Common Reasons Many Babies Fight Sleep — And Solutions That Work

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Lauren Hays

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, PMHNP

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Common Reasons Many Babies Fight Sleep — And Solutions That Work

Have you ever wondered why your baby is fighting sleep despite being visibly tired? Or why they sleep great for weeks and then all of the sudden consistent sleep is a thing of the past? I’ve been there mama — honestly my ‘baby’ just turned three and we’re still there sometimes! This common behavior puzzles many mamas, can take an emotional toll, and can leave you feeling exhausted, anxious, and overwhelmed. We know how hard this can be and if you’re reading this, we’re sending you a virtual hug because we know it’s a tough place to be.  This blog post aims to identify some of the reasons why babies might fight sleep, go over some normal newborn sleep woahs, and tips and golden nuggets of information to navigate baby’s sleep challenges and to get your baby (and mama) some restful sleep.  Your baby may fight sleep because they don’t want to miss out on the excitement, maybe they’re uncomfortable for various reasons, or they may be going through developmental milestones that can disrupt sleep and lead to sleep regressions. Understanding various reasons your little one may fight sleep can help you to understand your baby’s unique needs and to develop strategies to implement in your home to create a healthy sleep foundation. 

Common Reasons Your Baby is Fighting Sleep

Every baby is different! Try to remember that comparison is the thief of joy and just because your friend’s baby is sleeping through the night doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with your baby who may not be there quite yet.  You know your baby best and being able to recognize and understand common reasons babies start to fight sleep can give you the insight to help calm your baby and create strategies to support them and their sleep routines. Some common reasons for your baby to fight sleep include:

  • Baby is Overtired
  • Baby is Experiencing Discomfort
  • Baby is Overstimulated
  • Baby is Teething
  • Baby is Experiencing Separation Anxiety
  • Baby had too much or too little to eat
  • Baby is adjusting to travel or disruption in schedule

Developmental Milestones Can Disrupt Sleep

Developmental milestones can have a significant impact on your baby’s sleep patterns. When your baby starts to crawl, walk, or talk, their rapidly developing bodies and minds can lead to changes in their sleep behavior. These milestones are an essential part of your baby’s growth, but they might temporarily make it challenging for them to settle down and stay asleep.

During these phases, your baby’s heightened curiosity and exploration can result in increased mental activity, making it harder for them to “switch off” at bedtime. This can lead to fighting sleep and frequent night awakenings, reminiscent of your own struggles as a mom trying to quiet anxious or intrusive thoughts when trying to sleep.

By recognizing these developmental stages and understanding their potential impact on sleep, you can better support your baby. Celebrating their growth while maintaining consistent bedtime routines can help strike a healthy balance, promoting better sleep for both of you! Remember, these sleep disruptions are not guaranteed, but understanding why they happen can help you prepare and respond with grace if they do.

The Role of Overstimulation in Babies Who Fight Sleep

As babies begin to grow and develop and absorb their surroundings, this can lead to overstimulation and make it harder for them to recognize when it is time to sleep.  The abundance of new sights, sounds, and experiences can create a whirlwind of excitement and confusion, making it challenging for them to settle and create an environment not conducive for sleep.  Try to recognize the signs of overstimulation to help your baby relax and transition to sleep peacefully. Simple methods such as dimming lights, speaking softly, and engaging in calming activities can significantly reduce overstimulation and help signal to your baby that it is time relax and helps the baby understand it is time for sleep and not play. 

Newborn Hunger and Growth Spurts

Understandably, hunger and growth spurts play a significant role in why your baby fights sleep. Growth spurts intensify your baby’s need for nourishment, often resulting in more frequent feedings, which can significantly disrupt sleep. You may notice your little one waking up more often, seemingly restless and needing extra care and attention. Your baby may become increasingly demanding at odd hours. Add feedings to address these periods and ensure your baby feels sufficiently nourished. Provide comfort during these growth phases to support your baby’s evolving needs and provide extra time for bonding.  Remember, these phases are typical, and you are not alone in these struggles.

Separation Anxiety and Sleep

Separation anxiety is a common cause of sleep issues for babies. Around six months, your baby typically develops a sense of object permanence, realizing that you exist even when out of sight. This newfound awareness can create anxiety for your baby when it’s time for bed. During this period, it’s common to see your baby stop fighting sleep as they gradually adjust to the separation.

Then, as your baby becomes more attached to you, they may resist falling asleep or wake up frequently, seeking the security of your presence. This behavior can make bedtime challenging but is a normal part of development. If you find yourself experiencing anxiety as nighttime approaches, you may be experiencing anticipatory anxiety about baby sleeping, which is common for mamas, but deserves recognition and support. 

To ease this transition, create a comforting bedtime routine that reinforces safety and consistency, such as reading a story or gentle rocking. Each baby is unique, so adapting strategies to fit your baby’s individual needs will foster a sense of trust.

Does your Baby Fight Sleep? It might be their Sleep Environment!

Creating a calming bedtime ritual, finding wake windows, using white noise and blackout curtains, and providing a comfortable sleep environment can help your baby relax and sleep easier. Establishing a nap and sleep schedule can also help significantly. P.S. all of these tips work for mama’s sleep too!

