As parents we’ve all been there before – you know your baby is tired, but however much you try, your little bundle just won’t settle.
Fighting sleep is very common for newborns, infants and even older babies.
And even if you have a good sleeper, it’s not unusual for a baby to start fighting sleep all of a sudden.
So in this article we will look at the reasons why babies fight sleep, and provide the best solutions to help stop your baby fighting sleep and get that much needed shut eye.
Why Is My Newborn or Baby Fighting Sleep?
1. Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is very common among babies, infants and toddlers.
Separation anxiety refers to the anxiety a baby may experience when their parents leave them, and it can happen even if you leave the room for a short period of time.
And anytime you leave, your baby may become anxious and fear you won’t return.
Some babies begin showing separation anxiety around 4, 5, or 6 months old, although for many babies it begins at around 9 months old.
Separation anxiety often results in disrupted sleep, both in terms of fighting sleep and waking up several times during the night.
2. Overstimulation or Understimulation
You might be wondering what the issue is with a baby that is very tired or overstimulated, especially as many adults tend to sleep better when very tired.
But babies can be extremely sensitive, and being overstimulated can really influence a baby’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep once down.
This can be a nasty cycle, because the more tired your baby is, the less they may sleep, which will make them more tired and so on.
The opposite – understimulation – can also be the reason why a newborn baby or toddler is fighting sleep.
As an adult, a certain level of stimulation and movement is needed for both body and mind to be “tired enough” to sleep, and a baby is no different.
It can be a balancing act, but a baby that is either understimulated or overstimulated may begin resisting sleep for these reasons.
3. Developmental Leap
If you find your baby is fighting sleep at 3 weeks or in week 4 or 5, this could be caused by their first developmental leap.
The timings of leaps aren’t set in stone and are frequent in the beginning, so in week 4 or 5 your little one may be experiencing Leap 1, and in weeks 6, 7 or 8 they are likely hitting Leap 2.
Babies become fussy during these leaps, so if your newborn is suddenly fighting sleep, this may be the reason.
4. Teething, Illness or Other Discomfort
Another reason why your child might be fighting their sleep or naps is because they are teething or are in some other discomfort.
It is not always easy to know what’s going on with a baby, because there’s a lot of guesswork involved given your little one can’t communicate to let you know what’s going on.
So you might want to consider if teething, an illness or discomfort (such as excessive farting or wind) is causing your child to find it harder to fall asleep.
5. Disrupted Routine
Routines are very important for babies, so if you find your baby or newborn fighting sleep for hours, it may be because something has changed.
If you are traveling with your newborn baby, then jetlag may not be as much of an issue, because infants under 6 months are usually less impacted by jet lag (although older babies and toddlers may be affected by jet lag even more than adults).
But other changes in routine, like changing form napping in a crib to on-the-go in a stroller, or a slightly later nap or bedtime, can really throw off a baby’s ability to fall asleep.
So if you are trying to determine why your baby is fighting sleep, especially if it’s quite sudden, it’s good to ask yourself if something has recently changed in their routine.
Why Is My Baby Fighting Sleep All Of Sudden?
If your newborn or baby was a good sleeper, but is fighting sleep all of a sudden, it could be down to any of the reasons above.
From developmental leaps or discomfort, to even a slight change in routine or separation anxiety kicking in, it doesn’t take much for a baby’s sleep to become affected.
The good news is there are some helpful solutions and things you can do to stop your baby fighting sleep, which we’ve listed below.
How To Get A Baby To Stop Fighting Sleep
1. Adjust Their Bedtime
It might sound counter-intuitive, but if your baby is fighting sleep, one solution may be to put them to sleep earlier than usual.
As we mentioned above, overtiredness can be a real issue when it comes to falling asleep, so if you think your little one may be getting overly tired before naps or bedtime, try moving their bedtime a little earlier.
Equally, if you think you might be putting your baby down to sleep before they are ready, then you might want to extend their awake window and put them down a little later than usual.
