Sleep is an essential building block that contributes to good physical and mental health. To ensure optimal development and long-term health and well-being, newborn babies need 14 to 17 hours of sleep every 24 hours. While this is largely considered an average sleep schedule, some newborns can sleep for up to 18 to 19 hours, waking up only to eat regardless of the time of the day.
So, when a baby starts to form a novel schedule of their own—say, falling asleep sitting up —frazzled parents find it very difficult to determine what’s “normal” for their child.
While every baby has their own preferred sleeping positions and habits, if your baby suddenly starts sitting up to catch their forty winks instead of laying down in the crib, you might find yourself wondering: “Is this a cause for concern, or is it just a growing phase?”
This article explains why your baby falls asleep while sitting, the health risks associated with it, and what you should do to help. Let’s explore.
Why It Happens
Babies exhibit normal contrariness as they pass through one developmental phase to the next. In a nutshell, this means that you are likely having trouble coaxing your baby to sleep laying down on their crib because of their natural inclination to practice their milestones.
This, of course, is not the only reason why your baby may be falling asleep sitting up. Other causes may include:
As babies transition from sleeping next to their parents to sleeping alone in a crib, they may experience separation anxiety that can keep them awake. Some babies may experience this at bedtime, during the night, or both.
Discomfort and pain from medical conditions like sleep apnea, acid reflux, teething, and ear infections can disrupt your baby’s sleep. And when he or she wakes up, your baby may avoid laying down, which inevitably leads to them falling asleep while sitting.
Should You Be Concerned About Your Baby Falling Asleep Sitting?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sleeping too long in a sitting position may make it difficult for a baby to get enough oxygen. Because they can’t hold their head up for too long, the airway cannot remain open to facilitate proper breathing. This is why most babies experience lighter sleep when they fall asleep sitting up in their crib.
Additionally, falling asleep while sitting can also lead to a flat spot on the back of your baby’s head and may also worsen reflux.
If you hesitate to change your baby’s position because of the fear you’ll spoil their sleep cycle, think about these potential health risks. Whenever you see your baby asleep while sitting, gently lay them down on their back to ensure deep, even breathing and a good night’s sleep.
What To Do About It
If your baby falls asleep while sitting, gently nudge them to lay flat on their back. He or she may wake up as a response, and you may have to try to lay them down multiple times before you succeed.
Here’s a prop tip: Soothe your baby by gently rubbing their tummy or back. Gentle butt pats work really well too if your baby is a tummy sleeper. You’d be surprised by just how well touch therapy works.
If you’re looking for an alternative method to ensure your baby is well protected in the crib, follow the safe sleep environment recommendations proposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Here are some ideas to help get you started:
- Follow the ABCs of sleep: Your baby should sleep Alone on their Back in a safe Crib. If your baby is sleeping sitting up, transition them safely to a firm, flat surface.
- Scan the crib and remove items that may be keeping your baby from falling or staying asleep.
- Put your baby in heavier pajamas to initiate a good night’s rest.
- Get rid of light and noise that may cause them to wake up.
A rebellion in the crib will likely not last forever, but it may take some time for things to get back to normal. If your baby has just learned to sit, this new milestone may be exciting for them. You may have to put your baby down a bit more sleepy than usual for a few nights. Put your baby down only when they’ve reached the deeper cycles of sleep (about 20 minutes) to ensure they don’t wake up as soon as you lay them down.
If you suspect that your baby’s change in sleep position has something to do with discomfort or pain, consult their pediatrician. They can help diagnose and treat any medical conditions related to disrupted sleep patterns and refusal to lay down.
Babies fall asleep in a range of positions at different times of the day. While babies can (and will!) fall asleep sitting up for various reasons, it’s not recommended to leave your baby falling asleep sitting.
Transition your baby to a safe, flat surface as soon as possible to ensure optimal sleep quality. This will minimize the risks associated with sleeping in a sitting position and ensure that your baby wakes up well-rested and happy.