It’s a question I get asked a lot- Why does my baby fight sleep?! I’m sure we’ve all been there too- you’ve followed the bedtime routine perfectly, baby is tired (you KNOW she is tired!) and yet the minute it comes time to sleep… she fights it! Here’s a quick guide to why babies fight sleep and what you can do about it.
What does ‘fighting sleep’ mean?
Your baby will put up a very good fight against falling asleep. Or so it seems. So if you’ve noticed that she is arching her back, crying, fussing, squirming, kicking and generally protesting about going to bed- that’s fighting sleep! She is tired but she does not want to give in! Sound familiar? Read on…
Why do babies fight sleep?
There can be many reasons why your baby is fighting sleep today, but in general the following three causes are usually to blame:
- She is over tired.
- She is under tired.
- She has separation anxiety.
Any of those seem to be the case for you?
An over tired baby is a disaster waiting to happen! This situation can come about really easily though, and often you won’t know until it’s too late. If you miss a baby’s sleep window, or fail to read the sleep cues, she can become overtired- simply put, unable to fall asleep due to sheer exhaustion. As adults, it can be hard to understand because when we’re tired we find it easier to fall asleep. But for babies, being over tired can mean that falling asleep is that little bit harder to do.
A baby who is not yet ready to sleep will protest! It’s important to read your baby’s sleep cues and listen to what she is telling you. If she seems wide awake and happy despite it being the usual time for a nap, then chances are she is not quite ready yet. Less common in babies, and more common in toddlers- an under tired baby is going to fight sleep all the way!
This usually occurs around eight or nine months of age- baby starts to realise that she wants to be close to you AT ALL TIMES and sleep is just not a priority. This can be really hard work and often resurfaces again around 18 months of age too.
What to do when baby fights sleep
So what can you do? Perhaps you know that baby is over tired? Perhaps none of the above seems to fit? Don’t forget that your baby’s temperament can have a lot to do with how she sleeps too, and she might fight sleep simply because of her personality. But even with this in mind, there are things that you can to do help.
- Move bedtime. If baby is over tired at bedtime, start your routine a little earlier, or spend less time over it. Half an hour is usually a good length of time to spend, so if you find that your routine tends to run past this, try to reign it in a bit. If baby is under tired, make bedtime a little later instead.
- Tweak your nap routine. We all know that sleep breeds sleep, and if your baby sleeps well during the day then she will sleep well at night time too. So if she hasn’t had great naps, take this into consideration for bed time. And if naps are consistently hard work or sketchy, then consider how this affects her bedtime routine too. You need a good nap routine so that baby is not over tired when it comes to the last part of the day! For an under tired baby, look at trimming naps down a little, or even making moves towards ditching one of them if she has two per day.
- Tweak your entire routine. If your baby is always over tired at the end of the day, it could be that your whole routine needs an overhaul. How much awake time does she have between naps? It could be that she needs to be awake for shorter periods of time so that she doesn’t burn out before bedtime. For under tired babies, longer periods of awake time might be the answer.
- Be there for your baby. If she is suffering from separation anxiety, she will gain comfort in knowing that you are there. Go to her when she cries, and remain firm in your sleep training techniques. Remember that separation anxiety doesn’t last forever.