Without these conditions, your baby might struggle to soothe herself to sleep. Things like room temperature, bedding, and even the faintest noises can greatly influence your baby’s sleep quality. Understanding the importance of a peaceful sleep environment can promote healthier sleeping habits, leading to a well-rested and happy baby. Happy baby, happy mom.

Recognizing Sleep Cues

Recognizing your baby’s sleep cues is helpful in developing healthy sleep habits, which can translate into a restful experience for you and your baby. Identifying these signals, such as yawning, eye rubbing, and fussing, can be the key to understanding why your baby fights sleep.

Familiar sleep cues include:

  • Yawning
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Decreased activity

These signs are just the beginning. Alongside these standard signals are less obvious but equally significant cues like:

  • A glazed-over look (indicating exhaustion)
  • Fussiness
  • Clenching fists
  • Pulling at ears or hair
  • Zoning out

By being in tune with your baby and responding promptly to these sleep signals, you can address sleep resistance and help ease your baby into a more seamless sleep pattern. Being consistent helps create predictability and routine, which promotes your baby’s sense of security and improves overall sleep patterns.

Establishing a Bedtime Routine that will Help Baby Sleep through the Night

Creating a bedtime routine can profoundly impact how easily your baby transitions to sleep. A consistent bedtime routine can help your baby stop fighting sleep, making the process smoother for both of you. The key lies in consistency and repetition. A predictable routine reassures your baby, setting the stage for restful nights.

  • Incorporate calming activities such as a warm bath or infant massage, which can signal bedtime.
  • Be consistent and aim to perform these rituals in the same order each night so your baby knows exactly what to expect.
  • Read a book or sing a soothing lullaby to ease your baby into a sleep-ready state.

Sticking to a familiar and relaxing pattern each night helps your baby’s understanding of bedtime and promotes better sleep habits.  Parents also benefit to having a sleep schedule of their own!

Can Parental Stress cause Baby to Fight Sleep? 

Babies pick up on their parent’s cues. When stressed, your anxieties can have unintended effects on your baby’s sleep patterns and quality. New parents frequently face sleep deprivation as they cope with the challenges of their baby fighting sleep, feeding schedules, and adjusting to the changes of taking care of their new baby.

Maintaining a strict bedtime routine isn’t easy. It’s important to know that stress can disrupt your ability to establish and maintain a consistent bedtime routine. If you are preoccupied, you may rush through or skip crucial steps. This inconsistency can confuse your baby’s internal clock, making it harder to understand when it’s time to rest.

Effective stress management strategies are essential. By prioritizing your mental well-being, you indirectly nurture a calmer atmosphere that helps your baby sleep. Practicing mindfulness, delegating tasks, or seeking support can transform your home into a peaceful sanctuary, enhancing your entire family’s overall well-being.

Sleep Training: Pros and Cons

Sleep training can be a promising strategy for many mamas struggling with their baby’s sleep patterns. However, you should approach this method with an understanding that every baby’s temperament and needs are unique. Some infants respond well, while others may require alternative approaches to sleep. Finding the balance in any sleep training method involves observing your baby’s responses and ensuring their needs are always met.

When to Consult a Pediatrician

Babies fighting sleep can be a normal part of development, but some signs warrant talking with your pediatrician. If ongoing sleep issues are causing significant distress or affecting your baby’s health and well-being, you should seek help.

Sudden changes in sleep patterns, inconsolable crying, or apparent discomfort are reasons to seek advice from your baby’s doctor. That way you can get reassurance and eliminate potential underlying issues like ear infections or other health ailments.

Remember, it’s okay to seek professional advice and help your baby feel better. One of your jobs as a mom is to be your baby’s advocate. If you think something is wrong, follow your instincts, mama. It is always better to ask for help and receive reassurance rather than struggle alone. 

Quick Tips to Help Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep

Remember, establishing a consistent bedtime routine helps your baby feel secure and signals sleep time. Keep these tips handy to create an effective bedtime routine:

  • Create a calm environment by dimming the lights and playing soothing music.
  • Focus on winding down activities such as gentle rocking or a warm bath.
  • Avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime, like loud play or screen time.
  • Ensure your baby’s sleep space is comfortable, safe, and distracted-free. A snug sleep environment can ease their transition into restfulness.
  • Maintain the same sleep schedule daily. Consistency is key, as babies thrive on routine, which helps them develop healthy sleep patterns.

Following these steps, you can create a soothing and predictable bedtime routine supporting your baby’s sleep needs. Remember, patience and consistency are essential in helping your baby develop healthy sleep habits, ultimately leading to more restful nights for both of you.

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Picture of Lauren Hays, PMHNP

Lauren Hays, PMHNP

Lauren was a licensed and trained registered nurse in the NICU and has since made a career shift to focus on mental health. Lauren is now a board certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, focusing on women’s health and wellness. She is a mom of three precious little men who has turned her pain into passion.

mother with eyes closed pressing her face up against her infant to calm her anxious feelings

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