Why Baby Cry in Their Sleep? Understanding the Causes and Solutions

by Touchybaby Admin on Sep 18, 2023

Why Baby Cry in Their Sleep

The sound of a crying baby in the middle of the night can be both heart-wrenching and exhausting for parents. It's a moment when we find ourselves torn between the desire to provide comfort and the need for our own rest. One of the most puzzling and challenging aspects of parenting an infant is trying to understand why babies cry in their sleep.

Babies enter this world with a myriad of needs, many of which are communicated through cries. While it's entirely natural for babies to cry, it can be particularly perplexing when they cry while sleeping. As parents, caregivers, or even curious individuals, it's essential to delve into the reasons behind these nighttime tears.

This blog post aims to unravel the mystery of why babies cry in their sleep. We will explore the normal sleep patterns of infants, the common reasons behind nighttime crying, and provide valuable insights into when to seek medical advice.

Normal Sleep Patterns in Infants

Understanding why babies cry in their sleep begins with a closer look at the intricacies of infant sleep patterns. Newborns, infants, and babies go through distinct sleep cycles and phases that differ significantly from those of adults. These sleep patterns can provide valuable insights into why babies might cry during the night.

A. Newborn Sleep Cycles

Newborns have shorter sleep cycles compared to adults. A typical sleep cycle for a newborn lasts around 50 to 60 minutes, whereas an adult's sleep cycle averages about 90 minutes. These shorter sleep cycles mean that newborns transition more frequently between sleep stages, including light sleep and deep sleep.

During these transitions, babies may briefly wake up or enter a state of partial arousal. It's during these moments that they might fuss or cry. This is a normal part of their sleep cycle as their brains continue to develop and adapt to the world around them.

B. REM Sleep in Babies

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is a crucial part of an infant's sleep cycle. During REM sleep, a baby's brain is highly active, and this is when they are most likely to dream. REM sleep is essential for brain development and processing new experiences, but it can also be a time when babies experience more vivid dreams or nightmares, leading to crying.

C. Sleep Cycles and Crying

Understanding the relationship between sleep cycles and crying can help parents interpret their baby's nighttime tears. Babies often cry as they transition between sleep cycles or move from deep sleep to lighter sleep stages. During these transitions, they may briefly wake up and cry for various reasons, such as discomfort or a change in sleep position.

Additionally, babies have different sleep needs and patterns as they grow. Newborns, for example, tend to sleep for shorter periods, waking frequently to feed or express their needs. As they age and their sleep patterns mature, they gradually develop the ability to sleep for longer stretches.

Common Reasons for Babies Crying in Their Sleep

Babies are masters at communicating their needs, and crying is their primary way of expressing themselves. When it comes to crying in their sleep, there are several common reasons behind this behavior. Understanding these reasons can help parents and caregivers respond appropriately and provide comfort to their little ones. Let's explore some of the most frequent causes of babies crying in their sleep:

A. Hunger

  1. How Hunger Affects Sleep: Hunger is one of the most common reasons for a baby to wake up and cry during the night. Babies have small stomachs and fast metabolisms, which means they need to feed frequently, especially in the early months of life. Hunger can disrupt their sleep and trigger crying as a way to signal their need for nourishment.

  2. Recognizing Hunger Cries: Hunger cries are typically characterized by short, rhythmic cries with brief pauses. These cries often come with other hunger cues, such as rooting (turning their head towards your hand when you stroke their cheek) or sucking on their hands.

  3. Strategies to Address Hunger-Related Crying: To minimize hunger-related crying, establish a feeding schedule that aligns with your baby's needs. This may involve more frequent feedings during the night for newborns. Additionally, consider breastfeeding or bottle-feeding in a dimly lit room to avoid overstimulating your baby during nighttime feedings.

B. Discomfort or Diaper Changes

  1. How Discomfort Disrupts Sleep: Babies can be sensitive to discomfort, whether it's from a wet or soiled diaper, tight clothing, or an uncomfortable sleep position. Discomfort can jolt them awake and lead to crying.

