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How to get a Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep

How to get a Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep

It is one of the most disheartening experiences for a parent – it’s bedtime or nap time and your baby is inconsolable. You don’t know how to get your baby to stop fighting sleep and he is getting more tired by the minute.

You want to calm him, comfort him and help him get the rest he needs but you don’t know what is causing him to be so upset. It is especially difficult because if he is fighting sleep, you cannot get the rest you need to be a functioning and present caregiver. 

Babies fight sleep for many reasons. They are usually exhausted when they fight sleep but are going through something that is preventing them from settling. Determining the reasons for why a baby is fighting sleep leaves caregivers completely mystified as to what is going on. 

If you are going through this, your frustration is understandable. Rest assured that this happens from time to time and it’s ok if you don’t know exactly what the reasons are. You may be desperately asking yourself “how do I get my baby to stop fighting sleep?” My goal for this post is to explain the possible reasons why your baby is fighting sleep and give you suggestions and solutions. 

Fighting Sleep Due to Illness, Teething or Discomfort

It is important that you rule out certain things that can cause a baby to fight sleep. Try your best to determine if your baby is ill, in pain or hungry before you decide that she is fighting sleep for other reasons. Once you have determined that none of these is the culprit, you can delve a little deeper to determine why your baby is fighting sleep.  

How to Get a Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep Due to Illness, Teething or Discomfort 

If your baby is sick, actively teething or in pain, it is best to assist her to get to sleep. You may have to sleep in the same room with your baby but avoid bed sharing due to safety concerns. Ask your healthcare provider about pain relief medication for fever or teething pain. If you feel uncomfortable giving your baby medication, there are several homeopathic medications that are perfectly safe for infants and toddlers. 

Possible Reasons your Baby is Fighting Sleep 

Reason 1: Overtiredness 

When a baby is overtired, it can be tremendously difficult to settle her down for sleep. Chronic overtiredness can cause all kinds of sleep problems such as night wakings, early morning wakings and persistent short napping. Overtiredness will definitely cause babies to fight sleep because they are so wired and overstimulated. 

Signs of an Overtired Baby: 

Crying and Fussiness  

It seems that nothing will calm your baby. She doesn’t want to be fed, she doesn’t want to play and tummy time sends her into a tailspin tantrum. An overtired baby tends to have a whiny, droaning tone to her crying, with brief hiccups of trying to catch her breath. The crying seems continuous, in long stretches and is usually accompanied by rubbing of teary eyes. 

Stiff Limbs, Back and Neck 

Overtired babies are suffering from a stress response, which is causing their cortisol and adrenaline to go haywire. This can cause stiff limbs, especially in the legs and back. An overtired baby will arch her back in resistance to being held in certain positions or being placed in her sleep space. Sometimes an overtired baby will resist being held, especially if the caregiver is in a seated position. 

Red Face, Eyes, and Eyebrows

Any human will get a red hue around the eyes when they are tired. For adults, this may happen after one night of poor sleep, but for babies this can happen after only a few hours. Their eyes get reddish not only because of the natural human response to tiredness, but because they are usually rubbing their eyes and touching their faces a lot more when overtired. 

How to Get a Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep Due to Overtiredness

Watch the Clock and Cues

Try to stay on track with wake windows and naps. This can be difficult with a newborn because they can get overtired very quickly but it gets easier as they grow and can stay up for longer stretches. 

Follow age appropriate wake windows as much as possible and keep your eyes peeled for those first sleepy cues. These include staring into space, yawning, and becoming less interested in play. Some babies begin tugging at their ears and cheeks as a form of self comfort. The signs are subtle in most babies so it’s a good idea to watch the clock as well. If your newborn has been up for nearly 90 minutes and you begin to see some sleep cues, it’s time to begin winding him down for sleep. 

Reduce Stimulation

An overtired baby is overstimulated due to being awake for too long. To help alleviate this, bring the baby to his room, dim the lights and eliminate noise. Try walking around with him or standing and rocking. Gentle bouncing and swaying can also help. 

Reason 2: Under-Tiredness 

Parents tend to get very worried about overtiredness but under-tiredness is also a factor to consider. Like overtiredness, under-tiredness can also cause issues such as night wakings, early morning wakings, short napping and fighting sleep but there is one key difference:  Undertired babies are usually in a good or manageable mood. For example, an overtired baby may wake up from a 30 minute nap crying, arching her back and in a bad mood. An under-tired baby will take a 30 minute nap and wake up cooing, chattering to herself and usually will not call out for her caregiver for a little while. 

An under-tired baby will also not display signs of tiredness such as yawning, rubbing eyes or fussiness. She will however, fight sleep and will resist being placed in her sleep space. Along with fighting naps and bedtime your baby may have frequent night wakings that do not include heavy crying or fussiness. She may also have early morning wakings where she is content and ready to start the day. A good way to distinguish under-tiredness from overtiredness is that when your baby is under-tired, it will take her a long time to fall asleep and she will usually be upset during the process. She will then wake up after a short period of time, happy and ready to get up. 

