Five reasons why your infant or toddler may appear to be “fighting sleep,” as well as suggestions for how you may assist!
Have you noticed that your baby is “fighting” sleep lately? Taking a nap has suddenly become a battle, and the fussiness seems to go on forever. Getting ready for bed and/or napping takes a long time and is fraught with tears. Even though this is a typical and frustrating experience, it doesn’t make it any easier for everyone involved. This is a common occurrence for babies as early as four months, in my opinion. Around 6 and 9 months, there is a noticeable increase in separation anxiety. If you can’t figure out what’s making you so irritable, you may want to just let it pass. Pain, discomfort, or difficulties feeding are the first things to rule out.
When a baby is unable to go asleep, it might appear in a variety of ways. If a conflict sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is. Screaming, weeping, squirming, and fighting at the breast or bottle are all possibilities, as are your own tears. There’s no need for naps and bedtimes to be this difficult. The first step to overcoming “fighting sleep” is to figure out what exactly is going on in your life. There are a variety of typical reasons why a baby might not be able to sleep, so let’s get right into it!
What does “fighting sleep” even mean?
Starting with the premise that babies don’t truly fight sleep, the term “fighting sleep” is deceptive. Indeed, when we are ready for it and our system is not overloaded with stress, we naturally fall asleep. Babies are no exception to this rule.
Babies who appear to be “fighting” their inclination to sleep are virtually usually a symptom of something else going on. They’re afraid to sleep because of whatever is going on. Getting curious about what’s behind that tears is our responsibility. Trying to decipher what your kid is trying to tell you may take a few tries, but that’s entirely normal!
What does “fighting sleep” look like?
There is no single “fighting sleep” indicator, just like there is no single miraculous sleep remedy that works for every infant. It’s possible that each infant is different. As a parent, I’ve heard many stories about how difficult it is to deal with an uneasy, fussy, or even an inconsolable baby. A lot of wailing or screaming, as well as arching their back, turning stiff, pushing off of you, scratching, etc., should be expected. It’s possible that a baby will drift off to sleep, only to jerk awake and become agitated all over again.
In addition, you may notice that their sleep schedule is moving – their last nap of the day is getting harder and tougher, or it may be completely skipped. “Fighting sleep” may not be as dramatic for babies with a more laid-back temperament, but you’ll notice that they’re having a tougher time falling asleep.
Five Reasons Why Your Baby Might Be “Fighting” Sleep
Reason #1: Separation Anxiety
All of us are instinctively drawn to our babies. The! Moment! Has Come!
It’s possible that your infant isn’t sleeping well because they’re trying to avoid being separated from you. When a separation is imminent, they become extremely susceptible and their state of alarm is activated, making it extremely difficult for them to go asleep.
Babies may become more desperate to connect with us while we’re together because of the amount of time they spend away from us (like at daycare). We only get to spend a few hours at night with our infant, which is especially difficult for parents who work full-time. It can be difficult to truly connect with your infant while you’re rushing through dinner, bedtime, and all the other household tasks. Whenever we try to separate them from us at bedtime, they go into full alarm mode.
Reason #2: Overtired / Under-tired Baby
An “overtired” baby is not likely to be able to go asleep as quickly as one who hasn’t been experiencing sleep deprivation. NREM sleep is reduced when a baby is overtired because their sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) is shorter between sleep cycles. However, do not allow yourself to become TOO engrossed in the idea that your kid is exhausted. A infant rarely suffers from sleep deprivation or long-term exhaustion. Sleep deprivation and unruly conduct are often blamed on it. If your baby is fussy, it may be a sign that he or she needs more stimulation, or that he or she is simply not tired enough to go to sleep yet. It’s difficult, isn’t it?
When I know I’ll be out from the house for a long period of time, I attempt to put my baby down as early as possible, only to find that she refuses to take a nap. Under-tired and not yet ready for sleep, overtired and agitated, a “second wind” are all possibilities for your baby’s behavior. There’s nothing to be concerned about if this is a one-time scheduling problem! It may be worthwhile to keep track of your wake windows for a few days to determine whether a longer wake window or an earlier nap reduces the frequency of fights. That’s a possibility, isn’t it?
Reason #3: Environmental Disruptions
Take a look at your baby’s sleeping patterns to see if anything is waking them up. What if there is anything in the room that is too stimulating? What about the clothing they’re wearing? Could something be irritating, hot, or chilly, etc.? Could this be a problem? Even something as basic as a white noise machine can make a huge difference to your baby’s sleep patterns and general well-being.
Reason #4: Comfort
It’s possible that your baby’s constant crying is a sign of anything more serious: they may be gassy, ill, teething or in pain. It’s normal for your baby to go to the bathroom! There is nothing to be concerned about in these situations, and they aren’t something to be concerned about. With one exception: If your infant is nursing to sleep and is fighting you at the breast, PLEASE visit a lactation consultant. It could be the difference between life and death!
