Why Do Babies Cry in Their Sleep: 7 Causes and How To Soothe

Why Do Babies Cry in Their Sleep: 7 Causes and How To Soothe

OK, parents, let’s put aside the cookie-cutter picture-perfect facades we’ve all got going on social media for a moment, and be brutally honest: life with a baby can be downright stressful. 

Sleepless nights, balancing schedules, and you know, there’s the whole ‘taking care of a tiny human’ thing — parenthood is like being air-dropped onto a foreign island, where small proto-humans are KING and communication is performed through questionable fluids and cryptic screams. 

And to top it all off, in this new land ruled by raspberry-blowin’ babbling babies, sleep is like gold: precious and rare. 

A baby sleeping soundly is a beautiful thing. However, while silence is usually golden, sometimes your tiny tot may seem to cry in their sleep — without actually waking up — often leaving you to question your sanity. 

But don’t worry, in most cases, it’s perfectly normal for little ones to cry during their slumber — in other words, you’re not going crazy! 

Interested in learning more? Little Lawn Collective is here to help. Read on to discover what causes babies to cry in their sleep and how to soothe them back to dreamland. 

Why Does My Baby Cry in Their Sleep?

It’s tough when your little buddy won’t stop crying. You may worry that something is wrong with your precious tot, that you’ll lose your cool and go berzerk, that your parenting skills aren’t up to par, or that you’ll never develop a connection with your newest family member. But you can handle it!

There are a ton of reasons why babies cry — after all, it’s how they communicate. 

Crying is how infants capture your attention and express their needs. At first, it can be extremely challenging to interpret your baby’s different cries, often causing you to wish for a magic baby cry decoder, but as you spend more time listening to your bundle of joy, you’ll become a pro at recognizing and meeting your little one’s specific needs. 

1. Sleep Patterns and Stages

Believe it or not, babies set their sleep patterns in the womb. Yup, it’s true — and by the time they’re born, you might already have a pretty good idea of when they’re going to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from when you felt them being the most active inside your belly.  

Once your precious baby enters the world, it can take a few months for them to establish their sleep patterns. During this transitional period, babies will regularly change from darling angels to Tasmanian devils while they snooze. They will scream, cry, wriggle, and kick out their itty-bitty legs as they pass through the different stages of sleep. 

But don’t be alarmed. Infants haven’t mastered the challenges of a regular sleep cycle just yet, so it’s perfectly normal for them to cry or make strange sounds in their sleep. Often, they will simply settle back down again and drift back to snoozeville.

2. Daytime Napping

Putting your little nugget down for an especially long catnap in the afternoon can be counterproductive to your baby getting a good night’s rest. They might not settle easily and find it difficult to fall into a deep sleep, resulting in tossing, turning, kicking, and crying. 

As nice as it might be for you to kick back and relax while your tiny tot naps in the day, remember that this could keep you from catching some much-needed zzzs during the night.  

3. An Immature Nervous System

Your little one’s nervous system is still developing, which can make it tough to control reflexes and movements. The stresses of everyday life become difficult to handle, and as a result of all the stimuli, your baby may respond by kicking, twitching, and crying in their sleep. 

While much more research is needed, experts believe an immature nervous system could be the culprit behind colic — aka, excessive crying or fussiness for no clear rhyme or reason. You see, an infant’s nervous system becomes a bit more mature at about three months of age, which happens to be right around when colic usually stops. Coincidence? Maybe…   

That being said, if you think your munchkin is crying excessively, make an appointment with the pediatrician to rule out any other causes. If you’re simply dealing with a colicky baby, rest easy knowing that your little buddy’s nervous system is developing, and this phase will pass. 

4. They’re Too Tired

When babies don’t get enough shut-eye, they can quickly become overtired. And an overtired baby is usually a fussy, irritable little monster who struggles to settle into quiet sleep time or stay asleep.

The younger your little one is, the more subtle their sleep cues are —so it may take a bit of time until you can recognize the signs. Crying at the slightest thing, staring blankly into space, and being especially quiet are just some of the ways in which your little one tells you they need more sleep. 

That being said, the moment you notice your bundle of joy showing signs of sleepiness, go ahead and put the baby down for a snooze. An overtired baby will become restless, which may lead to crying in their sleep. 

5. Food Allergies

When your favorite little human’s crying is persistent and doesn’t appear to be related to sleepiness, hunger, or general discomfort, a food allergy or intolerance may be the cause. 

Some symptoms of food allergies are so extreme, they’re pretty hard to miss: wheezing, rash, vomiting, etc. Other times, however, the symptoms are far more subtle — like sleep trouble.

When a baby has difficulty sleeping, a food allergy isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind, but it should, as sleep problems due to tummy woes are a definite side effect of food allergies. Your little one might be super gassy, struggling with constipation, or experiencing indigestion — all of which can make getting to sleep and staying asleep especially difficult.   If you suspect that your kiddo is dealing with an allergy, make sure to consult your pediatrician. 

