Why Do Babies Cry in Their Sleep?

If you've ever heard your baby crying and checked on them to find them still asleep, you might have been confused. You're not alone—babies crying in their sleep is simply another mystery about our little humans, and parents are sometimes unsure how to respond.

A baby crying in their sleep can sound alarm bells for many new parents, leading to the question of "what's going on?".

We'll help you understand the common reasons why your baby might cry in their sleep and how to help them.

Related: Where Should My Newborn Sleep?

Newborn Sleep Patterns

Newborns need to eat frequently, and their nervous system is still developing. They wake up more often than other babies, and they can cry without being fully awake. 

If your newborn starts crying while sleeping, and they don't need a diaper change or food, there are other solutions before you become too concerned.

Check and see if your baby is getting too hot or cold while sleeping—newborns that cry in their sleep likely need a change in their sleep environment.

Infant Sleep Patterns

After the newborn stage, babies go through developmental changes, like how they sleep. Many parents start working on more independent sleep schedules once their baby gets close to the 6th-month mark.

Babies that are just learning to sleep on their own can struggle to transition between self-soothing and sleep cycles, meaning that you might want to wait a few minutes to see if they will settle on their own and get back to sleep after crying.

Toddler Sleep Patterns

If your toddler cries uncontrollably at night, don't worry—it's a common issue. When toddlers get overtired, they typically cry more before they fall asleep, and they might briefly cry between their sleep cycles. And often, if you give your toddler a comfy blanket or stuffed animal to sleep with, it can help them settle on their own without waking up, putting an end to them crying in their sleep.

Why Your Baby Cries in Their Sleep

While it's not super common for a baby to cry in their sleep, it happens. These are the three most common reasons why your baby will cry in their sleep:

 A baby crying in her sleep

Crying Caused By Teething Pain

When your baby's teeth buds start to emerge, they can be uncomfortable. And you can be sure that your baby will let you know it. Babies that are teething can be fussy, and they will often whine because of their discomfort.

If you think your baby is working on a new tooth, you might notice whimpering or crying while they sleep. Your pediatrician can recommend ways to help treat their teething discomfort.

Related: When Can My Baby Have Water?

Crying When Transitioning Sleep Cycles

Like us, baby sleeping cycles. However, babies transition between their sleep cycles rapidly and spend more time in active sleep than deep sleep. Since they spend more time in REM sleep, you'll likely notice that your baby's eyes, arms, and legs might move during sleep. They can also open and close their hands, twitch and jerk their bodies, and cry during sleep.

With their sleep cycles lasting around 40 minutes, many babies will briefly awaken at the end of each cycle. During this awakening, they might cry for a few minutes before putting themselves back to sleep, or they may not even fully awaken.

Crying Due to Being Overly Tired

if your baby doesn't get enough sleep, or they are awake longer than they should be, they can get overtired quickly. And overtiredness triggers hormones that fight sleep, making it even more of a challenge for your baby to fall and stay asleep.

it seems counterintuitive, and it can be a struggle. Big tears and overtiredness before falling asleep are extremely common reasons why your baby cries during sleep.

Should I Be Concerned That My Baby Cries in Their Sleep?

Occasional crying while your baby sleeps isn't typically a cause for alarm. Still, most parents want to do something to ensure that their baby gets a peaceful rest. After all, even if your baby frequently cries in their sleep, they might be able to sleep through it. However, you may not.

Many parents worry about their baby having nightmares. Most of us have seen our babies sleeping and wondered what they're dreaming about. However, in reality, the sweet smiles you see on your baby while they sleep are not voluntary and not in response to dreaming.

Dreaming starts later in life, around age two. The good news is the babies don't experience nightmares, night terrors, or bad dreams. Crying in their sleep isn't due to nightmares; it's likely linked to one of the reasons we listed above.

How to Soothe a Baby When They Cry in Their Sleep

Here are three tips to help your baby quit crying during sleep:

Soothe Them

When babies are upset, it's helpful to lay on the soothing. You can try white noise, shushing, or singing to help soothe your baby. And many babies will stop crying and settle faster when bounced or rocked. If your baby enjoys pacifiers, they can also be useful to help stop the crying.

In addition, if you're breastfeeding, nursing is extremely soothing for babies, and being close to mom can help prepare them for sleep and slow racing heart rates.

Condense Their Routine

If you think your baby is overtired, you can condense their usual bedtime routine to help them settle to sleep quickly. Babies that throw tantrums during their bedtime routine are often overtired. And overtiredness leads to crying! So, if your baby seems overly tired, you can skip parts of your bedtime routine to speed it up and get them to sleep.

Routines for newborns should be quick and include a diaper change, changing into pajamas, applying lotion, and a few minutes of rocking or bouncing. For older babies, you can include some additional activities like reading or singing lullabies.

 A baby laughing while laying in bed

Be Patient

Calming your crying baby might take some time, and it might take them longer than usual to get to sleep. It's essential to be patient. Soothe your baby and help them stop crying before trying to rush them to sleep.

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Related: When Will My Baby's Hair Grow?

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