Is your baby refusing to sleep when she should? Is she pulling away, arching her back, and most troubling of all, crying for hours on end?

While many parents worry that the baby could be sick, it’s often simply a case of a baby fighting sleep. This can be very distressing, especially for a parent who has to look after other young children too.

Fortunately, this situation can usually be resolved quite easily. You just need to know the signs of your baby fighting sleep and if they’re overtired.

Mia has become a lot better at settling down to sleep in the past couple of months. A later bedtime has actually helped, and we generally put her down to sleep around 8pm, and she sleeps through until 6:30 – 7:00am. Granted she’s now 18 months old and has got into a regular routine, but when she was younger she could fight sleep for 2 hours or more some evenings!

Does your baby fight sleep for hours on end?

Here are some of the most common reasons why this situation can occur

1) Fatigue

Every baby has a “sleep window”.

This is a period of time where she is drowsy and will sleep if the conditions are right, i.e a quiet and peaceful environment.  Some parents will attempt to keep the baby up for longer in the hope that her sleep time will match their sleeping pattern. Or try to move a baby around more, to tire her out, or rock her to sleep for a long time. All these strategies usually backfire and can cause more problems.

Babies have different waking hours and if these are not met adequately, the baby’s sleep patterns become shorter and disrupted. These waking hours at different ages are “generally” as follows:

  • 45 – 60 minutes in the first 1 – 6 weeks
  • 1 – 1.5 hours when aged 2-3 months
  • 1.25 – 2.25 hours when aged 4-5 months
  • 2 – 2. 75 hours when aged 6-7 months
  • 2.25 – 3 hours when aged 8-9 months
  • 3 – 4 hours when aged 10-12 months
  • 3 – 6 hours when aged 12 plus months

2) Overstimulation

Babies are naturally curious as everything is new. From new objects to look at and touch, to different noises they can hear. Even mundane sounds like a ticking clock are new! Your baby can become overstimulated if there is too much going on, especially in the early evening. If your baby is in a brightly lit and noisy house when she needs a calm environment, she will become overstimulated and start fighting sleep.

3) Not tired enough

The opposite of overstimulation is lack of any activity at all. If the baby is not exposed to any stimulation or activity during the waking period, she may not tire out adequately to need rest.

signs of baby fighting sleep | image

4) Too much feeding

Young babies will keep suckling sometimes more than necessary. The most common sign is if the baby keeps regurgitating milk after feeding. A baby can become uncomfortable from overfeeding just like you feel discomfort in the tummy when you are too full. This often happens when a baby is suckled to sleep.

5) Separation anxiety

This is common in babies aged between 8-12 months, and more common if a baby is sleeping in a separate room. She will be clingy and tearful, refusing to go to sleep when mum is not around.

6) Swaddling

Babies need to feel warm and comfy. Although swaddling will work well for newborn babies, infants of an older age will resist swaddling often with jerky movements, which can keep them awake for longer.

swaddling photo

Photo by Regal+Lager

7) Personality

Don’t forget babies have personalities too, even at a very young age. Social and feisty babies are more likely to fight sleep as they want to be around people for longer. Is your baby like this?

What to do if your baby is fighting sleep all of a sudden?

Usually this situation will eventually resolve itself. But there are some things you can do to make the baby more comfortable, make falling sleep easier, and ensure a less stressful experience!

1) A nap routine

Developing a regular nap routine helps your baby transition from being active to sleeping mode. It works very well for toddlers. A calming routine could be a quick story or a lullaby. A 5-minute story in a soothing voice is good enough to make your baby drowsy. Avoid stories with too much excitement as this could make your child more stimulated.

2) Adjust sleeping times

If your baby is getting too tired, you could shift bedtime to an earlier hour to avoid other activities. This can be combined with a naptime routine that slows the baby down and puts her to sleep quicker. If your baby is not getting enough activity during the day, shift sleep time to later to allow for longer periods between the naps.

sleep time photo

3) Adjusting feeding schedule

Are you trying to feed your baby too soon after the last feed? Babies, especially when they’re very young, will wake up because their trigger system has been activated by the need to feed.  Feed your baby as soon as she wakes up. If the baby is feeding too much, cut down on the feeding in the immediate period before sleep.

4) Fight sleep separation

If your child is suffering sleep anxiety, establishing a nap routine can take care of it. Telling a quick short story, for example, will help your baby feel your presence and get at ease. But avoid routines that could complicate this routine, like allowing the child to sleep in your bed.

5) Give space

Babies can’t talk, but their actions can tell a lot. If your baby keeps pushing you away, it is a sign of the need for space. Put the baby down instead of rocking or swaddling her. If the child is sleeping in a separate room, walk away from the room for a few minutes. Remember that different babies have different personalities.

6) Massage

Massaging your toddler as part of the napping routine will help soothe and relax the body, just as much as you enjoy and feel drowsy during a massage. Try rubbing the child’s feet with coconut or olive well.

7) Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has been shown to have some sleep benefits. Place a humidifier or diffuser in the baby’s room when the baby is going to sleep, and take it away after the baby is asleep. Essential oils should be used with caution though. Use 1 drop of lavender in 3 tablespoons of coconut oil.  If the baby shows any signs of respiratory discomfort, withdraw the diffuser.

8) Co-sleeping

Co-sleeping is very effective for very young children. For one, the baby is warmed naturally by your body. You are also able to respond faster to your baby when she initially wakes up, which helps get to her before she starts crying and become agitated. Co-sleeping with your baby matches your baby’s sleep pattern to yours a lot better.

cosleeping photo

Photo by Kelly Sue

9) Keep the baby dry

It is important to ensure that the baby is dry at all times. Check the diaper for wetness every time the baby wakes up.

10) Ensure your baby is not ill

You should always eliminate the possibility of an illness before concluding that your baby is fighting sleep. Keep a thermometer nearby to take the baby’s temperature readouts regularly. This can warn you early when the baby develops a fever, which is a common symptom of many childhood illnesses.

Even with all these suggestions, you may still have some instances when your baby fights sleep, but hopefully these tips should lesson the impact.

Ensure your baby is comfortable, in the right environment, and falling asleep will become a whole lot easier for your baby.

Finally, it can be a bit frustrating when your baby refuses to sleep, especially if you have a busy schedule and lifestyle. But always remember to be patient with your baby. You are not the first parent to go through it, and your baby will eventually get over it.

Is you baby showing signs of fighting sleep?

Do you have suggestions of your own which can help an infant settle down to sleep?

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Does your baby regularly fight sleep?

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