6. Dirty Diapers

Some little ones can sit in a dirty nappy for hours on end without a care in the world. Other babies, however, tend to go completely bonkers if they’re uncomfortable for more than a second or two. (Can you really blame them, though?)

Infants have unbelievably fast metabolic rates, which is why they gift us with many ‘presents’ throughout the day — and night. If you have a particularly picky baby who demands a fresh diapy the moment the old one gets icky, chances are your little one will cry in their sleep until their diapers are changed. 

That being said, even if your baby doesn’t mind catching zzz’s in a soiled diaper, it’s essential to change a wet nappy as soon as possible. Why? Because delay in changing your little one’s dirty diaper could cause a diaper rash, leading to big tears and poor sleep. 

7. Nightmares

Most of us have watched our little sleepyheads and wondered, “what are they dreaming about?” 

Perhaps they conjure up huge smiling faces, giant-tongued puppy kisses, or even their mama playing a game of peek-a-boo. Of course, babies can’t speak, so it’s only natural to wonder — do our little ones have dreams, and if so, can they have nightmares, too?

Well, believe it or not, it’s a topic without a crystal clear answer. Researchers believe that babies have some form of dreams, while others say that they are not developmentally capable of the abstract thinking needed to have dreams.  

That being said, nightmares usually stem from exposure to trauma, an overactive imagination, and the normal stresses of everyday life. In other words, bad dreams come from things that babies have yet to experience. 

So, if your dreaming angel cries out in their sleep, chances are it’s not from a nightmare but one of the other causes listed above.  

Should I Let My Baby Cry It out?

To cry it out, or to not cry it out — that is the question. As for the answer? Well, the truth is that there really isn’t one. In fact, letting your baby “cry it out” has been a hotly debated topic among parents and baby experts for years.

With that in mind, a crying baby is trying to tell you something. Your job is to figure out why and what — if anything — you can do about it. Full tummy? Check. Clean nappy? Check. No fever? Check. 

If your little one doesn’t appear sick, you’ve tried everything, and they’re still unhappy, it’s A-OK to let them cry for a moment— especially if you’re about to break down and start crying hysterically! 

Simply place your cranky baby safely in the crib and take a few minutes to relax. After taking a deep breath, pick up your teary-eyed angel and try to soothe. 

How Do I Soothe My Crying Baby?

So, how do you soothe a crying baby? Here are a few of the best tips and tricks to help your little one find calm for sweet dreams and quality rest:

Create a Nighttime Routine

According to one recent study, babies who followed a nightly bedtime routine went to sleep easier, slept better, and cried out less often in the middle of the night. These habitual nighttime rituals can help your little buddy settle into a regular sleep pattern. 

A solid routine that you can do with your baby before bed could look like:

Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all nighttime routine that works for every baby. Try to be flexible and find what works best for you and your little sleepyhead. And remember, regularity is an essential ingredient of a soothing nighttime routine. In other words, consistency is key!

Try Swaddling

Babies love to be swaddled. It gives them a sense of security when the world gets overwhelming and reminds them of their cozier days in the womb. If your baby needs to be soothed, simply wrap them in a snug (but not too tight!) swaddle before placing them on their back. Stop swaddling when your little one is able to roll over on their own.  

Give Them a Massage

What’s not to love about a massage? No matter what kind you get — from a Swedish massage to a deep tissue massage and even a perineal massage (OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch) — you receive incredible benefits. So, why not try an infant massage for your tiniest tot?

According to research, babies who get a gentle rub-down before it’s time to hit the hay tend to produce more of the sleepy hormone melatonin, which helps them to drift off to dreamland sooner rather than later. A bedtime massage can also help ease stress, promote feelings of relaxation, and even improve your bond with your little one.

After a warm bath, we recommended massaging your little buddy’s skin with our Nourishing Body Lotion with Oat & Shea Butter for the softest and coziest of bedtimes. 


So, why do babies cry in their sleep, you ask?

If your little sleepyhead cries in the middle of the night, chances are it’s nothing to be concerned about — especially if they are only crying for a couple of minutes. Infants are going through the motions of development which can make them a bit fussy at times. Unless your tiny tot needs attention in some way — such as a diaper change — you would simply leave them be and let them go back to sleep. 

Is your little buddy still crying? Time to try a few soothing techniques! Give your baby a gentle massage using our Nourishing Body Lotion before wrapping them like a burrito in a cozy blanket. 

Made with you and your little one in mind, this dreamy lotion is infused with our signature NaturalSnooze fragrance featuring powerful scents proven to create a peaceful environment that helps with falling asleep and staying asleep. 

We’ve got zzz’s down to a science. Whether you need some support to get your little buddy to sleep or just a friend to remind you that you’re doing great — you can always count on Little Yawn Collective to help you feel confident about bedtime (every time). 



Enteric Colic | NCBI

A Nightly Bedtime Routine: Impact on Sleep in Young Children and Maternal Mood | NCBI

Massage Helps Infants, Mothers Get Good Night’s Sleep Together | Science Daily


Related Articles

Make bedtime a Breeze

Discover safe, effective, melatonin-free sleep help for your little one

Shop Solutions


Cart (0)