5 Reasons Your Baby is Fighting Sleep and How to Fix It

This photo is of a sleeping baby with its arms up by its head. The baby is sleeping peacefully.

As a new parent, there’s nothing quite as precious as a sleeping baby. However, getting your little one to sleep peacefully can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. If your baby is constantly fighting sleep, you’re not alone! Many parents face this challenge, and it can be both frustrating and exhausting.

The good news is that there are often underlying reasons for your baby’s sleep struggles. With a little understanding and the right strategies, you can eliminate the bedtime battles and help your baby learn to fall asleep peacefully.

As a pediatric sleep consultant for babies and kids, I’ll discuss five common reasons why your baby might be resisting sleep. And of course, I’ll provide you with practical tips on how to fix it!

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Culprit #1: Over Tiredness

One of the most counterintuitive aspects of infant sleep is that when babies become overtired, they actually have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. When a baby is up for too long, their body produces higher levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone secreted by their nervous system. 

And when your baby has higher levels of cortisol in their system, it becomes MUCH harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.

To address this problem, make sure you get your little one to sleep for bedtime and naptime JUST as your baby is beginning to get tired. Don’t wait until they become overtired before putting them to sleep. 

Always use your baby’s wake windows to calculate how long your little one can likely be up for. Don’t rely as much on your little one’s sleepy cues to help you determine when your baby is ready for sleep. 

Body language and sleepy cues can be very misleading and are often inaccurate, especially as your baby gets older.

Culprit #2: Under-Tiredness

Under-tiredness, or putting a baby down for sleep too soon, can also contribute to a baby fighting sleep. Just as overtiredness can disrupt a baby’s sleep patterns, under-tiredness can lead to similar challenges.

This is the case for two main reasons:

1) Excess Energy

Babies, especially as they grow older, have a natural need for physical activity and mental stimulation. If they haven’t expended enough energy through play, exploration, or interaction, they might still have a surplus of energy that prevents them from settling down for sleep. 

As a result, they may seem fidgety, restless, or unwilling to stay in their crib or bed if they’re being put to bed too early.

2) Wake Windows Are Too Short 

Putting a baby down to sleep before they have reached the end of their wake window can cause a baby to fight sleep. This is because their bodies and brains are not fully prepared for rest and because they haven’t built up enough sleep pressure to fall asleep nicely. 

Instead, they might exhibit signs of wakefulness, such as fussiness, difficulty soothing themselves or simply wanting to play more. They might also struggle to transition into deeper sleep stages, leading to more frequent night wakings.

To avoid under-tiredness and its impact on sleep, it is extremely important to use your baby’s wake windows to determine when it’s time for them to go to sleep.

Culprit #3: Sleep Environment Isn’t Optimal

Creating a conducive sleep environment is crucial for helping your baby fall asleep without a fight. Otherwise, it can be much harder for your little one to fall asleep. Make sure your baby’s sleep space is comfortable, quiet, and dark.

For example:

  • Install blackout blinds to ensure there isn’t too much natural sunlight coming into the room, which can suppress your baby’s natural production of melatonin.
  • Consider the benefits of white noise machines to drown out any background noises that might disturb your baby’s sleep.
  • Ensure that the room is at a comfortable temperature with a thermostat for your baby’s room and that your baby is dressed appropriately for sleep.

Culprit #4: No bedtime routine

Not having a relaxing and consistent bedtime routine can contribute to your baby’s bedtime battles. This is because many babies will lack the cues that signal to their bodies that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. 

And most babies truly need these cues to help them transition from an active state of wakefulness to the calm state of sleepiness.

Establishing a consistent sleep routine really helps your baby wind down before bedtime and lets them know that it’s time to go to sleep. As you follow the same sequence of calming activities each night, such as a warm bath, massage, reading a bedtime story, or singing a bedtime song, your baby’s brain will start to recognize these cues as signals to relax and unwind. 

Over time, this conditioning can help your baby settle down more easily and reduce resistance at bedtime. Now, don’t fret–incorporating a bedtime routine doesn’t need to be overly complex or time-consuming.

Keep it simple, enjoyable, and tailored to your baby’s preferences.

Culprit #5: Developmental Milestones

Babies go through various developmental milestones, such as learning to roll over, sit up, or crawl. These new skills can sometimes disrupt their sleep patterns and temporarily cause them to fight sleep.

This is because they’d rather practice their new skill repeatedly instead of going to sleep!

My biggest piece of advice is to be patient during these phases and offer extra comfort and reassurance. Stick to your established sleep routine to provide a sense of stability during these times of change.

Don’t introduce sleep crutches or habits you don’t want sticking around for the long run. Eventually, the novelty of this new skill will wear off and your baby will go back to falling asleep easily once again.

Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits is Paramount

Helping your baby establish healthy sleep habits and fall asleep peacefully at bedtime is an important process that requires proper strategy and intention. 

By addressing the underlying reasons for your baby’s sleep resistance and implementing these practical strategies, you can create positive sleep routines that promote restful nights for both you and your little one.

Remember that every baby is unique, so it might take some trial and error to find the perfect combination of daytime schedules and techniques that work for your baby. With time and consistent effort, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying peaceful nights and well-rested days!