Baby Fighting Sleep? Causes and Remedies

Baby Fighting Sleep? Causes and Remedies

Poor sleep can have many negative consequences for babies, as they rely on their sleep time to recharge and to develop cognitively and physically. A baby that isn’t getting enough sleep will be fussy and may be difficult to feed and calm. This, in turn, can cause parents to become exhausted and moody, too.

Although sleep is an extremely important part of development, it doesn’t come naturally to many babies. In fact, sleep is a skill. A baby fighting sleep is natural. They don’t exactly know that they need sleep. It’s up to the parents to figure out why the baby is fighting sleep and to find a solution for it.

In this article, we’ve looked at some of the most common reasons for a baby fighting sleep. We’ve also suggested several solutions that might help.

Reason #1: Separation Anxiety

child hugging onto their parent’s leg

When your baby gets to about 8 months old, you’ll start to notice signs of separation anxiety. Your baby will cry whenever they’re away from you. This is a perfectly normal part of development. However, it can be a nightmare for parents who are trying to put their babies to sleep.

If your baby is struggling with separation anxiety, and that’s why they’re fighting sleep, you’ll notice that they’ll tense up and start crying whenever you try to leave the room. They’ll also cry until you return. Another sign that your baby is developing separation anxiety is if they have stranger anxiety, which is where they start acting anxious when they’re around unfamiliar people.

Solution: Practice Separating

To deal with this issue, you’re going to need to help your baby get accustomed to separating. Practice separation throughout the day and not only during bedtime. For several minutes each day, leave your baby alone to play by themselves in their crib or playroom.

If that doesn’t work, you can also try the following tips:

  • Leave your baby after naptime or after you’ve fed them. The key here is to practice separating while your baby is calm and settled. Don’t leave your baby while they’re hungry or sick, as they’re going to want to be around you the most.
  • Create an exit ritual. Before you leave your baby, spend some time cuddling them or playing with them. Be as reassuring as possible.
  • Make separation a casual event rather than a dramatic affair. Leave quietly and when there’s a distraction.
  • Let your baby learn how to self-soothe rather than rely on you as a parent. Babies that learn how to self-soothe will cry less when separated. As they develop self-soothing techniques, they’ll also be easier to handle and have a better overall temperament.

Once your baby has become accustomed to separating, they’ll be a lot easier to handle. Usually, separation anxiety will peak at about 10 months and will last until your baby is about 18 months.

The level of anxiety will vary depending on your baby’s temperament. Some babies handle separation a lot better than others, and it’s not unheard of for babies with a negative temperament to have separation anxiety until they’re 2 years old.

Reason #2: Over-Exhaustion

Some parents might think that getting their baby as tired as possible will help them to sleep. In theory, it makes sense, but that’s not reality. If your baby is overtired, their body will start to release cortisol and other hormones that activate the stress response. This then makes it extremely difficult for your baby to settle.

Over-exhaustion might also be a sign that your baby is doing too many activities during the day. For example, they’re playing or trying to practice crawling for too long.

When over-exhaustion occurs, your baby will be tired, but they’ll fight sleep because they feel anxious and stressed. They might even act like they’re fidgety. Once a baby is over-exhausted, it can be incredibly difficult to settle them. Due to this, the best course of action is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here’s how.

Solution #1: Keep an Eye Out for Signs of Sleepiness

Knowing what signs of sleepiness to keep an eye on can help you determine when it’s time to put your baby to bed. When you notice the following signs, it’s time to reduce the amount of stimulation that’s around your baby to help them unwind:

  • Ear pulling
  • Closed fists
  • Yawning
  • Fluttering eyelids
  • Difficulties focusing
  • Frowning
  • Jerky arm and leg movements
  • Sucking on thumbs or fingers
  • Overall fussiness
  • Difficulties with calming
  • Overall negative mood

Each baby will have unique signs of exhaustion. If you keep a close eye on your baby, you’ll quickly pick up on these cues with some time.

Solution #2: Make Sure They Get Their Naps

Some parents might try to forego naps if they’re traveling or busy. This can put a lot of stress on your baby. If you’re out during normal nap time, you should still try to encourage your baby to take a nap wherever you are, whether that be in a car or at the store.

If your baby becomes exhausted, they’ll be harder to console, and it’ll be even harder for you to get them to nap or sleep. The amount of nap time that your baby needs will depend largely on their age, personality, and personal energy level. So you’ll need to monitor your baby carefully to get a better idea of how long they need to nap.

While your baby is napping, try not to wake them up, even if it’s to feed them. Disrupting their naps can result in poor quality sleep, which may make it difficult for them to fall asleep at night.

