Why Does My Baby Fight Sleep? The Reasons Why & How To Manage It

I am not yet a parent myself, but I know the adage “parenting is easy until you become one” is a cold hard fact many parents would agree with. I used to care not just for newborns in my workplace, but also extended the same service to my younger cousins as well as nephews when they were still babies. And boy, was it hard! Letting an infant sleep alone is a struggle. As they get older, I realize I can bribe kids to sleep. But with newborns and toddlers, it’s always hard work, especially if your baby seems to be fighting it. How do you solve these problems? Let’s find out in this post.

Most babies won’t go to sleep without fussing and crying first. If it lasts longer than usual, moms may start to worry about what’s wrong. There are many reasons why your baby fights sleep. For once, his sleeping pattern has changed because he hits another milestone in his life. Instead of catching some zzz’s, he may spend it practicing his rolling or crawling. Over-stimulated or even overtired babies also tend to struggle with sleep.  

Why won’t babies settle to sleep?

If your newborn is frequently waking through the night, it is not a call for worry. Biologically, it is normal for them to sleep in short segments, says Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Frequent awakening is even helpful in preventing SIDS. The length of nighttime sleep will increase as the baby gets older.

Unfortunately, some circumstances are just uncalled for. It’s the wee hours of the night, and instead of sleeping, your baby keeps kicking and babbling in his bed. He may even get interested in the whirling ceiling fan overhead. Good thing if he does. The worst thing is if he wakes the entire household with plaintive cries and gives the mom anxiety about what is wrong.

We found out some of the reasons and how to solve the dilemma.

Your Baby is Overtired

We, adults, tend to crash down when we get tired. As contrariwise as it sounds, when a baby is too tired, he will find it harder to snooze. Like hunger cues, babies also have tired sleep cues. It includes yawning, jerky movements, fussing, rubbing of eyes, or pulling his face. Glazy eyes, hiccups, or sneezing are also signs that he needs sleep.

If parents miss this sign and do not put the baby to sleep on his cue, he will get overtired. Overtired babies get more alert and overactive. Sending him to sleep will become a burden to the more tired parent.

What should you do?

Act promptly on your baby’s sleep cues. Remove things that keep him stimulated when he is drowsy. You can also give him some time to calm down after his activity. Do this by keeping his environment calm and quiet for about 30 minutes before sending him to sleep. Swaddling is also a nice idea for taming down your overtired infant to sleep.

Baby is Not Tired Enough

Overstimulated babies will also keep their parents off from bed. Newborn babies who are not yet active and mobile have a lot of energy in store. When he is not ready for bed, he will mostly fight his way for it. His environment can trigger overstimulation, so you need to keep those things at bay. Too many people, too much noise, a bright surrounding are a few of the distractions.

For older babies, spending much time sleeping during the day will make bedtime a challenge.

What to do?

Allowing your baby to tone down after his fun activity will lessen his excitement. A dim, peaceful, and boring room can also do the trick. You can play some white noise in the background and remove brightly-colored stuff around him. Ditch those colorful Youtube videos during bedtime, either. Sure, the songs may help send them to sleep. But electronic screens emit blue light that makes the brain more wired for sleeping. (It applies to adults as well, mommies!)

Cutting down day naps in toddlers is also helpful. It will eat their energy come bedtime, making them just tired enough for resting.

Your Baby is Excited about his New Skills

Your Baby is Excited about his New Skills

According to Nicole Johnson of The Baby Sleep Site, FOMO can happen to babies that lead them to fight sleep. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is such an adult thing, but it can also oddly affect babies. They are afraid of missing out on the action!

Your baby will no sooner hit a spot of another milestone. With his new discovery, he will get overly enthusiastic and make bedtime his practice time. It’s cute waking up to your baby in his stomach, beaming with pride at his little achievement. But say if he rolls over and gets stuck on his tummy, you know where his frustration will lead.

Not only will his discovery worry you of his disruptive sleep, but it can also eat out at your sanity as it deprives you of a little more shut-eye. I don’t think you will appreciate the effort at two in the morning, and he ends up in heaps of tears.

What to do?

As your baby grows older each day, his routine also changes. Tweaking his nap routine can do so much to help him get a good night’s rest. Make daytime his playtime and help him associate the nighttime with sleeping. During the day, encourage him to practice his newfound skill. It will make him aptly exhausted at the end of the day.

Below is the age-appropriate sleep data from Columbia University. Babies one-year-old and above typically sleep to about 11 hours with at least two daytime naps. You can use this to tweak his naptime and help him get more nighttime drift-off.  

AgeNighttime SleepDaytime Naps
0-1 month8-98
1 month8-97
3 months9-104-5
6 months104
9 months113
1 year113

Separation Anxiety

This dilemma is common in babies at around eight to nine months of age. Although in some, it can occur earlier or later. I have a friend’s baby who seemed to undergo this phase at three months old. Mom gets back to work after her maternity leave, and her baby just keeps fussing. When she returned home, the half-asleep baby jerked awake and smiled upon hearing her voice.

For some babies, bedtime equates to goodbye. When he gets too clingy with mommy, he will find every reason to get close, like bargaining sleep. Most babies will overcome this eventually. It’s a short-term need, but moms should also deal with it sooner to prevent the long-term effect of separation anxiety.

What to do?

Separation anxiety is a developmental phase, and babies will soon outgrow it. Continue with your bedtime routine, and don’t spoil your baby. Never pick him up. Let him self-soothe himself to sleep. Just as long as his needs are met – he is full, burped, at the right room temperature – he will feel secure. Some moms practice separation by kissing their kids goodbye and retreating from the room. He will get used to it in the long run.

Teething

Baby not sleeping because of teething

One of the obvious culprits of babies fighting sleep is during teething. He gets extra fussy and irritable, and it is perhaps one of the dramatic nights in parenthood. If babies are sleep deprived the night before, they can get cumulatively miserable on the next. It will also result in miserable and sleep-deprived parents.

What to do?

Maintain your baby’s sleeping routine. A warm bath, massage, and feeding will lessen his trouble. Pacifiers are also of great help to teething babies to help soothe themselves to sleep. You can pop his pacifier in the fridge before bedtime to keep it cooler. I’ve learned that some parents are using teething mittens.

Personally, I would not advise using this unsupervised in bed. I don’t know if it even works. If you have firsthand experience in using teething mittens, we would appreciate your feedback in the comment section.

FAQ

How can I help my baby sleep?

In brief, you can keep your baby from fighting sleep by:

How do I teach self-soothing to babies?

The earlier you teach babies to self-soothe, the better. It will help you manage separation anxiety later on. Create a sleep routine, and let them get used to sleeping in the crib than in your arms. Feed your baby and meet his needs before and not during bedtime. You may also put him to bed when he is drowsy and pat his back instead of picking him up when he cries.

How long will I let my baby Cry It Out to self-soothe?

This sleep training technique has a conflicting opinion. Experts will tell you to let your baby cry to sleep as long as he can – if you can stand it. It may take them up to an hour, but it varies from baby to baby. On the other hand, some parents worry about the stress that it can cause, not to mention gas that can exacerbate the crying. Talk to your pediatrician for a piece of advice if your baby keeps on fighting sleep.

Conclusion

Babies have a different sleep pattern than adults. Frequent waking up is the biological clock that saves them from the risk of SIDS. As they grow older, the sleep routine changes to give them and the parents more nighttime nod-off.

Understanding why your baby seems to struggle with sleep will give you a rundown on how to handle it. So trust your baby and watch out for cues. This way, you can help him transition and give him a better sleep advantage without fighting it out.

Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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