All parents have similar horror stories. You know your baby is tired, but instead, she’s rolling around in bed, screaming. So, you try to rock and cuddle her, and she pushes away from you, arching her back. You watch the hours on the clock move towards an hour, then two hours past her bedtime, and you’re stuck wondering why babies fight sleep.
Of course, you also start to wonder if it is normal for my baby to fight sleep. Did I somehow damage my poor child?
Your child is normal! All babies fight sleep from time to time; talk to a few parents, and everyone will have stories to share with you. Babies do have reasons that they fight sleep at bedtime and naptime, and knowing those reasons can help you decrease the problems surrounding sleep.
Let’s take a look at why do newborns fight sleep as well as older babies, and if you can do anything to fix the problem.
At What Ages Do Babies Fight Sleep?
Unfortunately, babies of all ages fight sleep, but why they fight sleep differs the most. If your two-month-old fights sleep, chances are he has a different reason than a 10-month-old.
Babies also commonly fight sleep during sleep regressions, and the largest sleep regression is at four months. The four-month sleep regression is one of the hardest; your baby is undergoing a lot of changes.
However, the four-month sleep regression isn’t the only one that your child will experience. Babies go through sleep regressions between 8-10 months, as well as 12 months old.
Why Is My Baby Fighting Sleep All of a Sudden?
At times, your baby’s personality might tell her to battle sleep all of a sudden. Everyone, including our babies, has unique purposes, so that could be yours. However, the chances are that something is happening to cause your baby to fight sleep.
We’re going to take a look at the three most common reasons.
Your Baby is Overtired
Without a doubt, the most common reason why babies fight sleep is that they’re overtired. That doesn’t make any sense.
When adults and even older kids are exhausted and ready to go down to go to bed, we fall asleep. We are tired, so sleeping is a natural action to take. Babies aren’t the same, and it can lead to some severe sleep fighting.
How does this happen?
When your baby is overtired, you miss his ideal sleep window to fall asleep quickly. A sleep window is a time when your baby is tired and drowsy enough to fall asleep without a fight but not so tired that he’s a mess, screaming and throwing tantrums. When you put your baby to sleep in his sleep window, bedtime is usually straightforward.
Missing that window is not a good idea. Don’t let anyone tell you to keep your child awake longer because they sleep better – that’s a lie!
Once a baby is too tired to fall asleep, the not-so-fun games begin.
Your Baby Isn’t Tired Enough
This is rarely a problem for newborns because they go to sleep so often, but they need to be tired to go to sleep for toddlers. Imagine being told to go to sleep when you aren’t tired in the slightest! You’ll toss, turn, and want to get out of bed before long.
Parents who have toddlers need to think about their baby’s entire sleep routine and determine if their child isn’t tired. Look at how much wake time your toddler has before bedtime. Little babies need short wake times, but toddlers can be awake much longer. They typically need, at least, five to six hours of awake time before bed.
Baby Has Separation Anxiety
At different times throughout your baby’s first year, separation anxiety will develop. It tends to hit between 8-10 months during the sleep regression stage. Then, it could go away for a bit and come back after your baby hits 12 months.
While frustrating, when your baby has separation anxiety, it means that she is neurologically developing at the appropriate rate.
How Do I Get My Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep?
Now that you know why most babies fight sleep, the real question is – how do I make my baby not fight sleep. Here are some suggestions that you can try with your child.
Try Moving Bedtime
If your baby is overtired, bedtime or naptime is not at the right points throughout the day. For babies, you might need to shorten the times between naps. Another option is paring down the bedtime routine. Sometimes, a shorter routine can help your baby relax and fall asleep without accidentally keeping your baby awake too long.
On the flip side, if your baby isn’t tired enough, you can try moving bedtime later. This sometimes happens when your toddler takes two naps, and then he doesn’t feel tired enough to go to bed. Instead of removing a nap, some parents prefer to make a later bedtime.
A quick recap to try:
- Make a shorter bedtime routine to reduce the risk of missing the sleep window.
- Move bedtime later for toddlers and older infants who fight sleep.
- For young infants, shorten their awake time between naps to reduce the chance of becoming overtired.
Have a Nap Routine and Schedule
Having a nap routine is just as important as having a bedtime routine. Nearly all parents create a set bedtime and routine; we want our kids to go to bed at night, but not all parents create a nap time routine.
If you find that your baby or toddler fights naptime, try creating a simple routine to transition from playing to falling asleep. This can be particularly important for toddlers who want to play until they drop but do need a naptime.
A recap of what to try:
- Create a nap routine if your child struggles to wind down during the day.
- Make sure you do have a nap schedule — all it needs to be in the generalized times for naps each day.
Have Either More or Less Wake Time
Take a look at your daily schedule; when a baby fights sleep, a schedule adjustment is typically on the list of things-to-do. An overtired baby might take too few naps or only taking short naps; either way, your baby isn’t getting enough sleep during those naptimes.
On the other hand, an older baby might need the naptime to be moved earlier, giving several solid hours of awake time before bed. In general, a toddler needs between four to six hours of awake time before bed; the time required does vary based on their age.
To recap, you need to:
- Adjust naps! For older babies and toddlers, try moving the final nap earlier to give more awake time before bedtime.
- For little babies, move their naps closer together to avoid becoming overtired.
- Try to lengthen the naps that they do take to get better and longer sleep. Sleep begets more sleep – always.
You Might Have to Drop a Nap
At some point throughout your baby’s first two years, dropping naps will need to happen, but it’s generally best to do so after all else fails.
As your baby gets older, you’ll naturally drop naps, moving into more of a routine than what you had with your newborn. Newborns sleep whenever they want and wake whenever they want, but once your child hits four months old, their schedule should be trackable.
Typically, babies start to drop naps between 8-10 months old. At this stage, he will take two to three naps per day. Over time, you can keep dropping those naps.
Your baby might give up all of his naps by the time he is two years old, but some hold on to them longer. If your two-year-old refuses to fall asleep at bedtime and tried the other tricks, it might be time to say goodbye to naps.
Your goals are to:
- Make sure you tried everything else before removing a nap.
- Understand that this takes a period of adjustment. Your baby or toddler will be fussy and thrown off for a week or so.
Check-In But Don’t Create New Problems
If your baby is suffering from separation anxiety, you’ll likely see it in other parts of his life. He might be clingy throughout the day, never leading your side. It’s frustrating, a bit adorable, and only lasts for a short period.
At night, reassure your child; check-in as needed, but don’t try to add something or start new bad habits. Now isn’t the time to create a problem because separation anxiety is a developmental issue that goes away quickly. Babies will eventually adjust and go back to normal.
As a quick reminder:
- Check-in, reassure your baby, but don’t start new routines or habits.
- Keep the same routine that you’ve used before.
Figuring out why do babies fight sleep can be trial and error; watching their behavior and looking at their schedule can give you the best insight into whatever is causing the problems. You can then take the needed steps to fix it or wait for the problem to work itself out.
Hey, this is Linda. My biggest accomplishment in life is being a mother of four children. Their current ages range from almost ten years old down to 20 months old.
I’m passionate about writing parenting articles because I understand so well all of the problems and trials you face as a parent. From breastfeeding woes to budgeting problems and behavior problems, along with everything in between, chances are I’ve faced it over the last ten years. Read more about Linda here.