  2. Signs of Discomfort or Needing a Diaper Change: Pay attention to signs such as fussiness, restlessness, or wriggling. A quick check of their diaper's cleanliness can help determine if a diaper change is necessary.

  3. Tips for Managing Discomfort During Sleep: Ensure your baby is dressed in comfortable, breathable clothing and use a diaper that is appropriate for their age and size. Regularly check and change diapers before bedtime and during nighttime awakenings to minimize discomfort.

C. Gas and Colic

  1. Understanding Gas and Colic in Infants: Gas and colic can be painful for babies, leading to crying episodes, both during sleep and wakefulness. Gas can be caused by swallowing air during feedings or as a result of their immature digestive systems.

  2. The Connection Between Gas and Sleep Disturbances: When gas pains occur during sleep, babies may wake up crying. The discomfort can be exacerbated when they lie flat on their backs, a common sleep position.

  3. Remedies for Relieving Gas and Colic: To ease gas and colic discomfort, try techniques such as burping your baby frequently during feedings, using gentle tummy massage, or using specially designed anti-colic bottles. Consult your pediatrician for advice on colic remedies or medications if needed.

D. Sleep Associations

  1. What Are Sleep Associations?: Babies often develop sleep associations, which are specific conditions or actions that they associate with falling asleep. These can include rocking, being held, or using a pacifier.

  2. How Sleep Associations Impact Crying in Sleep: If a baby's sleep association is disrupted during the night, they may cry as they seek to return to their preferred sleep state.

  3. Techniques to Establish Positive Sleep Associations: It's beneficial to establish healthy sleep associations from the start. Encourage self-soothing by placing your baby in the crib when drowsy but not fully asleep. Gradually, they'll learn to fall asleep independently and have an easier time resettling during nighttime awakenings.

E. Teething

  1. Teething and Sleep Disruptions: Teething is a natural developmental process, but it can be uncomfortable and lead to disrupted sleep. The pressure and discomfort of new teeth emerging can cause babies to wake up crying.

  2. Recognizing Teething-Related Crying: Look for signs of teething, such as excessive drooling, chewing on objects, or swollen gums. If these symptoms coincide with nighttime crying, teething could be the cause.

  3. Soothing Techniques for Teething Babies: Provide teething toys or rings for your baby to chew on. You can also consider using teething gels or over-the-counter pain relievers (under the guidance of your pediatrician) to alleviate discomfort.

When to Seek Medical Advice

While many instances of babies crying in their sleep can be attributed to normal developmental and biological factors, there are times when crying may indicate an underlying medical issue. As a parent or caregiver, it's essential to be vigilant and recognize when seeking medical advice is necessary. Here are some signs and situations that warrant contacting a pediatrician or healthcare professional:

A. Signs of Underlying Health Issues

  1. Persistent, High-Pitched Crying: If your baby's crying is unusually high-pitched, continuous, or sounds distressed, it could be a sign of discomfort or pain.

  2. Fever: A fever, especially in combination with crying and other symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, may indicate an infection or illness.

  3. Breathing Difficulties: If your baby experiences irregular breathing patterns, rapid breathing, or seems to struggle to breathe, it's a cause for immediate concern.

  4. Changes in Skin Color: If your baby's skin turns bluish or pale, this could signify oxygen or circulation problems.

  5. Lethargy or Weakness: If your baby appears unusually lethargic, weak, or unresponsive, it's a warning sign that something may be wrong.

B. The Role of Reflux, Allergies, and Sleep Disorders

  1. Reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) can lead to discomfort and crying, particularly when lying down. If your baby has severe reflux symptoms, such as vomiting or difficulty gaining weight, consult a healthcare professional.

  2. Allergies: Allergic reactions to foods, formula, or environmental factors can cause fussiness and sleep disturbances. Consult your pediatrician if you suspect allergies are causing your baby's discomfort.

  3. Sleep Disorders: Some sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can manifest as restless sleep and frequent night waking. If your baby's sleep patterns are consistently disrupted, discuss it with your pediatrician.