Reason #5: Parental stress
This is a tremendous deal! You and your baby will be able to tell whether we’re concerned or anxious about bedtime or naps. In order to regulate their own emotional state, babies rely on our ability to tune into our emotions. As a result, if we’re stressed, so is the baby. What’s worse is that it can become a habit, making people believe that sleeping is a dangerous or uncomfortable experience. When you’re frustrated or irritated because your kid won’t go to sleep, try to come up with a few coping mechanisms you may use to stop the cycle.
Sleep problems vs. formal sleep disorders
Sleep disorders in children, such as those listed above, are prevalent. American Family Physician estimates that one in two children had difficulties sleeping.
Sleep issues such as newborn snoring or heart palpitations are becoming less common. It’s best to see your pediatrician as soon as you suspect a medical condition is to blame for your baby’s bad sleep patterns. The use of medication or other methods of treatment is possible.
How much sleep does my baby need?
Having eliminated the possibility of a medical issue, my next step was to determine whether my son was receiving enough sleep. Sleep diaries were my constant companion for a week. Despite the fact that he appeared to be constantly awake and fussing, I learned that he was in fact receiving adequate sleep. This was a huge boost to my spirits!
Determine how much sleep your baby requires by age group to ensure their health and well-being. The Department of Neurology at Columbia University has devised a handy chart to demonstrate how much sleep babies need based on their age. It will reveal the following to you:
- Needed sleep time in hours.
- Hours needed to sleep through the night.
- All the time spent sleeping during the day.
Use a sleep journal to keep track of your baby’s sleep once you know how much sleep he or she requires.
It’s possible that even if your infant is getting the minimum amount of sleep, they still have a sleep disorder. For example, despite the fact that my son was obtaining enough sleep, the interruptions to his sleep cycles caused him to have poor quality rest. And it wasn’t acceptable for the child’s age group.
One or two-hour stretches of sleep are typical for newborns and infants under the age of three months old. Older babies, on the other hand, aren’t supposed to be waking up so frequently. By the time a baby is six months old, two out of three of them can sleep through the night (sleeping six to eight hours) on a regular basis.
How to Stop Your Baby from “Fighting” Sleep
It’s important to get curious about what’s going on if the infant is consistently resisting going to sleep, considering the explanations I’ve listed above. Depending on your baby’s situation, you can choose from a variety of options!
If your baby is fighting sleep because of over/under tiredness, try this:
You may be missing or manipulating your baby’s sleep cues if you notice that he or she is consistently over or undertired. Are they actually exhausted, or are they simply overworked? Why don’t they get some fresh air and a break from the indoors? Maybe a new game or toy? What’s for dinner? If you’re fidgeting and staring off into space, it could be a sign of sleepiness, but it could also indicate boredom.
Your infant may not be ready to go to sleep even though you think they are, because they were not yet exhausted enough. It’s good to take a break, come back in 15-20 minutes, and try again. Try increasing your wake times for a few days to see if that makes a difference! Many newborns require a bit of a jolt of energy before they go to sleep or nap. This can be accomplished through lots of rough and tumble play.
Alternatively, your child may be exhausted and require a shorter waking time. More sensitive or low-energy infants may require additional time to wind down and transition to sleep. For example, they could require more time in a dim environment or a prolonged nursing session. There are certain newborns that benefit from a shorter window of time before going to sleep, so keep this in mind when planning your schedule. However, this isn’t true for all newborns!
Take an interest in these things and have some fun with them. If one approach doesn’t work, try the other for a few days. For much additional ideas and suggestions, see my blog post on overtiredness.
If your baby is fighting sleep because of separation anxiety, try this:
As sleep deprivation becomes more common, our infants’ innate need to avoid being separated from us increases. When you enter the nursery, they may completely freak out, or they may sleep well for contact naps, but you can’t put them down until you get them out of there. When your child is awake, you can play with them in their sleep area, such as changing their diaper or feeding on your own bed, so they don’t exclusively link it with sleep and separation.
As a last method, you can “love bomb” your infant by showering him or her with affection. THROUGHOUT the nap or bedtime routine, but especially before and during. Consider adding some rough and tumble play, or cuddling before night, to ensure that your baby has plenty of physical touch from you during the day. Slow down when you go to your bedtime routine. Take your time, but be aware of whether you’re hurrying through the process. It’s possible for a baby to pick up on that energy and become even more resistant to it.
If your baby is fighting sleep because of parent’ stress, try this:
Mirror, mirror on the wall: that’s how babies and toddlers are. They are sensitive to our every feeling. When your baby is napping or going to sleep, your stress and anxiety will be transmitted to him or her. Because they’ll see that you’re anxious, which makes it difficult for you to sleep, they’ll come to believe that sleep isn’t something to look forward to, enjoy, or feel secure about.
One of the best things you can do in the event that you are struggling to cope is to seek the advice of a professional counselor. If you’d want to hear from other parents who’ve been in the same situation as you, check out my Instagram highlight, “Hard Night.”