

  21. Alesha,Do you have any idea why he is waking so often in the night? When you say every few minutes, do you mean he nurses, falls asleep, wakes a couple minutes later, etc.? If so, then he might either 1)be unable to self soothe 2)be in some sort of pain and nursing makes it feel better. If it is 1, then I would move on to sleep training. If it is 2, then I would try to find out what is causing the pain and alleviate that.

  22. let me start off by saying this website has been amazing. Im learning so many new things…wish i had found it earlier. Im having major issues with my 15 week old and this has been going on for the past 3 weeks or so. #1- She has started waking up at least 4-5 times a night and its sporadic. out of the 4-5 times, i usually only feed her once…the other times she just wants to be cuddled or wants me to put her back to sleep. sometimes she will even wake up 15 minutes after i have put her to bed in the evening. issue #2 – she has started waking up very early in the morning. between 5:30 and 6:30. I have tried playing with the sleep time (moved it earlier/later) and nothing seems to work. issues #3 – her last feed is at around 7pm and we do a dreamfeed at 10:30. we have noticed that she doesnt take much at the dreamfeed (only 2 oz). Im currently BF her and it seems like she only ever takes 3 oz per feeding during the day. is that ok for a 3.5 month old? sorry if my e-mail is all over the place. i dont know if im coming or going 🙁

  23. Aleem,1.see the post "nighttime sleep issues revised and updated." that will give you my list of things to check in this situation. See also the label "wonder weeks"2.see the post "early morning feedings before wake time". Be sure that you are starting your morning at the same time each day. So if your start time is 7 AM, start at 7 even if she just got up at 6. See posts on morning waketime for more information on this.3.Have you tried moving the dreamfeed around? I noticed McKenna slept much better with the dreamfeed before a certain time and not after a certain time. I would fiddle with your time between 10-11 PM. Good luck!

  24. Hi there,This is such a great site, thank you for creating this!! I have a 4 1/2mth old baby boy, and I guess I have a bunch of issues! This is my second child, my first son took to the BW routine and schedule like dream, I didn't even have to try. BUT, this little guy is different! I just can't seem to get him on a continuous schedule for anything.I am questioning everything now! I have poured over and over BW and just can't seem to nail down an answer. So to start with he has an irregular wake up time. Sometimes it's 6am, sometimes 7am….. I finally found that his wake times should be about 90 mins and I thought I was on the right track, but he cries so much when I put him down. I read here on your blog that it could be that I'm putting him down too late to nap, however, if I keep the naps within a 3 hr schedule, all 3 naps are over by 3-4pm and then he's up way too long before his 8.30-8.45pm bedtime. He is not consistently sleeping through the night though. He pretty much dropped the late evening feeding, but occasionally wakes for it, then sometimes it's just at about 3am. Then he'll sleep 9-10 hrs straight. I must say that if he does wake up at 3am he'll probably sleep 6 hrs after that. ANYWAY….sorry this is so long, but I'm so frustrated that I can't figure this out!! Ultimately, I just want that schedule! I have a 4 year old and keeping everything running smoothly on an irregular schedule is wearing me out! Please help!

  25. ……I must clarify, that when I said, 'then he'll sleep 9-10 hrs', I meant that after I put him down at bedtime he sleeps 9-10 hrs. Thanks.

  26. I can recommend a sleep training that we followed, the method pick up, put down. We choosed the one presented by Susan Urban from parental-love.com, which she called Hold With Love. it’s super effective, and it’s really holding your baby with all the love you have 🙂


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