Why Do Babies Cry In Their Sleep: Everything You Need To Know

When you’re a new parent, there will be lots of scenarios that you haven’t come across before that you’re forced to deal with, and this can be daunting.

One common worry for new parents is that their baby cries while they’re asleep.

Many babies do this, so you’re not alone, but actually, it’s usually nothing to worry about.

Most of the time, the behavior subsides on its own, and most experts have this down as a phase. 

What To Look Out For When Baby Is Crying In Their Sleep

baby is crying while sleeping

Around 30% of babies experience issues with sleep at some point within the first two years.

This is a whole lot of parents having sleepless nights too, and the issue can be made worse by worrying behaviors in the baby’s sleep cycle.

Due to anxiety around this, some parents will spend more time watching their child to make sure they’re okay rather than getting the much-needed sleep that they deserve. 

One major factor that determines what you need to look out for is your baby’s age, as the noises that they make during sleep change as they grow older and should gradually lessen over time. 

Newborns Crying In Their Sleep

Newborns may cry, make small grunting noises as though they’re dreaming, or scream in their sleep.

This is because they haven’t got a set sleep cycle yet, and their brains are just adjusting to the world around them and developing as they go. 

Newborn babies typically have an erratic sleep cycle, where they sleep for longer than older children or adults overall, but they do this in short bursts.

This is because their brains are trying to develop faster than an adult brain. The rapid changes in brain functionality cause your baby to be more clingy and unsure of themselves at first.

Crying is a natural reaction to this insecurity. That’s why adults always feel so tired while nursing a baby.

Adult sleep cycles require us to have less sleep as our brains don’t need that development time, but we need more extended sleep periods in a continuous session. 

How To Recognize Newborn Dreams

Your newborn will typically wake up every few hours, but you’ll notice that their sleeping pattern is mainly made up of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

This is when your baby is dreaming. You’ll be able to recognize this because their eyes will generally move around behind their eyelids. 

The periods of crying here are normally very short as their brain moves on from the image that upset them, and their memory isn’t fully developed, so they’re unable to dwell on a thought for too long.

Usually, the noises will subside without your assistance. 

Up To 12 Month Old Baby Crying In Their Sleep

As your baby starts to grow, their pool of memories will begin to develop further, and they’ll be able to associate things that upset them in real life with something in their dreams.

They’ll also start to get more control over their arms and legs, and you’ll begin to notice twitching and more movement of their body during REM sleep. 

Their REM sleep will start to even out a little more at this stage, giving them the same amount of REM sleep, but within more prolonged periods of restful sleep, so they won’t wake as much (hopefully). 

When you get longer periods of sleep, the dreams become slightly longer too and more realistic to the world around them as they can incorporate experiences and other senses into the dreams.

At this stage, crying may become more desperate and may cause already exhausted parents more worry.

Up To 3-Year-Old Baby Crying In Their Sleep

At the age of three, your child will hopefully be in a reasonably normal sleep cycle and will be sleeping through the night just as you do.

However, this means that their dream periods are much longer, and their emotional spectrum is much more developed than a newborn baby. 

They’ll be able to relate experiences in their lives to hypothetical or fantastic situations in their dreams.

One of the most potent emotions, especially for children, is fear. This is where nightmares come in.

If something has scared your child in real life, the fear will likely manifest while they’re asleep. 

When this happens, crying or screaming along with tossing and turning is normal during sleep and may require you to intervene to understand the underlying cause if it becomes a recurring issue. 

So, What Should You Do If Your Baby Is Crying While Sleeping?

why is my baby crying while sleeping

If your baby starts to cry during the night, it’s natural, as a parent, to want to run to the rescue.

However, there are a few things that you’ll need to try to ensure your baby continues to get the best sleep experience. 

Check That They Are Asleep

Your first thought will be that your baby is awake and crying because they’re hungry or need changing.

Please don’t rush in and immediately pick them up on this assumption. Quietly enter the room and check if they are awake or just crying in their sleep.

If they’re definitely still asleep, then you only have yourself to blame for waking them if this causes you another sleepless night. 

Leave Them Alone

It’s completely natural for babies to have a few moments of tears during their dream, and sometimes it’s a healthy sign that they’re developing correctly.

If you notice them crying, try to leave them for a few minutes. They may just drift back to a peaceful sleep on their own. 

Checking For Issues

If you’ve waited a couple of minutes and your baby still appears restless, then it may be because they can subconsciously feel that their body is uncomfortable, and that’s what’s causing them to have a restless sleep. 

Check Their Diaper 

Without waking them, first, check if their diaper is dry. It’s a misconception that you need to continually change your baby throughout the night if the diaper is simply wet.

If you get an excellent quality nighttime diaper, it’ll soak most of the moisture in, and you can leave this until morning.

However, if the diaper is full, you will need to change them.

If your baby is still sleeping, it’s even possible to do this without waking them if you’re really gentle. If you find that this is the issue, the crying should stop when you put them back down. 


It may also be that your baby is hungry. Because of how quickly your baby is growing, they need food much more often than older children at first.

If their body is crying out for nutrition, they may even dream about this, meaning that they cry when they’re asleep because they’re hungry.

If this is the case, your baby is probably about to wake up any minute screaming for milk – so be prepared. 


As your child gets slightly older and has developed a more regular and scheduled sleep cycle, crying in their sleep can be a sign of a bad dream.

Other signs of this may be exaggerated tossing and turning, and wetting the bed. Nightmares are a natural part of growing up and should be addressed if your child comes to you about them.

Try to get to the bottom of why they might be feeling distressed in everyday life and see if any changes can be made to put this problem right.

The older your child gets, the more they’ll be able to verbalize the problem. 


It’s a completely normal thing for your baby to cry in their sleep. In fact, it’s an essential part of growing up.

In all cases, it’s vital that you keep the disturbance to a minimum at night to ensure that they can revert to a steady sleep cycle as soon as possible.

This will benefit you too as you’ll get more sleep. 

It’s a good idea to quietly check on your baby if they seem in distress while sleeping and if there’s nothing physically troubling them, then go back to bed.

The key is to resist the urge to intervene as it’ll train their tiny brains to be less clingy.

Running to the rescue for every tear will encourage the crying and mean it’ll continue for longer. 

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