Have you ever experienced this, parents? You’re in the midst of your bedtime routine, but your baby – who would ideally be getting drowsy and relaxed right about now – is instead arching her back, pulling away from you, crying, and generally fighting sleep in every way she can.
Based on the number of questions we’ve gotten recently in our Helpdesk, this is a problem that many of you have faced. That’s why we’re devoting an article to it today: we’ll lay out the three most common reasons your baby is fighting sleep, as well as 5 solutions that can help!
Baby Fighting Sleep? Here Are 3 Reasons Why
There are 3 primary reasons why most babies fight sleep at bedtime and nap time:
Baby is overtired
Baby isn’t tired enough for sleep
Baby is going through separation anxiety
This is hands-down the most common reason why your baby is fighting sleep. Simply put, a baby becomes overtired when you miss his “sleep window” (that moment when he’s drowsy enough to fall asleep fairly quickly, but not so tired that he’s begun crying) and put him 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 less common, but still a reality in some cases – especially for toddlers. If your baby is fighting sleep, rewind and think about how much wake time your child has had. While younger babies definitely need short wake times throughout the day, most toddlers are capable of much longer wake time. In our experience, a toddler who’s fighting sleep may very well not be tired enough to sleep.
Separation anxiety doesn’t strike for most parents until around 9 or 10 months – it tends to be part of the 8/9/10 month sleep regression. But when it strikes, it can definitely 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.
So, this can be considered a 4th reason, but we’re treating it as a “bonus” cause of sleep-fighting, because it’s important to rule out the previous reasons before settling on this one. Another reason why your baby fights sleep may simply be related to your baby’s personality and temperament. Simply put, perceptive, 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!
Baby Fighting Sleep? Here Are 5 Tips That’ll Help
While the “why is my baby fighting sleep” question can be incredibly stressful and frustrating, rest assured that it can be solved fairly easily.
Move bedtime to either an earlier or a later time in the evening.
Institute a nap routine, if you haven’t already.
Adjust your baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule to allow for more or less wake time.
Give your child a little space.
For separation anxiety, check in and provide comfort, but work not to create new sleep problems.
If your baby fights sleep because he’s 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 she isn’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.
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 she’s having trouble transitioning from playtime to nap time, then try a calming nap routine. Just be sure to keep it on the short side – 1 story and a quick lullaby is great.
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.
Now, this won’t work for every situation, and it’s mainly intended for toddlers. That said, here’s what I mean: if your baby or toddler is pushing away from you during the nap time or bedtime routine, 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 him the space that he seems to be requesting.
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.