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Restless Sleep In Children

How To Treat Restless Sleep

Dr. Dustin Miller Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Dustin Miller on May 17, 2021

The first few months after a baby is born can be tough for many reasons, but your baby’s restless sleep and irregular sleeping patterns surely are not making things easier.

The bad news is that sleep disturbances, including a baby who just will not sleep through the night or let you sleep through the night, are a normal part of parenthood. The good news, though, is that these problems are temporary, and while they are around, there are some tips and strategies that may be able to help you and your little one sleep easier, and for longer periods of time.

Before we get into treatment strategies for your baby’s restless sleep habits, let’s talk about the basics.

What Causes Restless Sleep?

So, here’s the thing… babies sleep differently than adults do, just by nature. In fact, newborn babies who are less than four months old actually spend more than half of their time asleep in REM sleep, as compared to adults whose sleep cycles are only about 25% REM.

What does this mean for your baby’s quality of sleep? Well, it means that your baby will move around a bunch throughout the night, and may also be noisy while they’re at it. A baby’s sleep cycle is much shorter than ours, lasting only about 60 minutes as compared to the average 90-minute adult sleep cycle.

In simpler terms, the 60-minute sleep cycle your baby is dealing with essentially results in them waking up, at least partially, once every hour, and they may cry or whine each time this occurs. Thus, if you find yourself being woken up by your baby approximately every hour, this is probably why (and it’s totally normal).

That being said, it goes without saying that many of the sleep disturbances your child is experiencing are caused by temporary culprits, like development, changes in routine, or occasional illness. In fact, once your baby is between 4 and 6 months old, they will likely start needing less sleep, and often start sleeping in longer stretches, making bedtime easier for everyone.

Tips for Restless Sleep in Babies

If your baby’s restless sleep is wreaking havoc on your own sleep, you are not alone, and we are here to help.

One of the best things you can do when it comes to your baby’s restlessness is to build a better understanding of different sleeping problems that may be causing restlessness if it is not due simply to age.

The easiest way to do this is to look into the most common sleeping problems for different age groups -- this guide focuses specifically on babies:

Children aged 0 to 3 months: The most common problems facing babies of this age include resistance to back sleeping, mixing up day and night, and restlessness due to frequent feedings. All three of these issues can be solved by keeping a consistent, regular schedule.

  • If your baby is resistant to back sleeping, swaddling them or giving them a pacifier in addition to being persistent about placing them on their back may help things, and they will simply get used to it.
  • A baby who is mixing up day and night can become more regular in terms of sleep if daytime naps are limited to only three hours and the room is kept dark during naptime and feedings during the night.
  • Lastly, any restlessness caused by frequent feedings can be ameliorated by consulting your pediatrician for detailed advice about how often you should feed your baby, and then sticking to a routine and slowly stretching the hours between feedings.

4 to 5 months old: The most common sleeping problem faced by babies between 4 and 5 months old is sleep regression, which entails resistance to sleep and bedtime as a result of your baby becoming more aware of the world around them and all of the fascinating things they can explore.

  • This problem can be solved by sticking to a bedtime routine and including naps to account for any sleep lost throughout the night.

6 months old and over: Babies in this age group may face sleep disturbances because of teething pains, or have trouble falling asleep by themselves.

  • To help your baby fall asleep independently, make sure the last feeding is at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and then place your baby into the crib when you notice they are becoming drowsy.
  • Babies struggling with teething pains can be soothed with teething rings or lullabies, but consulting a pediatrician will help with severe or persistent problems.

For children 3 years and older who are dealing with restless sleep, these tips may help:

  • Following a consistent bedtime routine
  • Putting your child to bed when they are drowsy instead of fully asleep
  • Keeping nighttime care relaxing by keeping lights dim and speaking softly
  • Trying homeopathic remedies, like Genexa’s Kids’ Sleepology Organic Nighttime Sleep Aid. This product is recommended for children who are at least 3 years old. Consult your pediatrician before starting use with children under the age of 3 years.

Genexa’s Kids’ Calm Keeper (also formulated for kids 3+) may also be able to help promote balance and relaxation for your child throughout the day with natural ingredients like chamomile.

The Bottom Line

Children may have restless sleep for a variety of reasons, but this most commonly occurs as a result of the fact that they have a much different sleep cycle than adults do, and this can cause them to wake up every hour.

Fortunately, restless sleep is a largely temporary problem, meaning that in a few months you might see major improvements just due to your child’s continued development. In the meantime, though, there are strategies that can help, such as keeping a regular and relaxing bedtime routine, keeping the room dark during nighttime feedings, and limiting daytime naps to three hours rather than four.

Persistent sleep disturbances should be discussed with your pediatrician on the off-chance that they are a sign of a bigger problem, but by and large, restlessness during the night will improve with time and a consistent sleep schedule. Babies in different age groups may be dealing with different culprits for their restlessness, such as day and night confusion, sleep regression, or teething pains, all of which commonly occur during different stages of growth and development, and likely will not happen concurrently.

Regardless of what is causing your baby’s sleeping problems, there are ways to ease the issue. Older children facing sleep disturbances may also benefit from homeopathic remedies like those offered by Genexa for children 3+ years old.

Founded by two dads, Genexa is committed to offering clean medicines that have the active ingredients you need without the artificial ingredients you don’t.