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Is Your Baby Fighting Sleep? Solutions to Get Them Snoozing




Written by:

Barbara Mighdoll

Expert reviewed by Autumn Dettmann, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Autumn Dettmann, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Willow was a terrible sleeper until she turned 11 months old, leading to numerous breakdowns fueled by exhaustion and frustration. I was seriously UNWELL. Despite our initial attempt to sleep train at 4 months, continuous illnesses (courtesy of her toddler sibling!) made me hesitant to let her cry it out. At 10 months, with a break from illnesses, we decided it was time to implement sleep training. Guided by a sleep consultant, to break the association with nighttime feeds, Jason took charge of her night wakings, aiming to disassociate mama with milk time. Through consistency and following a plan with that sleep consultant, we began to witness positive results. Within a month her nighttime sleep had made massive progress, dropping all of her wakings. Since then, Willow has transformed into an excellent sleeper, consistently enjoying around twelve hours of sleep each night!

I am excited to share the valuable tips I've learned from Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Autumn Dettmann, from Rest, Grow, Thrive. I'll be sharing insights and solutions to help your baby sleep better.

An expert pediatric sleep consultants guide to getting baby to sleep better

Understanding why babies fight sleep

When bedtime rolls around, and your little one is putting up a strong fight against winding down, Autumn sheds light on the fact that babies resist sleep for various reasons. These may include being overtired, overstimulated, experiencing a developmental milestone, environmental factors, or even hunger. Here's a closer look at the specifics:

  1. Overtired/undertired: Sometimes, we might miss our baby's sleepy cues, causing an overtired baby. This can trigger a ‘second wind' fueled by the hormone cortisol, making it challenging for them to fall asleep or stay asleep. On the other hand, being undertired may lead to resistance as they simply don’t have enough sleep pressure built up to feel tired.
  2. Overstimulated: This is more common in newborns but some babies have difficulty winding down after a day full of stimulation.
  3. Developmental milestones: Meeting milestones can cause temporary sleep disruptions or ‘regressions' as our child's brain and body go through changes. Around the 4-month mark, when sleep cycles become more mature, and during physical milestones like crawling, standing, and walking, you might encounter some disruptions. Also, peaks of separation anxiety can make it harder for babies to separate during sleep times.
  4. Environmental reasons: When babies become more aware around 10-12 weeks, a poor sleep environment can lead to sleep resistance. Having consistent bedtime routines, blackout shades, or sound machines can help create a better sleep environment.
  5. Hunger: There is a saying that goes, ‘a hungry baby doesn't sleep well, and a tired baby doesn't eat well.' This is particularly common with newborns and younger babies.
  6. Physical discomfort: Your kiddo may be fighting sleep due to illness, teething, gas, or physical irritations.
why baby's fight sleep

Baby's Sleep: What Does Fighting Sleep Look Like?

Knowing the signs can help you understand better when your baby is resisting sleep.

Identifying signs of a baby fighting sleep

Spotting a baby resisting sleep can be a bit challenging, but certain signs, like excessive yawning, rubbing the eyes, increased activity, or fussiness, may indicate it's time for a nap. Autumn points out, “The ideal sleep onset, or the time it takes to fall asleep, is typically 5-15 minutes. Resistance to sleep might simply be taking a longer time to doze off.” If it's taking 20 minutes or longer, your baby is likely fighting sleep.

What does fighting sleep look like? According to Autumn, it can vary. She says, “The child might display playfulness or agitation during this period. Alternatively, they could be upset, crying, arching their back, going stiff in your arms, even getting close to falling asleep and then jerking awake.” Autumn adds that babies presenting physical signs like arching the back, flailing, and crying are typically resisting sleep because they are overtired or overstimulated.

Expert Advice: How to Stop Your Baby from Fighting Sleep 

Importance of establishing a sleep routine

We all recognize the importance of a good night's sleep, not only for our babies but also for us, the sleep-deprived parents! Establishing a consistent sleep routine is key.

Creating an effective sleep routine goes beyond just setting a schedule. Autumn emphasizes, “A sleep routine serves many purposes. It acts as a transition from play to sleep and signals to the baby's brain that it's time for sleep.” It involves creating a calming environment that aids in transitioning from the day's excitement to the calmness of bedtime. Kickstart the routine with a soothing activity like a warm bath, followed by a quiet and cuddly moment of reading. It's also important to put your baby to sleep when they're drowsy but still awake.

Autumn recommends that bedtime routines last around 20-30 minutes for nighttime sleep and about 5-10 minutes for naps. This routine can involve a milk feed or snack, a diaper change, putting on pajamas or comfy clothing, reading a book, rocking, singing, or any other activities that work well for both you and your baby!

The role of a lovey

When Willow was born, I sought professional advice on how to help her develop self-soothing skills to minimize nighttime wakings. One valuable suggestion was to introduce a lovey, a comforting object, that could enhance her sense of security and connection to me. The idea was to place the lovey between Willow and me during feeding sessions to help her associate it with comfort. This connection might take some time, but with consistent practice, your child may form a connection with the lovely.  

While the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against placing anything in the crib until the baby reaches the age of one, many sleep experts suggest introducing a safe lovey for babies over four months. A safe lovey is something small, breathable, and doesn’t consist of any choking or strangling hazards (no pinning a pacifier to a baby with a string, no marble eyes on a stuffed animal). Please consult your pediatrician before offering a lovey to your baby or for additional guidance.

