Why is Your Baby Crying in Sleep but Not Awake?

Baby crying in sleep occurs very often in most families, and in most cases it is not harmful at all.

The most common reasons for baby crying in sleep are: 

  1. Your baby hasn’t learned how to comfort him/herself back to sleep
  2. They’re rewarded for their behavior
  3. A protest against a change in environment or daily rutine

Rock the baby to sleep every time

Most babies will wake up about five times a night after a dream. However, they are not usually fully awake at this time; in most cases, they will go back to sleep on their own.

This is different for babies who have not learned how to comfort themselves back to sleep. Such a baby will cry out and need to be rocked back to sleep.

Alternatively, you will need to lie down with the baby until they go back to sleep. This happens because the baby has not learned to associate their crib with sleep; they only know being rocked to sleep as the way to fall asleep.

This is known as poor sleep-onset associative behavior.

Being entertained during the night

A baby will wake up and start crying if they learn that they can be rewarded for this behavior. If every time they cry, the parent plays with them, rocks them, or walks them, they will always wake up at night and cry.

This only becomes worse if the parents bring them to their bed every time they cry. The problem can be worsened by a lengthy period where the parent gives the baby extra attention.

For instance, during periods of discomfort such as from a cold, during the hot summer months or when traveling with the baby, they can develop this association. In most cases, if things go back to normal, most babies will return to their former sleep patterns.

In some cases, the baby enjoys the nightly contact with their parents that they begin to demand it.

A belief that all crying is harmful

Babies engage in protest crying when they believe they are in a harmful environment, especially because of a change in patterns or environment. This can be easily offset if the baby is given enough affection and attention during their waking hours.

It will help them offset any initial unhappiness that they may have experienced from a new pattern or environment.

In order to help you understand why your baby experiences distress during sleep, we will go in-depth into what sleep is. This will help you to understand baby crying in sleep and how you can resolve it.

How an Adult Sleeps

After you dress for bed, most adults will relax their minds by performing various rituals such as watching TV, listening to some music and much more. As you do this, the high brain functions begin to slow down, and this enables you to enter a deep sleep cycle called NREM.

After about an hour of this deep sleep cycle, your brain wakes up and enters the REM sleep stage, which is noticed because of the rapid eye movement. At this stage, you dream and stir, and you can even adjust the covers without awakening.

At this stage, you can waken, go to the bathroom and return to your bed. These cycles continue throughout the night. Thus, you never sleep deeply through the night although it may feel like so in the morning.

How Your Baby Sleeps

You start rocking the baby, and she begins to doze off. As you do this, her eye flutter and her limbs may twitch from time to time.

As you go to place her in the crib, she opens her eyes and starts crying, because she was not yet asleep. If you want to stop her from awakening as soon as you put her on the bed, simply rock her longer by about 20 minutes, you will find that she sleeps with no problem.

Infant sleep Cycles are Short

Unlike adults, the sleep cycles in babies are quite short. Most babies have sleep cycles of just 50 minutes, compared to adults who have sleep cycles of about 90 minutes.

Thus, there are more opportunities for babies to be awakened during these periods of light sleep. If there is any disturbance such as hunger, cold weather or too much heat, the baby will awaken.

How Can I Tell That My Baby is a Night Crier?

You can tell that your baby is a night crier if you see the following:

  • They are about 4 months old and are not able to sleep for about 7 hours each night
  • They wake up and cry at least once every night
  • Can only go back to sleep after being rocked
  • Has to be held every time before they go to sleep
  • Does not need feeding at night
  • Has always cried at night since they were born

When Should a Baby Be Able to Sleep Through a Night?

From the time they are born until about two months, most babies will awaken about twice every night for feeding. From two months to about four months, most babies will only need one feeding at night.

After four months, most babies will sleep through the night without the need for feeding. A normal baby will not need any calories at night after the age of five months.

How Long Does it Take to End Nighttime Crying?

If you adhere to these recommendations, we believe you can improve the behavior of your children in just two weeks. However, you should note that it may take longer the older your child is.

In kids that are over one year old, they will fight sleep even when they feel tired. They will make protest cries for hours until they get what they want.

However, if you begin to implement these steps now, the child will be able to sleep through the night until they are about four years old. After these, their busy daytime schedules will exhaust them so much, that they will fall asleep on their own.

