Baby Sleep Problems: Causes and Explanations (Part 2)

A second list of expanded reasons that could be causing issues with your baby's sleep. 

Ready to get to the bottom of your baby's sleep problems?

In previous articles, we've looked at Isolating the Source of Your Baby's Sleep Problem as well as the expanded explanations for their top 10 causes in Baby Sleep Problems: Causes and Explanations (Part 1).

In this article, we will expand upon the second half of reasons that could be causing issues with your baby's sleep. 

Of course, this list is not extensive, but paired with your own parental wisdom, should shed light on many of the most common baby sleep problems.


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Here is the remainder of the list explained in detail:

Baby Sleep Problems: Causes and Explanations (11-19)

  1. An over-abundant milk supply is providing too much lactose for baby.

Explanation/Recommendation: Most breastfeeding concerns are associated with mothers who are not producing enough breastmilk. However, in rare cases, some mothers produce too much milk, which sets in motion a ripple effect that shows up at naptime. When a mother’s milk-producing glands are making and storing more milk than her baby needs, then correspondingly, the foremilk/hindmilk volumes change. While the foremilk/ hindmilk nutrient ratios remain the same, the total quantities in each breast are higher. When there is more foremilk available to a hungry baby, there is more lactose (milk sugar) ingested, and that is when the problem starts.

Possible solution? Pumping some milk from both breast just prior to feeding might help remedy the problem. That will remove some of the foremilk so when Baby feeds, he will receive a closer to normal foremilk/hindmilk ratio. Unfortunately, trial and error is the only way to discover the right amount to pump.

  1. Baby’s waketime is too short.

Explanation/Recommendation: There will always be days when a baby’s routine will have some variance impacting the length of waketimes. However, if a baby’s waketime is routinely too short for his age, then naptimes will be disrupted. While sleep is very important to a baby’s development, there are limits to the amount of sleep a baby requires in a 24-hour period. The “sleep-center” in a baby’s brain will begin to send an “awake signal” if there is too much sleep in a 24-hour period. One such signal is waking early from one or all naps. Parents should attempt to adjust their baby’s schedule to allow longer waketimes.

  1. Baby’s waketimes are over-stimulating or too long.

Explanation/Recommendation: When searching for the solution to naptime challenges, parents often overlook the quality of the waketime that preceded the nap. Remember, everything is connected. Waketimes affect naps just like naps affect waketimes. Over-tired and over-stimulated babies become hyper-alert, fighting off sleep through crying. If this is a regular problem, shortening your baby’s waketime by 15-minute increments might help. Also, be aware of the types of activities you and your baby are involved in. When Baby is along for the ride, the coming and going, the new sights and sounds, and the absence of predictability all work against good nap behavior. That is because catnaps in a car seat are no substitute for a full nap in the crib. An occasional nap in the car seat will not cause trouble, but it should not be the norm, especially during the first six months of your baby’s life. 

  1. First feeding of the day has too much flexibility.

Explanation/Recommendation: When attempting to establish a feed-wake-sleep plan, parents must determine the first feeding of the day and try to stay as consistent as they can. Without a consistent first-morning feeding, a mother can and will be feeding every 3 hours, but each day has a different rhythm. That will work against stabilizing the baby’s hunger metabolism and will eventually affect the length of baby’s naptime. 

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  1. Baby is not being exposed to adequate amounts of daylight.

Explanation/Recommendation: Natural light is important to help babies regulate their circadian clock. This is the inner clock, the biological time-keeping system that regulates daily activities, such as sleep and wake cycles. We recommend that, as soon as your baby awakens in the morning, you take him to a room filled with daylight (although he does not need to be in direct sunlight). Natural light, along with the first feeding of the day, will help establish his circadian rhythm and keep them consistent. Routine helps facilitate this amazing function possessed by all humans.

  1. Baby’s room is not dark enough.

Explanation/Recommendation: This is one of the most over-looked reasons for a sudden occurrence of baby waking early and one of the easiest to fix. While newborns can sleep just about anywhere and under any conditions, the “light sensitivity” begins to change after three months of age. The morning sun is on one side of the house, but the afternoon sun is on another. Depending on the direction that the baby’s room faces, the sun’s light can impact a baby’s naps. Like most adults, babies tend to sleep better and longer if the room is darkened. Shades or curtains are the simple solution.

  1. Baby is over-stimulated in the crib because a wind-up toy/ mobile was turned on when he was put down for a nap.

Explanation/Recommendation: All those fun baby gifts Mom and Dad want to use right away can be a problem. Why? Newborns are not ready to appreciate crib gear yet because of their eyesight. Prior to four months of age, we recommend keeping the crib mobiles in their boxes. When they come out, put them over the playpen rather than the crib. Mobiles are entertaining, but when set up too early and activated just before naptime, they can become a source of over-stimulation. Some babies cannot neurologically handle particular types of stimulation created by movement and sound.

  1. Your four to six-month-old baby is waking in response to sounds associated with pleasure.

Explanation/Recommendation: This condition is created when two time-elements cross. The baby’s circadian clock has him moving out of deep sleep into active sleep close to the time a familiar sound occurs each day. As he approaches four months, he develops the ability to associate sounds with activities and people. Once he makes the association, he becomes more alert and the sound can trigger an awake mode. While many babies will fall back to sleep, others are ready to fight off sleep in exchange for the next big adventure. 

  1. Unknown: What does this mean? Simply that a reason exists, but it is so unique to your baby’s situation that it is not easily duplicated by other babies.

Explanation/Recommendation: It is both amazing and helpful to realize that the simplest things can get overlooked when searching for a sleep/nap solution. One mother reported her search ended when she went into her baby’s room, after he fell asleep, and started sitting through his nap. She was not sure what she was looking for, but she discovered something she never expected. Just about 35 minutes into his nap, a beam of sunlight shining down onto her baby’s face began to appear. In this case, the unknown factor was tied to the earth’s rotation, which continually changed the angle of the sun. In tracing the sunbeam back to its source, Mom discovered the sun’s rays were reflecting off a piece of metal flashing on her neighbor’s roof. While the sun’s impact at that exact location lasted only ten minutes, it was enough to wake the baby. Mom hung a towel in the corner of the window during naptime and that solved the problem.

If the cause of your baby’s naptime disturbance falls into the category of “unknown,” Keep looking for clues, ask questions, or invite an experienced PDF mom over for part of the day to observe you and your baby. If stumped with a nap challenge, a fresh set of eyes can never hurt.

For more help getting your Baby on a Babywise sleep schedule, you can read more articles on Baby Sleep here.


Excerpted with permission from On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo, M.A. and Robert Bucknam, M.D., copyright Parent-Wise Solutions, Inc. You can learn more and purchase the book here.

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