C. Unexplained Crying Beyond Normal Patterns

  1. Crying Without Obvious Causes: If your baby's crying doesn't seem related to hunger, discomfort, or sleep associations and persists for an extended period, it's important to seek medical advice to rule out any underlying issues.

  2. Sudden Changes in Crying Patterns: If your baby has been sleeping well but suddenly starts crying excessively during sleep, it may indicate a new problem that needs evaluation.

  3. Intuition as a Parent: Sometimes, a parent's intuition plays a significant role. If you feel that something is not right, even if there are no obvious signs, don't hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional.

Tips for Soothing a Crying Baby in Their Sleep

Caring for a crying baby during the night can be a challenging and exhausting task for parents and caregivers. However, there are several effective strategies and techniques that can help soothe a crying baby in their sleep, creating a more peaceful sleep environment for both you and your little one. Here are some valuable tips:

A. Gentle Techniques for Calming a Crying Baby

  1. Swaddling: Swaddling involves wrapping your baby snugly in a lightweight blanket, which can provide a sense of security and comfort, similar to being in the womb.

  2. Rocking: Gently rocking your baby in your arms or a rocking chair can help lull them back to sleep. Many babies find the rhythmic motion soothing.

  3. White Noise: Soft white noise, such as the sound of a fan or a dedicated white noise machine, can mask background sounds and create a calming environment for your baby.

  4. Shushing: Make a "shushing" sound near your baby's ear. The rhythmic "shh" sound can mimic the comforting noises they heard in the womb.

  5. Pacifier: If your baby uses a pacifier, offer it to them during sleep disturbances. Sucking on a pacifier can be soothing and help your baby self-soothe.

B. Creating a Conducive Sleep Environment

  1. Optimal Room Temperature: Ensure the baby's room is at a comfortable temperature, typically around 68-72°F (20-22°C). Dress your baby in appropriate sleep attire to avoid overheating.

  2. Dim Lighting: Use soft, dim lighting during nighttime feedings and diaper changes to minimize disruption to your baby's sleep.

  3. Consistent Sleep Routine: Establish a consistent bedtime routine, including activities like a warm bath, gentle rocking, and reading a soothing book, to signal that it's time for sleep.

  4. Safe Sleep Environment: Follow safe sleep guidelines by placing your baby on their back to sleep, removing any loose bedding or toys from the crib, and using a firm mattress with a fitted sheet.

  5. Comfortable Bedding: Choose comfortable and breathable bedding for your baby's crib, such as a firm mattress, a fitted sheet, and a sleep sack.

C. Sleep Training Methods and Their Applicability

  1. Ferber Method: The Ferber method involves allowing your baby to cry for progressively longer intervals before comforting them. This method can help babies learn to self-soothe but may not be suitable for all families.

  2. Gradual Extinction: Gradual extinction involves reducing your interventions over time, allowing your baby to learn to fall asleep independently. It's important to be consistent and patient when using this method.

  3. No Tears Approach: This approach focuses on providing comfort and responding to your baby's cues without letting them cry it out. It emphasizes gentle methods to help your baby fall asleep.

  4. Consulting a Pediatrician: If sleep troubles persist and are causing distress for both you and your baby, consider consulting a pediatrician or a sleep specialist for guidance. They can provide tailored advice and solutions based on your baby's unique needs.


The journey into understanding why babies cry in their sleep is one filled with curiosity, compassion, and countless sleepless nights. We've explored the intricacies of infant sleep patterns, the common reasons behind nighttime crying, and the importance of seeking medical advice when necessary. We've also discussed valuable tips for soothing a crying baby during their sleep.

As parents and caregivers, it's crucial to remember that babies are unique individuals with distinct needs and temperaments. While crying is a natural means of communication, it can be challenging to decipher the cause, especially in the middle of the night. By understanding the common triggers for nighttime tears, you can respond with empathy and care, providing the comfort and security your baby seeks.

Additionally, recognizing when to seek medical advice is essential for your baby's well-being. Trust your instincts as a parent, and never hesitate to consult a healthcare professional when you have concerns about your baby's health or sleep patterns.