Child sleeping

Why Children Cry at Night, and How to Calm Them

Goodnight room. Goodnight moon… But why won’t your child stop crying? Don’t worry, mums and dads. It happens to all children at one point or another. After a happy day spent playing, your little one transforms into someone else at night, crying endlessly and refusing to sleep. Why is this happening to your child? And what can you do to calm a fussy child at night?

There are a number of possible reasons for this kind of behavior in children. While some are a normal part of growing up, others may be connected to their diet, or at times their environment1. Parents need to be watchful for signs in their children. Let’s look at some of the possible reasons why children cry and how to calm a fussy child at night:

1. Disruptions in your child’s schedule

If your child is crying excessively during bedtime, it is often because they are overstimulated2. Maybe they are still excited from that playdate they had in the afternoon. Or maybe you’ve become busy lately and they miss reading a book together before bedtime.

What Helps:

Comforting your crying child is always a good first step.

Sometimes your child just needs a cuddle. Try hugging or walking around with your child. This provides motion, which helps distract them, and body contact.

After putting your child back in bed, try using sleeping aids that play white noise. These are sounds that mask other sounds that occur naturally in an environment. Sometimes the hum of a fan in the room can have the same calming effect.

2. Hunger

Children may cry at night due to hunger. And sometimes, they are not able to communicate this feeling, or recognize it3.

What Helps:

To get to the bottom of how to calm a fussy child at night, it always pays to just ask them if they’re hungry. They may not realize it until you ask.

Give your child a light snack, such as a cup of warm milk before putting them to bed.

3. Hunger-Gas-Crying Cycle

Sometimes the culprit is gas, which can be uncomfortable or even painful if not released4. If a child eats or drinks too fast, they might swallow air, thus trapping gas in the stomach. This common occurrence happens in a cycle: eating when hungry leads to gas and then to discomfort and crying.

What Helps:

You can break the hunger-gas-crying cycle by giving light snacks in between meals before your child becomes very hungry.

4. Sensitive or Delicate Tummy

Persistent crying unrelated to hunger, sleep, or general discomfort may be attributed to digestion issues due to milk intolerance4.

What Helps:

If your child has digestion issues, consult your doctor to determine if your child is sensitive to lactose. A change of formula with easy-to-digest protein (partially hydrolyzed proteins) and with less lactose may help your child get the nutrition they need5.

5. Nightmares

Night terrors, when your child wakes up crying in the middle of the night from nightmares, can be distressing for both the child and the parent, but it is a normal part of child development6. However, it may be more likely to occur if a child is sick or sleep-deprived.

What Helps:

If your child wakes up with night terrors, soothe your child as soon as possible. They may be disoriented, but talk to them gently and reassure that the nightmares are not real. Providing comfort is always helpful in how to calm a fussy child at night.

6. Other Sources of Discomfort

Other reasons why your child may cry at night could be environmental, or it could be because of other illness7.

A room that's grown too hot or too cold can cause discomfort to your child in the middle of the night. An illness that you are unaware of can also make it difficult for your child to regulate their temperature.

What Helps:

Make sure that your child’s room maintains a constant and comfortable temperature throughout the night.

If you suspect sickness, check your child’s temperature. A temperature over 40°C or 104°F warrants a visit to the nearest clinic as soon as possible.

 

References:

  1. Pediatric Sleep Disorders, https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/sleep/pediatric-sleep-disorders.html, Accessed 28 September 2020
  2. Common Sleep Disorders in Children, https://www.aafp.org/afp/2014/0301/p368.html, Accessed 28 September 2020
  3. Assessment and Treatment of Common Pediatric Sleep Disorders, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898839/, Accessed 28 September 2020
  4. Children and Sleep, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep, Accessed 28 September 2020
  5. What Is Lactose Intolerance? https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/digestive-diseases-lactose-intolerance#1, Accessed 28 September 2020
  6. Night Terrors (for Parents), https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/terrors.html
  7. Help! My Toddler is Screaming at Bedtime, https://www.healthline.com/health/childrens-health/toddler-screaming-at-bedtime.