Why do babies fight sleep?
Sleep schedules are something that every parent worries about. Babies seem to run on their own clocks no matter how hard you try to get them to fall into a pattern. There may be a point where your baby is fighting sleep, and your once-peaceful naptimes have now become nothing but torture as you try your best to lull a screaming, crying, squirming baby to sleep.
Babies fight sleep for multiple reasons, and it can happen as early as a few months old all the way through toddlerhood. As long as you know your child isn’t sick, then you may not be able to figure out why your clearly exhausted little one is refusing to doze off.
This guide will help you figure out why your baby is fighting sleep, learn how to regulate their sleep schedule and figure out how to soothe them when they refuse to go down for a nap or to bed.
Baby Sleep Schedules
Growing babies need a lot of sleep. Newborns to 6-month-olds need up to 17 hours of shut-eye each day. As they get older, babies will stop taking longer naps and begin to sleep soundly through the night.
Naps should be spaced throughout the day; if your baby sleeps too much during their nap, they’ll sleep less throughout the night and keep you awake. A sleep schedule is an important, but you also have to tune in to your baby’s individual needs.
Some parents try to force their baby to follow a particular schedule, but their baby winds up resisting because they simply aren’t tired. When it comes to your baby’s naps, focus on quality over quantity.
Your baby should naturally start sleeping throughout the night when they’re around 4 months old. Besides that, focus more on their naps and getting them to rest well rather than frequently.
How to Sleep Train Your Baby
A baby’s sleep cycle is different from an adult’s; a baby takes about 20 minutes to fall into a deep sleep, and their sleep cycle lasts 45 minutes. You naturally want to make sure your baby goes down for a nap without any hassle, but this can be a challenge if you aren’t sure how to begin sleep training.
Baby sleep training involves regulating your child’s sleep schedule, putting them down for the same time every night and ensuring they wake up around the same time every morning.
Some parents try to sleep train too early. In general, you should wait until your baby is around 4 to 5 months old since this is the age where most are capable of sleeping fully through the night. Sometimes, a baby is fighting sleep because they are too little to be sleep trained and cannot yet regulate their schedule as much as a parent would like.
One of the skills parents want their baby to learn is how to fall asleep without assistance. This requires putting your drowsy baby in their crib 10 to 20 minutes before naptime. When they begin to fuss, allow them to cry for a little while before coming in to reassure them. Gradually reduce the amount of time you come in between cires so your baby learns how to soothe themselves and go back to sleep on their own.
You will have to pay attention to the type of cry your baby makes. If they are screaming and distraught, then you should not leave them to work it out on their own. This can be detrimental to the baby’s developing attachment style.
The Chair Method
It may hurt your heart too much to let your child cry on their own in a dark nursery. That’s more than understandable. To put your mind at ease and bring your baby additional comfort, start by putting them down to sleep while you sit in a chair beside their crib.
Comfort them when they wake, and then, move the chair a bit further away from the crib until you reach the doorway. Then, sit outside of the room. Eventually your baby will be able to sleep on their own without needing you nearby as soon as they wake.
Reasons Your Baby Is Fighting Sleep
Your baby is clearly tired, arching their back, squeezing their little fists and wailing. But they aren’t hungry. They aren’t in need of a diaper change. They don’t want to be cuddled or sushed to sleep, so what’s wrong?
Below are the most common reasons you’ll find your baby fighting sleep. Understanding them will save you a lot of guilt and frustration as you helplessly try to soothe them when nothing seems to work.
They Are Napping Too Frequently
As mentioned above, a healthy sleep schedule is important. If your baby is fighting sleep before their last nap or bedtime, it’s probably because they’re napping too much. Undertired babies do not want to lay in their crib in the dark. They will become agitated as they are falsely lulled into sleep.
You may want to try letting your baby take shorter naps throughout the day rather than two or three long ones. It will take some trial and error to find the right balance, but you’ll be amazed at how easily your baby goes to sleep once you’ve gotten the right schedule.
They Are Overtired
Babies can only handle certain amounts of wakefulness before they become tired. Even though they may not be fully ready to doze off, a baby that is overtired is also likely to become overstimulated.
You should look for sleep cues that indicate your baby is ready for a nap. These are:
- Rubbing their eyes or becoming distracted, avoiding stimulation.
- If old enough, saying “no” or becoming fussy when you try to interact with them.
- Trying to self-soothe by thumb-sucking or using a pacifier.
- Hiccuping, sneezing, yawning. Some newborns may have blueness around the mouth.
Use some calming sensory input to help stop a baby from fighting sleep when they’re overtired. Newborns can be swaddled as the deep pressure can be relaxing. Put on some baby sleep sounds and gently rock your baby in a dark room until they are ready to be put down.
If they’re already overtired and not sleep-trained, just putting them in their crib won’t bode well. You’ll have to calm their bodies and minds until they can naturally fall asleep.
The Room Is Uncomfortable
Is your nursery too bright? Are there loud noises such as a TV or washing machine that could be waking up your baby? The right sleep environment is crucial to your baby’s well-being.
Overheating increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in babies under 6 months of age. Babies can’t regulate their body temperature the same way we do, so the right temperature is important for their safety.
You should keep your baby’s room between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit and make adjustments when you consider their sleepwear, i.e. long-sleeves, footed pajamas, sleeper sacks, etc.
The room should be dark and free of any distractions. Light triggers cortisol, the hormone that makes your baby feel alert and awake. If you have a naturally bright space, consider investing in some room-darkening shades that will help your baby sleep easier.
A baby fighting sleep may not have the right environment, so their body tells them it’s time to wake up even though their brain is ready for rest.
Some parents believe that a sleep positioner will reduce the risk of SIDS, but the FDA has not approved any for this use. According to the American Pediatrics Association, sleep wedges, positioners, and specialized mattresses have not been proven to reduce the risk of suffocation or SIDS.
Instead, put your baby to sleep on their back during the first year of life. If your little one is able to roll over on their own, then you can leave them on their side or stomach if they turn over.
Stop swaddling your baby when they are able to roll to reduce the risk of strangulation.
They’re Experiencing Separation Anxiety
Babies start to experience separation anxiety between 6 to 8 months of age. This continues until they are around 2. Separation anxiety can lead to sleep regression, which will have your baby fighting sleep whenever you leave the room. This is because your baby has become aware that when you are gone, you haven’t simply disappeared. They understand that you have left without them, and they will become upset and begin to cry as a result.
Sleep training can help combat the effects of separation anxiety, but routine and reassurance are the best remedies.
Coping With a Baby Fighting Sleep
It’s important for parents to help one another as they cope with their own loss of sleep. A baby that doesn’t want to go to bed subsequently keeps the whole household up as well. Tired babies are not happy babies, and they will generally cry, fuss and even scream as exhaustion sets in.
You’re only human, so it’s natural to feel frustrated when you are also tired and just want to sleep. You may have gotten used to using your baby’s naptime as a chance to catch up on some much-needed Z’s yourself. Now, you find all your energy going into pacifying a baby that you know wants to sleep but simply refuses.
Don’t feel guilty for being annoyed or worn out by your baby. Although it isn’t easy to deal with a baby fighting sleep, you will be able to work through it. If you’re really struggling to keep your child on a sleep schedule, talk to your pediatrician. They can provide you with some safe ways to stop your baby fighting sleep.