Why do babies fight sleep? First, babies aren’t born knowing the value of a good night’s sleep and they lack maturity. The 3 main reasons babies fight sleep are over-tiredness, under-tiredness, and separation anxiety. In today’s article, we explain 3 reasons your baby might be fighting sleep and 5 things you can try today to help!
Baby Fighting Sleep? 3 Reasons Why
There are 3 primary reasons why most babies fight sleep at bedtime and nap time:
Baby is Overtired
This is hands-down the most common reason why your baby is fighting sleep. Simply put, a baby becomes overtired when you miss their sleep window (that moment when they are drowsy enough to fall asleep fairly quickly, but not so tired that they have begun crying) and put them down for a nap or for bed too late. It sounds odd, I know, but babies really can become too tired to fall asleep easily. This is because our bodies release hormones to fight fatigue and give us our “second wind.”
Baby is Not Tired Enough for Sleep
In my 10+ years as a sleep consultant, I can tell you that this is less common but still a reality in some cases – especially for toddlers fighting sleep.
If your baby is fighting sleep, rewind and think about their most recent wake window. While younger babies definitely need short wake times throughout the day, most toddlers are capable of much longer wake times. In our experience, a toddler who’s fighting sleep may very well not be tired enough to sleep.
This can also be true for more social babies and perceptive ones as well. Simply put, perceptive and/or social babies are more likely to fight sleep simply because they don’t want to miss a minute of fun, and they have learned that being awake is so much more stimulating and interesting than being asleep! These babies have what we can FOMO.
Your baby’s temperament will be very important when you’re thinking about your schedule and sleep routines.
Baby Has Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety doesn’t strike for most parents until around 7 months old and it seems to get a bit worse during the 8 to 10-month sleep regression. But when it strikes, it can certainly lead to your baby fighting sleep! Separation anxiety tends to really peak around 18 months, and can also re-surface again around the 2 year mark.
5 Tips to Help Babies Fighting Sleep
While your baby fighting sleep can be incredibly stressful and frustrating, rest assured there are remedies that may improve it:
Move bedtime to either an earlier or a later time in the evening.
If your baby fights sleep because they are overtired, then moving bedtime up to an earlier point in the evening can really help. You may also want to try shortening your bedtime routine a bit – shorter routines can help your baby feel relaxed and drowsy but also ensure that you’re not keeping your baby up too long before bedtime.
However, if you suspect that your baby is fighting sleep because they aren’t tired enough to fall asleep, then try moving bedtime later. Again, this is particularly true for toddlers – if your toddler is still taking two naps a day, for example, then your bedtime may need to bumped back fairly late in order to make sure your toddler is tired enough for sleep. And in these cases, you may need to extend your bedtime routine, to give your toddler plenty of time to wind down.
In other words, be sure to set your baby or toddler’s schedule appropriate for their age!
Institute a nap routine, if you haven’t already.
Many of you no doubt have a solid bedtime routine in place – but lots of parents overlook the nap routine! But in our experience, a nap time routine can really help a baby or toddler go from full-on playing and fun to falling asleep. If your baby is fighting sleep at nap time, and you suspect it’s because they are having trouble transitioning from playtime to nap time, then try a calming nap routine. Just be sure to keep it on the short side – one story and a quick lullaby is great.
Adjust your baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule to allow for more or less wake time.
If you’re asking yourself, “Why is my baby fighting sleep?”, odds are you need to make some schedule adjustments. A baby who is overtired may be taking too few naps, or taking short naps. Conversely, a baby who isn’t tired enough at nap time and bedtime may be ready to drop a nap, or to have a later bedtime.
One other thing to consider is that some babies need less sleep than their peers. Are they smart? Possibly! There are theories to say gifted children need less sleep than their peers. However, if your baby needs a lot of sleep, take heart that I’m sure you’ll find plenty of gifted children who need a lot of sleep just the same!
For help in determining the best, most sleep-inducing schedule for your child, check out our sample sleep and feeding schedules by age.
Give your child a little space.
If your baby or toddler is pushing away from you during the nap time or bedtime routine, keep in mind they may be communicating that they want to unwind and do it themself particularly if they are a toddler. There is no harm in putting your child down, scooting away a little, and just giving your little one a break. If your toddler is older, you may want to try leaving the room for a few minutes, and then returning to try again later. It’s not a punishment or a consequence – it’s just you respecting your toddler’s emotions, and giving them the space that then seem to be requesting. At some point, I remember I had to figure out that my sons had outgrown being rocked and were trying to communicate they just wanted me to put them down in their cribs!
For separation anxiety, check-in and provide comfort, but work not to create new sleep problems.
As I said earlier, separation anxiety is a less common cause of a baby fighting sleep. However, if that’s the cause of your baby fighting sleep, then you’ll want to take a look at this article on separation anxiety and sleep for tips about how to manage this problem without creating additional sleep problems.
Do Gifted Children Need Less Sleep?