How to deal with a baby who fights going to sleep
Lots of babies go through phases of fighting sleep. We look at why babies fight sleep and some tried and tested solutions
For every baby who sleeps like – well – a baby, there will be another who seems to fight sleep like a little Samurai warrior, determined never to shut their eyes and give in to a night’s slumber.
If you’ve got a little warrior, don’t despair. There are lots of reasons your baby might be fighting sleep – and plenty of ways to support them with their sleep.
Why do babies fight sleep?
This is the most common cause. We think if they’re really, really tired, they’ll sleep better – and longer. But it’s the opposite with babies! If they’re too tired they get frantic, hyper and cranky. And because they seem even more awake, we delay bedtime even later and the problem gets worse.
If your baby has become overtired you can try the following:
- Swaddling (once they show signs of learning to roll over you need to move away from swaddling)
- Holding and rocking your baby can help them calm enough to sleep
- Making sure the room is dark can also help them give into sleep.
- Playing white noise is another good way to help your little drift off.
To avoid getting overtired in the future, try:
- Watching for their little signs of sleepiness, and act on them promptly take your baby out of the stimulating environment and put them down to sleep. Signs to look out for include: red eyes, glazed expression, yawning, hiccups/sneezing, blueness around the mouth (in newborns), rubbing eyes, turning away from stimulation.
- Try bringing their bedtime a bit earlier, and make sure they have a 30-minute wind-down period (not in a room where the TV is on) before bedtime.
- Keep it calm, focused and short (around 30 minutes – not longer than 45 minutes as they might get over-tired).
- Do the same thing every night so they know what to expect.
They’re not tired enough
This can happen especially in older babies and toddlers. Think about what kind of day they’ve had so far: have you had lots of face-to-face contact with your baby, have you talked lots to them, have they had some fresh air, have they played/sat up/practised their new skills? It may be you’ve both simply had too quiet a day! Or if your older baby or toddler is fighting sleep at night, perhaps they’re sleeping too much in the day (especially if they’re not yet mobile and therefore not using up loads of energy). Generally, by the time a baby reaches 9 months they will be down to two daytime sleeps totalling 2-3 hours.
Look at tweaking your daytime schedule a bit: increase face to face playtimes with your baby, get outside a bit more, and perhaps cut out one of the naps - especially if they’re not yet mobile. Try to stop them napping after 4pm, or at least keep it really short. You could also try making their bedtime slightly later.
They’ve got separation anxiety
This is common around 8-10 months as babies work out that they’re separate from you – and that bedtime means saying goodbye. Even some babies who have been good sleepers until now can suddenly start fighting sleep.
This is a developmental phase they go through, and you can’t change it. But if your baby has slept well until now, continue with your bedtime routine as normal and remind yourself it’s just a phase which will pass like all the others. Go and comfort him if he needs it, as a baby will feel secure if their needs are met. But try not to create a long-term sleep problem in the process! So try not to pick him up, but pat him gently and kiss him goodnight before retreating. You might have to do this several times. Keep it quiet and calm, no lights on.
Some babies can’t fight sleep – their need for shut-eye overrides their desire to play and cuddle. Lucky parents. Others – especially more active, social, inquisitive types – soon realise that going to sleep means missing out on fun. These were often the babies who were most active in the womb.
You can’t change their personality, but that doesn’t mean what you do doesn’t matter. If your baby is sensitive/needs a lot of comfort, it’s better to keep their daily sleep routines really consistent to provide reassurance. If they’re very active, make sure they’re getting plenty of stimulation during the day and there isn’t too much noise in the house when they’re settling to sleep. Try to work with their personalities when thinking about their sleep habits.