How to Get a Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep Due to Under-tiredness

If your baby is fighting sleep, either for naps or her usual bedtime and you have ruled out other causes, it could be time to look at her sleep schedule. Lengthening of wake windows or even dropping a nap might be necessary. However, I always caution clients to look at the big picture before changing a schedule. Consider your baby’s age, health and overall temperament before making a change and do not make a change unless you see the same, consistent behavior for at least a week or two. 

Reason 3: Overstimulation 

Babies are taking in a lot of information all the time. If they have had a fun morning at a playdate or a community activity with other babies, this can quickly lead to overstimulation. It happens to adults as well. After a fun night with friends and family, it can be difficult to wind down. Babies experience this too and like us, they may not want the fun to end. 

How to Get a Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep due to Overstimulation 

If you have just returned home from an event or your visitors have just left, you now have the difficult task of winding down your baby and getting her ready for bed. She has had big fun and is keyed up and overstimulated. The most important thing to remember is that your usual wind down routine may not be enough to calm her. Don’t rush through it because this can backfire and end up taking more time.

It is best to slowly and gradually wind her down and give her extra time to settle. This is one of those times where it might be ok to bring a few toys into the bedroom so the baby doesn’t feel like the party is over. One of two toys in a quiet environment will begin the process of settling her down. Just make sure the toys are not too stimulating and try not to have anyone else in the room other than yourself. Avoid toys that light up or make noise. After about 10 minutes, you can switch to a calming book or singing lullabies. Gradually bring the lights down and eventually you can begin walking around the room with your baby. You can also sway and rock your baby to further settle her down. Encourage her to put her head on your shoulder and offer cuddles and hugs. When the time feels right, sit down and keep rocking. Eventually your baby will either fall asleep with you or be ready to be placed in her sleep space. Remember that getting a baby or toddler to sleep after a fun event will always be more difficult for obvious reasons. Lean into the fact that your child will need your help to wind down and don’t try to put her into her sleep space too quickly. 

Reason 4: Sleep Regressions

A sleep regression occurs when a baby, toddler or child who was sleeping well, suddenly starts resisting sleep. Sleep regressions or sleep progressions as they are often called can happen at various times throughout infancy, the toddler years and childhood. Regressions are often accompanied by milestones such as rolling over, crawling, cruising and walking. Your baby is biologically driven to practice these skills and his brain is in overdrive when he is close to mastering them. He will want to practice all the time, even when he should be sleeping.

Regressions are sometimes signs that the schedule needs to be adjusted but this is not always the case. For example, if your baby is 9 months old and has begun fighting the second nap of the day, he could well be experiencing a regression but that doesn’t mean that we should drop the second nap.  

How to Get a Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep Due to a Sleep Regression 

If your baby is going through a regression, take comfort in the knowledge that it will not last forever. Regressions can last from a few days to a few weeks, which will give you time to observe your child and decide if changes need to be made.  

If you know that he is trying to reach a milestone, such as crawling, give him lots of time to practice during the day. Encourage him to reach the milestone through games and play. This will not only give him the opportunity to practice, it will also tire him out for naptime and bedtime. 

If there have been significant changes in the household, environment or everyday life, give your baby time to get accustomed to them. Remain consistent with your routine and observe how your child reacts. 

Take all the information into consideration and think about his age and sleep needs before making changes. Again, consider that he could be sick, teething or experiencing a growth spurt and tend to those issues as needed.

If he is still fighting sleep at the same time every day for about 2 weeks straight, you can try to make changes to the schedule. 

The important thing to remember about a sleep regression is that they do not last. Support your baby through it but remember that consistency is key to minimizing the side effects. Try your best to stick to the schedule and routine as much as possible so you and your baby do not backslide into habits that don’t work for your family. 

Reason 5: Separation Anxiety 

Separation anxiety is a very real and terrifying experience for your child. It tends to peak for infants between 7 and 9 months but signs of separation anxiety can show up at any time. It can definitely impact bedtime and naptime, especially if you want your child to fall asleep independently. 

How to get a baby to stop fighting sleep due to separation anxiety 

Make space for connection

Remember that your baby, at every stage of infancy and childhood, craves time with you. He needs your attention, affection and validation. It is important to set aside some time for your child every day but it is especially important if your baby is going through separation anxiety. I know it’s hard and there are so many demands on your time but giving your baby the hugs, cuddles and time that she craves is the only way to curb her separation anxiety and encourage her to stop fighting sleep.

Make space for connection through routine 

Routine is important for many reasons but if your baby is fighting sleep due to separation anxiety, a routine can truly be your salvation for two reasons: 

If you build quality time into your bedtime routine and wind down, your child will know that at the end of the day, no matter what, she will have your full undivided attention. Put your phone on silent or leave it out of the room altogether and use the bedtime routine to connect with your child. Hold her, rock her, give her the physical contact that she needs to settle down and get ready for sleep. 

Routine will also give you the opportunity to set expectations for your child. If you conduct the same routine, everyday that includes plenty of quality time he will know that at the end of the routine he is expected to go to sleep. The first few nights may be difficult but he will eventually fall into the routine. When your child knows the steps that are going to happen and the order in which they will occur, it will give him a sense of control. This will go a long way in helping curb his separation anxiety. 

Need some expert help to figure out why your baby is fighting sleep? Book your enlightenment call with Beautiful Baby Sleep today!