While these are two different solutions to the same problem (fighting sleep), it comes down to why your baby is fighting sleep in the first place.
Knowing theses signs of tiredness should help you make the right call:
Signs Newborn Are Overtired
- Clenched fists
- Pulling ears
- Worried look on their face or frowning
- Sucking their fingers
Signs Babies Over 6 Months & Toddlers Are Overtired
- Being needy and clingy
- Fussy with food
- More prone to tantrums and meltdowns
- Falling asleep outside normal nap time windows
- Sleeping for shorter periods at night
2. Develop A Routine
One of the best things you can do to help your baby sleep well is set (and stick to) a bedtime routine.
Babies love routine, and depending on your baby’s age, there is an approximate maximum amount of time they should be awake during the day as recommended by sleep experts:
- Newborn to 3 Months: 1 hour to 90 minutes
- 4 to 6 Months: 2.5 to 2.75 hours
- 7 to 9 Months: 3 to 3.5 hours
- 10 to 12 Months: 4 hours
- When On One Daily Nap: 6 hours
It’s important not to keep your baby awake for longer than these maximum amounts, as this will lead to overtiredness.
Keeping awake windows tight and consistent, putting your baby to sleep at roughly the same time each night, and having the same wind down before sleep (more on this later), all go a long way to stopping your baby fighting sleep.
3. Address Their Anxiety
As we mentioned above, it’s normal for a baby to feel anxious when separated from their parents, and this can lead to a stressed baby, which clearly isn’t conducive to good sleep.
But there are things you can do to calm your child and address their anxiety.
Some ways to handle separation anxiety during naptime or at night include:
- Reassure and comfort your baby during the day by cuddling, practicing brief separations and making goodbyes sort and positive (not drawn-out and sad)!
- Have a consistent bedtime routine with plenty of cuddles, kisses and other affection.
- Introduce a security toy or lovey when sleeping if they are over 12 months.
- Consider introducing a pacifier when sleeping.
- Stay calm and relaxed when putting your baby down, because they can tell and feel off your anxiety or stress.
4. Wind Down Before Sleep
A slow, relaxing bedtime sets the mood for what’s coming ahead.
So an excellent solution for a baby that fights sleep is to have a nice, consistent wind down before bed every night.
A warm bath, reading books and avoiding electronics, TV (and even baby-friendly Disney movies) 2 hours before bed are all great ways to set the tone for a good night’s sleep.
When it comes to the bedtime routine, a great tip can be to do things slowly and quietly, because again this will signal what’s coming and help put your child in the right frame of mind for sleep.
5. Darken Their Room
If your baby is currently sleeping in a room with a lot of light, then you might find darkening their room will help them to stop fighting sleep, especially during naps.
Newborns are used to the dark and find it very comforting, and for this reason a baby finds it much easier to settle down and fall asleep in a dark room.
If you are wondering how dark to go, the darker the better – on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being pitch black, you should aim for around 9.
This applies to daytime naps as well, especially as a dark environment will be boring for your little one, which is exactly what you want, rather than your child being able to see their toys or other fun things, which may detract from sleep!
6. Use White Noise
White noise can improve a baby’s sleep for many reasons, so you may want to consider using it as a solution for fighting sleep.
Some of the benefits of playing white noise at naptime or during bedtime include:
- It can sooth and calm a baby as it replaces silence, which can be unnerving to a baby.
- Blocks out other noise from within your house (talking, television,) or external noise from the street.
- Your baby may associate white noise with sleeping – this helps set a consistent sleep routine, which we covered above.
If you do decide to go down this route you will eventually have to stop using white noise, but if you are like most parents, this won’t be until your child is 4 or 5 years old.
Just be sure to follow the two key safety rules from the AAP:
- Don’t place the machine closer than 7 feet from your baby’s crib, and
- Playing the machine at around 50dB or lower, so you don’t risk damaging your baby’s hearing.
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