Troubleshooting Preemie Sleep Issues

Fussy preemie baby trying to sleep
Preemies can struggle with sleep issues.

If you are struggling due to preemie sleep issues, know that you are not alone. Baby sleep problems are more common than they are rare. Many feel that preemies have a harder time adapting to a sleep schedule than babies born at 40 weeks gestation.

Some Preemie Sleep Issues

Since babies born prematurely are smaller than full-term infants, they sometimes have health needs which keep them in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Often they take a little longer to adjust to life outside the womb as opposed to an infant born on time, or a few days late. Some of these issues that keep preemies from sleeping soundly include:

  • Inability to self-soothe - They wake and can't calm themselves in order to fall back to sleep. This is due to their immature nervous system.
  • Wanting to be held often - Is this due to not enough time spent in the womb or the fact that many of them were in the hospital's PICU after birth and not held very often? It could be a combination due to both circumstances.
  • Trouble with nursing - Due to their size and development, they may have difficulty latching on to the breast or onto the bottle nipple to feed. If they are hungry, getting to sleep and staying asleep will, of course, cause problems.

Solutions for Preemie Sleep Issues

There are some steps you can take to try to get your baby to sleep better. Some of these have been tried by parents of preemies and include:

  • At nap or bedtime, playing a CD with music
  • Singing a lullaby before sleep
  • Rocking your baby in a rocker just before placing him in his crib
  • Running white noise such as the vacuum cleaner or a room fan.
  • Providing a pacifier (It may take time before a newborn can learn how to use one, so be patient.)
  • Placing your baby in a sleep sack may help her feel more soothed and able to fall asleep and stay asleep better.
  • Turning on a night light or dim light in his room.
  • Letting your baby cry it out for a while to see if he will return to sleep on his own.
  • Some find that sleeping in the same bed or sharing the bed with their baby helps everyone to get better sleep.
  • Placing a bassinet in the room with you may help with sleep issues so that you can tend to your preemie without having to go down the hall to his room.
  • Promote a sleep schedule for your baby and make sure your daily activities with baby compensates for it so you can keep the routine.

Consult Your Doctor

Be sure to let your pediatrician know of any concerns you have regarding your baby. Pediatricians are used to hearing all kinds of complaints or issues and so do not hesitate to share yours. Your baby could have a sleep disorder. Studies show that preemies and African American babies are at a greater risk for Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB).

Obstructive Sleep Apnea can also be a problem for preemies when breathing during sleeping stops for ten seconds due to a partial blocking in his throat or nose. The child continues to sleep through this disorder, or can wake due to the disturbance. Let your doctor know if you suspect this problem. Tests can be done to monitor your child's sleeping habits. If he is experiencing sleep apnea, he could be restless or fatigued during the waking hours, too.

Further Reading

To learn more about preemies and sleep issues, gain wisdom and insight by reading books written by experts in the field.

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Troubleshooting Preemie Sleep Issues