Be sure to check out our guides on the best baby swings, baby wrap carriers, baby sweating and a review on the stroller, UPPABaby G-Luxe 

How Can I Help My Baby Sleep at Night?

If you have a baby that is older than four months, who wakes up and cries at night, you can try these suggestions to get them back to sleep.

Place the baby in the crib while they are still drowsy but awake

It is good to hold the baby and rock them until they become drowsy. However, as the baby begins to feel drowsy, place them in their crib.

By doing so, they will learn to associate the last waking hours with the mattress and the crib. If you have a fussy child, rock them until they are near sleep but let the last few minutes be spent in their crib.

This will help the baby develop the skills to put themselves to sleep every night. That way, when she awakens at night, she can put herself back to sleep without having to wake the parents up.

Pay a brief visit to the baby every night for about 15 minutes

When the baby begins to make small grants, visit them at night for about 15 minutes before they become too upset. Gradually lengthen the periods between when you visit the baby.

With time, the baby will learn how to comfort itself to sleep. Short cries at night will not harm the baby.

If you have a fearful child, hold him until he is calm. Then sit in the bedroom for a few minutes but leave just before he is asleep.

Make the visits boring but caring

Avoid staying in the room with your baby for more than five minutes. At this time, avoid switching on the lights or being playful.

However, be reassuring during these brief visits. Never show your anger or speak to the baby in a harsh tone.

If they have an object such as a toy or blanket, give it to them, and then walk out.

Avoid taking the baby out of the crib

Once the baby is in the crib, it is counterproductive to take them out of it. Avoid rocking or playing with the baby and most importantly, do not bring them to your bed.

Most babies will cry for about 30 minutes before they finally doze off.

Hold the baby at night if they cry

Before the child can put itself to sleep, make the nightly visit as easy as possible. If he or she does not cry more than five minutes at night, respond as you would when putting him or her to sleep.

In some cases, you will need to take him out of the crib and rock him to sleep. Do not switch on the lights or take him to your bedroom.

You should also avoid talking to him too much at night. In most cases, it is better if dad goes in to put him back to sleep.

Let him develop an attachment to an object

When the baby reaches 6 months, a security object may be a good idea. This is an object that helps the child go back to sleep at night. However, do not place an object in the crib before the child reaches six months old.

These objects increase the risk of SIDS since the baby may not be able to roll over. You can cover the toy in one of the mother’s t-shirts to help increase acceptance by the baby.

As you are cuddling the baby to sleep, have the object with you during the day. You can also weave it into the baby’s nighttime stories, as they get older.

With time, your baby will learn to cuddle the object in place of you as they seek comfort at night.

Phase out nightly rocking

As the baby learns how to quiet itself to sleep, phase out the nightly rocking. This will help them to go back to sleep during those nightly awakenings.

Visit the baby when they start crying but make the visit boring and short. With time, the crying at night will cease altogether in a few weeks.

Some More Helpful Tips

Move the crib to another room

If you have placed the crib in your room, shift it to a separate bedroom. If you cannot do that, cover one side of the crib so that the baby cannot see you when they are awake.

Do not let him or her nap during daytime

If the baby takes naps for more than two hours during the daytime, wake him or her up. Ensure the baby does not take more than two naps during the daytime.

Avoid wet diaper changes at night

The diapers should only be changed if the baby has a bad diaper rash. If you have to change the diapers, ensure that light levels are kept to a minimum.

It is also important that you do it fast and that you avoid entertaining the child at night.

Leave the child standing in the crib

If the child is standing in the crib at bedtime, it is not okay to try to push him or her down. This is especially so if the child resists being forced to lie down.

If you keep trying to get your child to lie down, it will soon turn into a game, which will make getting him or her to sleep a major challenge.

Maintain a sleep diary

Maintain a record of the times your baby gets up at night. On your next visit to the pediatrician, bring it with you to get solutions.

When Do I Need to Call the Doctor?

During office hours, you can call if you think:

  • The crying is caused by a physical cause
  • The child appears fearful
  • Someone in the family is unable to stand the crying
  • The recommendations above do not help to improve your baby’s sleep in about two weeks
  • You may have more concerns and questions


Your baby’s crying can be resolved with time. However, like everything else, you will need to be patient and committed.

It is important that you learn how to put the baby to sleep in his/her own crib. Bringing them to your bed will only prolong the number of nightly visits that you need to make, as they get older.

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