baby rolling eyes in sleep

The Science Behind Baby Eye Rubbing in Sleep: Causes, Solutions, and Expert Advice

In this article, we explore the intriguing phenomenon of babies rubbing their eyes while sleeping. We delve into the possible reasons behind this behavior and discuss its significance in a baby’s sleep routine.

Why do babies rub their eyes when they sleep?

When babies rub their eyes during sleep, it is often a sign that they are tired. Rubbing their eyes can be a self-soothing behavior that helps them relax and fall asleep. It may also indicate that they are experiencing eye fatigue or irritation. Babies have sensitive eyes, and the act of rubbing can provide temporary relief from any discomfort they may be feeling.

This behavior is especially common in infants who are transitioning from being awake to falling asleep. As they become drowsy, their eyelids may feel heavy, and rubbing their eyes can help alleviate this sensation. Additionally, the motion of rubbing stimulates tear production, which can help lubricate the eyes and relieve dryness.


Factors contributing to eye rubbing:

  • Tiredness: Babies have limited ways of communicating their fatigue, so rubbing their eyes can signal that they need rest.
  • Eye irritation: If there is an allergen or irritant present in the baby’s environment, such as dust or pet dander, it can cause itching and lead to eye rubbing.
  • Eye fatigue: Excessive exposure to bright lights or screens without breaks can strain a baby’s eyes, making them more likely to rub them.

Is rubbing the eyes a common behavior in newborns?

Rubbing the eyes is indeed a common behavior in newborns. Newborn babies spend most of their time sleeping, and as they transition between sleep cycles, it is not uncommon for them to rub their eyes. This behavior typically starts within the first few weeks after birth and continues throughout infancy.

Newborns have delicate skin around their eyes that may be easily irritated by environmental factors such as dust or dryness. Additionally, their eyes are still developing, and the muscles responsible for controlling eye movement may not be fully coordinated. These factors can contribute to a newborn’s tendency to rub their eyes.

Signs of eye rubbing in newborns:

  • Frequent blinking or squinting
  • Rubbing or scratching at the eyes with their hands or fingers
  • Watery or red eyes
  • Increased fussiness or irritability during sleep

At what age do babies typically start rubbing their eyes during sleep?

Developmental Milestones

Babies typically start rubbing their eyes during sleep around 3 to 6 months of age. This is a common developmental milestone that indicates their growing awareness of their surroundings and the ability to self-soothe. At this stage, babies are beginning to develop more control over their motor skills, including the coordination needed to rub their eyes.

Signs of Sleepiness

Rubbing their eyes during sleep can also be a sign that babies are feeling tired or sleepy. It is often accompanied by other cues such as yawning, fussiness, or decreased activity. As they become more aware of their own fatigue, they may instinctively rub their eyes as a way to signal that they need rest.

Can excessive eye rubbing be a sign of discomfort or irritation in infants?

Possible Discomfort

Excessive eye rubbing in infants can indeed be a sign of discomfort or irritation. Babies may rub their eyes if they have something irritating them, such as an eyelash or foreign object. They may also rub their eyes if they have dryness or itchiness due to allergies or other environmental factors.

Eye Infections

In some cases, excessive eye rubbing can be a symptom of an eye infection such as conjunctivitis. If the eye rubbing is accompanied by redness, discharge, or swelling, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

How does eye rubbing impact a baby’s quality of sleep?

Sleep Disruption

Eye rubbing can disrupt a baby’s quality of sleep. When babies rub their eyes excessively during sleep, it can cause them to wake up briefly or partially from deep sleep. This can result in fragmented sleep patterns and overall decreased sleep quality.

Impact on Sleep Cycles

Babies have shorter sleep cycles compared to adults, and any disruption to these cycles can affect their ability to get the restorative sleep they need for growth and development. Consistent eye rubbing during sleep may lead to increased wakefulness, irritability, and difficulty settling back into a deep sleep.

Are there any potential risks associated with frequent eye rubbing in babies?

Possible Eye Damage

Frequent or forceful eye rubbing in babies can potentially lead to eye damage. The delicate tissues around the eyes can become irritated or inflamed from excessive rubbing, increasing the risk of corneal abrasions or other injuries. It is important to monitor and address excessive eye rubbing to prevent any potential harm.

Secondary Infections

Additionally, frequent eye rubbing can introduce bacteria or other pathogens into the eyes, increasing the risk of secondary infections. This is especially true if babies rub their eyes with dirty hands or objects that may carry harmful microorganisms.

What are some effective strategies to prevent or reduce eye rubbing in infants?

Maintaining Good Hygiene

One effective strategy is to ensure good hygiene practices by regularly cleaning the baby’s hands and face. This helps minimize the introduction of irritants or pathogens into the eyes when they rub them.

Addressing Underlying Causes

Identifying and addressing any underlying causes of discomfort or irritation, such as allergies or dryness, can also help reduce eye rubbing. Consulting a healthcare professional for appropriate treatment options is recommended.

– Keep baby’s nails trimmed short to prevent accidental scratching.
– Use a clean and soft cloth soaked in warm water to gently wipe away any discharge from the eyes.
– Avoid exposing babies to potential allergens or irritants, such as smoke or strong fragrances.

Does eye rubbing have any connection to a baby’s visual development or eye health?

No Direct Connection

While eye rubbing itself does not directly impact a baby’s visual development or eye health, it can be a sign of underlying issues that may require attention. Regular eye exams and monitoring by an optometrist or pediatrician are important to ensure proper visual development and overall eye health in infants.

Importance of Early Detection

Early detection and intervention for any vision-related concerns can help prevent potential long-term effects on a baby’s visual acuity and overall eye health.

Are there any underlying medical conditions that could cause increased eye rubbing in babies?


One common underlying medical condition that can cause increased eye rubbing in babies is allergies. Allergic reactions to environmental factors such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander can lead to itchiness and discomfort in the eyes, prompting babies to rub them.

Eye Infections

Eye infections, such as conjunctivitis or styes, can also cause increased eye rubbing due to the associated irritation and discomfort. These infections often require medical treatment to alleviate symptoms and prevent further complications.

As babies grow older, do they eventually outgrow the habit of rubbing their eyes during sleep?

Natural Transition

As babies grow older and develop better self-soothing techniques, they typically outgrow the habit of rubbing their eyes during sleep. This transition usually occurs around 9 to 12 months of age when they become more proficient at finding alternative ways to comfort themselves.

Establishing Bedtime Routines

Establishing consistent bedtime routines that promote relaxation and good sleep habits can also help babies gradually reduce their reliance on eye rubbing as a self-soothing mechanism.

– Incorporate calming activities such as reading a book or listening to soft music before bedtime.
– Create a soothing sleep environment with dim lighting and a comfortable temperature.
– Encourage the use of transitional objects, such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, for comfort during sleep.

In conclusion, the act of a baby rubbing their eyes in sleep is a common and natural behavior that indicates tiredness or the need for comfort.

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