Baby Won’t Wake Up But Is Breathing (Understanding Your Baby’s Sleep Cycle)

Babies who sleep longer occasionally and without accompanying signs are not a cause for concern. Healthy babies tend to sleep longer when they are experiencing a developmental leap. Babies, especially newborns, are deep sleepers and can endure loud noises. It is a normal part of the sleep cycle; as they get older, they become light sleepers. 

In rare cases, babies who are hard to rouse may have breathing and heart disorders. But it is just one of the many telltale signs noticeable in babies with these conditions.

Premature babies also have a different sleep cycle than full-term infants.

If you are concerned about your baby’s sleeping habits, it’s not bad to check with your pediatrician for your peace of mind. 

Sleeping habits of a newborn

Generally, newborns sleep and nap for a cumulative 12 to 16 hours a day for a duration of 20 to 50 minutes per nap time. They tend to wake up only to feed or poop, then get back to sleep.

Newborns do not understand day and night and may only establish their sleep-wake rhythm after three months.

Infants also have two types of sleep cycles: active and quiet sleep.

  1. In active sleep (REM), babies tend to groan, open their eyes, move around, and breathe noisily.
  2. In quiet sleep, they will be breathing evenly and sleep without any motion. 

Preemies sleep schedule

A preemie baby boy is sleeping

Pre-term babies have a slightly different sleep pattern, often more than full-term infants.

They can sleep for about 22 hours in short increments and have an inconsistent schedule. Preemies may wake up every couple of hours for feeding and then lapse back into sleep. 

The length of their sleep time stretches longer as they get older.

Typically, preterm infants become less sleepy by the time they are about six to eight months old. 

Reasons why your baby is not waking up

With the looming threat of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), it is hard for parents not to become anxious when their little one is difficult to rouse.

Thus, it is useful to know that when babies experience a deep sleep but are breathing fine, then it is not unusual or concerning. 

But why is it sometimes difficult to wake babies?

Here are a few reasons it happens to babies:

  1. They are experiencing a period of a growth spurt
  2. Your baby has a minor illness like a cold or is teething
  3. Recent vaccination
  4. Sleeping on an irregular schedule
  5. When the baby has an infection, even with the absence of fever
  6. The baby is underfed and becoming dehydrated
  7. Low blood sugar

There are also medical reasons, most are rare, that render the baby too sleepy and lethargic. It does not happen occasionally but almost seems like a habit that babies develop.

Such conditions can be:

How to wake a sleeping baby?

Every parent may have experienced that dreadful moment waking up to their babies’ shallow breathing.

You may be one of those anxious parents putting a mirror under their child’s noses to check if they are breathing. 

If the baby breathes but doesn’t seem to wake up, it may give you a little heart attack. It’s okay to let the baby sleep unless he is long overdue for his scheduled feed.

When waking up is hard for your little one, you can try these simple tips:

  1. Provide gentle stimulation by picking the baby up, tickling their feet, or talking to them
  2. Dress them down 
  3. Change their diapers
  4. Giving the baby a nice and warm bath

When to worry about baby’s difficulty waking up

When the baby is still unresponsive despite your best effort to wake him up, seek immediate medical help.

A newborn baby boy is taking a nap

Babies who become increasingly sleepy, lethargic, and unresponsive as they grow older also need medical attention. 

You should also inform your physician and go to the emergency room if the following symptoms are present:

  1. Loud breathing and wheezing
  2. Flaring nostrils when they breath
  3. Infant has a fever
  4. The baby’s ribs sink in when breathing
  5. When your baby has inhaled, touched, or eaten something toxic


Should I wake my baby to feed him?

Newborn infants should not go for more than four hours without feeding. Babies older than six months need to eat within six hours.

Babies show hunger cues when they need to eat. But if they go past their snooze mark without eating, it is okay to wake them up. 

My newborn infant pauses in between breaths while sleeping, is it an emergency?

Newborn babies have breathing instability and may experience a harmless pause between breathing while sleeping, known as pediatric sleep apnea.

It’s a normal developmental process that the baby will outgrow unless it is a severe case. If you want to know about sleep apnea, head over to this post for more information

Why is it difficult to rouse babies when they are not fed well?

Babies who are not getting enough feeding can get dehydrated, and their blood sugar may drop.

If they have feeding and waking difficulty, inform your pediatrician for early diagnosis and intervention. 

Will babies sleep tight when they are overtired?

Overtired babies are fussy, hyperactive, and try to fight sleep leading to sleep deprivation.

When they are sleep-deprived, they will need some catch-up time later on. Thus, they might mess up their sleep cycle and may spend a long period of sleep after it.

It can mess up with feedings, and your child can become difficult to wake.


Newborns are difficult to wake up at times as they are unbothered by motion and noises. But as they grow older, their sleeping schedule should change.

They may spend more time awake and active. Their sleeping time eventually gets lesser. Healthy babies who are difficult to wake but are breathing okay are nothing worth worrying about.

However, if the condition persists and their sleeping habit does not change, you should consider checking with a doctor.

It is fairly common to worry about your baby’s sleep cycle, and you will eventually distinguish normal from not. If something worries you, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider about it.

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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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