Picture this. Your baby’s wake window is ending, and you *think* it’s the right time to put them down for sleep. You do a soothing sleep routine, put them down, and they stay awake! Babies fight sleep for many reasons, which can be super frustrating as a parent. Here are some reasons why.
Reasons Babies Fight Sleep
1. Circadian Rhythms Aren’t Developed Yet
Circadian rhythms are our natural internal processes that regulate our sleep-wake cycle. They begin to develop around 6-8 weeks old but aren’t fully developed until about four months old (adjusted age). Babies younger than four months simply aren’t ready for a by-the-clock schedule because their brains are not mature enough. You can begin working towards a schedule at four months old, and usually, by five months, naps have lengthened, and you’ve got a pretty good schedule going! Follow wake windows during those newborn months to help keep your little one well-rested.
2. Not Knowing How to Fall Asleep
Babies need to learn the skill of falling asleep independently, so if your baby doesn’t know how and is fighting sleep, I’d start there. Practice putting your baby down awake and see what they can do. You can support them as much or as little as you feel comfortable with while they’re learning. It will take time and practice but keep the goal in mind of teaching them to fall asleep on their own through the process. If you need more individualized support, reaching out to a Certified Child Sleep Consultant can be really helpful! We sleep consultants love helping families get the rest they deserve!
Babies come from a climate-controlled environment to a world FULL of stimulation and can easily become overstimulated. The world is full of new sounds, sights, and sensations. Be mindful of your baby’s mood and ensure they’re not becoming overwhelmed. Avoid noisy music or toys before it’s time for sleep. Ensure the TV and other screens are off at least one hour before bedtime. Even very exciting play can send babies into an overstimulated state, and they can have trouble winding down for sleep. I remember visitors coming over to meet my oldest and “playing” pass the baby. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was sensory overload for her, and often she would become very fussy.
4. No Sleep Routine
A consistent soothing sleep routine is vital to helping your baby transition from awake to sleepy. Ensure you take 10-15 minutes before naps and about 30 minutes before bed to do a sleep routine with your little one. This will help them wind down and serve as a cue that it’s time for sleep. Babies are pattern seekers, and routine is very comforting for them.
Your bedtime routine will grow and evolve as your baby gets older but having a sleep routine throughout childhood is a must, so start developing it now if you haven’t. During the first year, some activities you might include are bathing, feeding, reading books, baby-led play, rocking, cuddling, and singing a lullaby.
5. Separation Anxiety
Many times babies will fight sleep because of separation anxiety. Around 8, 12, and 18 months a spike in separation anxiety is very common. When this happens, I recommend adding a few extra cozy minutes to the sleep routine to fill up your child’s connection cup and prepare them for separation.
Make sure your baby’s sleep space is dark. Not just a little dark–it should be I-can’t-see-my-hand-in-front-of-me kind of dark. Darkness signals the brain to produce melatonin, our sleep hormone. We want this! Install black-out shades over the windows and use Velcro to tape down the sides if the light is peeking in. Also, remember babies are seeing everything for the first time, so even a little flashing light on a baby monitor or humidifier can be distracting (or interesting) enough to keep them awake. Cover these little lights with electrical tape and the problem is solved.
7. Sleep Timing Is Off
Overtired babies have a tough time settling down for sleep and staying asleep! Be mindful of your baby’s sleepy cues and avoid keeping them awake for too long. When people tell you to keep your baby awake during the day so they sleep better at night, tell them thank you, and then do not listen! This will only lead to an even more overtired sleep-deprived baby.
On the flip side, if your baby isn’t tired enough, they may also fight sleep. Tricky, I know! Finding your baby’s sweet spot for sleep is key. Every baby is different. Be patient, learn their sleepy cues, and their schedule will come together in time.
8. Developmental Milestones
Anytime babies are working on a new skill, sleep can get wonky. Think of all the skills your little one learns to do during their first year! Rolling, sitting, crawling, cruising, walking . . . and those are just some of the physical milestones. They also have huge growth in all other areas. Sleep regressions almost always align with the onset of new skills. In my sleep consulting practice, I’ve had clients whose babies crawl around the crib through the entire nap because their little brains just had to practice this new skill! Once your baby masters that new skill, sleep will return to what it was before shortly after.
9. Nap Transition?
If your little one plays through a nap for more than two weeks, it could mean it’s time to drop that nap but don’t do it cold turkey. Make it a gradual transition, and use an early bedtime to keep your baby well-rested while dropping the nap.
I know it can be super frustrating when your baby starts fighting sleep! Know you’re doing everything you can to set them up for success but actually falling asleep is something we can’t force our little ones to do. Remember that this stage is temporary, and you’re doing amazing!