Techniques for Sleep Training

Implementing sleep training techniques can be highly effective for addressing a baby's sleep struggles. As a parent, I found success with various methods, and one that stood out was the ‘Timed Checks' method. This approach, along with others like the ‘Cry it Out' method or ‘Fading' method, aims to promote independent sleep and minimize nighttime awakenings.

The ‘Timed Checks' method became my preferred strategy for addressing any night wakings or sleep disruptions with Willow. It involves establishing a calming bedtime routine and placing Willow in her secure sleep space. I would then allow her a brief period to fall asleep independently before going in for a check and offering quick reassurance. Beginning with a comfortable interval of 10-15 minutes, I gradually increased the time between check-ins to provide more space for her to find sleep on her own. This process continued until she fell asleep, and I repeated it throughout the night for any additional wakings until morning.

The key to the ‘Timed Checks' method is finding the balance between allowing your baby the space to learn independent sleep while providing support through regular check-ins. Consistency is crucial in establishing a routine that fosters healthy sleep patterns for your baby.

Why a comfortable environment matters

To ensure restful sleep for your baby, it is crucial to create an environment that promotes tranquility. Here are some considerations:

  1. Brightness – Ensure your baby has a dark room by using blackout curtains. These curtains effectively block natural light, helping to maintain the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleepiness. In the absence of blackout curtains or shutters, a dark sheet can serve as a temporary solution.
  2. Sound – Utilize white noise machines to drown out external sounds and create a soothing ambiance for sleep. This gentle and consistent background noise can be beneficial during naps and bedtime.
  3. Temperature – Aim for a comfortable range between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit to promote optimal sleep conditions for your baby throughout the night.
A list of how to stop your baby from fighting sleep

How to handle short naps

Brief naps can be concerning if your baby isn't getting sufficient rest. To encourage longer nap times, try gently soothing your baby back to sleep if they wake up prematurely. Aim for at least 60-minute naps for the first two sessions. Should your baby wake before reaching the one-hour mark, consider leaving them alone or soothing them back to sleep until they hit the 60-minute milestone. Keep the room dim and quiet during this period. If your baby hasn't fallen asleep by the one-hour mark, bring them out for playtime. It's perfectly fine if the third nap is a short catnap lasting 20-30 minutes.

Recognizing when sleep struggles are cause for concern

Although babies commonly resist sleep occasionally, persistent sleep struggles could indicate an underlying issue. If your baby regularly faces challenges falling asleep, wakes frequently during the night, or if their lack of sleep affects their daily activities, seeking advice from a professional might be necessary. Autumn reinforces, “If your child consistently resists sleep at every sleep period and has difficulty sleeping longer than 30-45 minutes stretches, consult with your pediatrician or a sleep specialist for guidance.” Understanding the reasons behind their sleep challenges is essential for finding a solution.

How Can Adjustments in Daytime Activities Influence Sleep?

Amidst the day-to-day hustle and bustle, it's easy to underestimate the impact of daytime activities on your little one's sleep patterns. Surprisingly, what unfolds during daylight hours plays a pivotal role in shaping the foundation for nighttime rest. Incorporating age-appropriate activities into your baby's daily routine can improve sleep. Engaging in active playtime, sensory exploration, and social interactions not only stimulate your baby's developing brain but also naturally tire them out, making them naturally more sleepy.

Similar to how adults sleep better after a day filled with physical exertion and intellectual engagement, your baby follows a similar pattern. To put it in a relatable context, consider how you feel after a long day of chores and errands – all you crave is the comfort of your bed. That's precisely how your energetic baby feels after a day brimming with exciting activities!

How Can I Soothe An Overstimulated Baby?

Overstimulation can often turn your calm baby into a little bundle of stress, fighting sleep and becoming increasingly cranky. Autumn advises, “For a newborn baby that is overstimulated, taking them to a dim room and swaddling them can help. Utilizing white noise or loud shushing and rhythmic movements can also be beneficial.” Your baby will look to you for cues on how to react. Autumn explains, “You can model calm, deep breathing to calm your baby and to calm yourself.” 

For older babies, Autumn suggests establishing a routine before bedtime starting when your baby is around 3 months old. She says, “Routine is an excellent tool that will help your baby anticipate sleep time and will begin to associate sleep time routines with winding down.”

For babies experiencing separation anxiety, Autumn recommends elongating the sleep routine. She says, “This will help them have some more time to connect.” This extended bonding time can help soothe your baby's fears and make sleep a less daunting prospect.

Lastly, Autumn encourages parents to embrace this journey of discovery. She advises,”Get curious about your baby and trial and error some different processes and routines.” Patience and consistency is key and with the proper tools and support, your little night owl will be sleeping in no time!

I promise Mama, you will sleep again. Maybe not consistently through the night… but that’s just the season we’re in – just when you think you have a routine, your baby throws you a curve ball. But don’t worry, I’ve got tons of more sleep advice for you. Whether you’re getting ready for the next stage of toddler sleep, transitioning to a toddler bed, or made that leap and can’t seem to get your toddler to stay in bed, check out more expert-driven advice.

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