Reason #3: Lack of Consistency

Babies love consistency. If you’re getting them to take naps at different times or waking them at odd hours, they’re going to have a difficult time adjusting to their day. Some parents aren’t super consistent when it comes to managing their babies’ day, and that can be a huge problem, although they don’t realize it.

Solution: Have a Strict Nap Schedule

Having a consistent naptime and bedtime routine is really important, so put your baby down for a nap at the same time every day. The same goes for bedtime. Try to put them to bed at the same time every day and try to wake them up at the same time as well.

On top of that, try to create a unique routine that signals that it’s time to nap or sleep. For example, you might want to consider swaddling them while reading them a book, before putting them down for a nap or for bed. Keep in mind that it does take some time for a routine to become established, but once you’ve done so, your baby will sleep much more easily.

The quality of sleep that your baby gets during naptime can really set the tone for the day. Due to this reason, it’s important to make sure that your baby is getting enough naps throughout the entire day.

Reason #4: Too Much Stimulation

Have you ever tried to sleep when there’s a party going on outside your room? It’s difficult.

If there are way too many things happening around and outside your baby’s room, they might be overstimulated too and having a difficult time focusing on sleep. A baby fighting sleep may simply just be curious about what’s going on around them.

Another thing to note is that it’s normal for a baby to fight sleep after being removed from a high energy environment. They’re still on that high from playing with new toys or engaging with other family members.

Solution #1: Be Mindful of the Environment

baby sleeping in a blue bassinet

Focus on the environment that you’re putting your baby to sleep in. You need to make sure that the room is as dark as possible, as your baby will have developed a circadian rhythm at about 2 months. As such, they will wake easily if any light enters the room.

You can try installing blinds or blackout window films. Turn off the lights as well. Some parents also have great success with bassinets or cradles that have some type of cover on them.

Remove distractions, like mobiles or toys, from the crib, so your baby can focus on sleep. You also want to create a quiet environment. Turn off or turn down the TV outside of the room if you can hear it in the nursery, and make sure that everyone in the home knows to be as quiet as possible.

Solution #2: Give Them Enough Time to Unwind

It can be difficult even for adults to go to bed after something exciting has happened. It’s much more difficult for a baby to settle. Before bedtime and naptime, give your baby at least 30 minutes to unwind. You’ll want to start swaddling them and placing them in a serene environment.

Many experts recommend that parents try to avoid overstimulating activities for at least an hour before bedtime, as it can take some babies a while to unwind. So, take away the toys an hour before bedtime.

Reason #5: Too Much Energy

Perhaps your baby is fighting sleep just because they have too much energy and don’t feel tired yet. If your baby hasn’t done much throughout the day, they may not have exerted enough energy to feel tired yet. They might also have more energy just because they’re getting older. Either way, if your baby isn’t tired at all, they’re going to fight sleep for as long as they can.

Solution #1: Make Daytime All About Play

Monitor what your baby is doing during the day and make sure that they get a lot of playtime. For example, you should consider playing with them or having them practice crawling or walking. The goal is to get them just tired enough that they won’t fight against sleep at the end of the night.

Solution #2: Drop a Nap From Their Day

If your baby is truly not tired at all, you might want to consider dropping one of their naps earlier in the day. In general, as a baby gets older, they’ll need fewer and fewer naps. By around 12 to 15 months, most babies will no longer need their morning nap anymore and will be able to get away with just an afternoon one.

Solution #3: Push Bedtime Back a Little Bit

Last but not least, you can also consider pushing bedtime back a little bit. Maybe, your baby just has a little more energy to exert and would like to play for just a little bit longer. If you don’t notice any signs of sleepiness, consider pushing bedtime back 30 minutes to an hour. You might notice a huge difference in how quickly your baby falls asleep.

Sleep Regressions and Developmental Milestones

At times, your baby is going to fight sleep. This is known as sleep regression and is something that happens every 3 to 4 months. This is something that can be easily corrected naturally. If you’re interested in learning now about sleep regressions, check out this article.

Your baby might also be fighting sleep if they’re at a developmental milestone, like if they’re teething or if they’re learning how to crawl or walk. Once they’ve passed that milestone or got the hang of it, they’ll stop fighting sleep.

Consistency Is Key to a Baby Fighting Sleep

When dealing with a baby fighting sleep, you need to be consistent and persistent. Keep at it, and don’t give up!

It’s important to realize that sleep is just like every other skill. Practice makes perfect, and your baby needs a lot of practice. As they practice this skill, they’ll begin to master it, and you’ll find that you’ll have a much easier time putting them to sleep.