We’ve all been there: Your infant has been up for hours, rubbing their eyes, fussing, and yawning, but just will not go to sleep.
At some point or another all babies may fight sleep, unable to settle down and just close their eyes, even though you know that sleep is what they need. But why?
Learn more about the reasons babies fight sleep as well as how to help them get the rest they need.
Knowing the reason your little one is struggling to get some sleep will help you to address the issue and make sure they get some much needed Zzz’s. So what are the possible causes for fighting sleep?
While your exhaustion likely means you easily fall asleep the moment you stop moving (mid-Netflix viewing, anyone?) it doesn’t always work quite that way for your little one.
Babies often have a window during which they are primed to fall asleep. If you miss the window they can become overtired, leading to irritability, fussing, and trouble settling down.
Not tired enough
On the other hand, your baby may not be ready for sleep because they aren’t tired enough. This could be an isolated event, caused by something like today’s nap running longer than usual, or it could be a sign that they’re growing and developing, and their sleep needs are changing.
You’ve probably heard a million times to avoid screens for an hour before bed in order to fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep. The same is true for your little one, but it goes beyond screens. Noisy toys, loud music, or exciting play can leave them feeling overwhelmed and unable to calm down for sleep.
Has your little one been like a shadow, always wanting to be held and never more than a few steps away all day? It’s likely that they’re feeling some separation anxiety, which can show up at bedtime as well.
Often seen anywhere from 8 to 18 months, your baby may fight sleep because they don’t want you to leave.
Infants start to develop their circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycle that regulates our bodies, at around 6 weeks old. These circadian rhythms mature enough to establish a true sleep schedule around 3 to 6 months old. And of course, every baby is different, so some may not establish a real sleep schedule until after that.
Your little one is doing some serious growing in the first few years — most babies triple their birth weight by their first birthday. All that growth demands plenty of nourishment.
Make sure that your baby is getting an appropriate number of feedings a day, depending on their age, how much they’re taking in at each feed, and whether they are breast or bottle-fed.
Sometimes discomfort from an illness can affect your baby’s sleep. Keep an eye out for other symptoms of illnesses like ear infections or colds.
The steps you take depend, in part, on the reasons for your baby fighting sleep, but the following tips are useful for creating a positive sleep environment, no matter what your challenges.
- Learn your baby’s sleep cues. Watch closely for signs that your baby is tired and put them to bed within minutes of signs like eye rubbing, yawning, avoiding eye contact, fussing, or losing interest in play. Keep in mind that some waking periods may be as short as 30 to 45 minutes for young infants.
- Establish and keep a soothing bedtime ritual. Taking a bath, reading books, cuddling in a favorite chair — these are all ways to help ease a child to sleep. Be consistent and do the same things in the same order around the same time each night.
- Establish day-night behaviors by playing and interacting with your baby during the day, exposing them to lots of sunlight in the morning and afternoon, but being less active and more sedate before bedtime.
- Eliminate rough physical play, loud noises, and screens at least an hour before bed.
- Create a nap and sleep schedule based on your baby and your lifestyle. Consider their overall sleep needs and ensure that they’re given the chance to get plenty of day and night sleep.
- Ensure your baby is getting enough feeds within a 24-hour period. Newborns will typically feed on demand every 2 to 3 hours. As your baby grows, the time between feedings will increase.
- Make sure baby’s space is conducive to sleep. Use blackout curtains, white noise, or other elements to encourage a restful environment.
- Try to respond to your baby’s sleep challenges with patience and calm. They feed off of your emotions, so staying relaxed can help them to calm down as well.
How much sleep your baby needs will depend on many factors, including their age, personality, development, and more. But there are some guidelines that can help you design a healthy sleep schedule for your baby.
Of course, if you’ve exhausted all your options (pun intended!), and they don’t seem to be working, talk to your doctor.
Watching your baby fight sleep can be very frustrating. But most of the time, they respond to one of the interventions above. The time you spend helping your baby sleep is an investment in their growth, development, and happiness.