When you’re a new parent, one of the most frustrating things, and possibly something that you’re expecting, is that your baby cries a lot during the night.
It means you won’t get a whole lot of sleep, and your baby will appear cranky when they’re awake.
So, if your baby clearly needs sleep, why do they seem to fight sleep and wake up so often?
So, Why Do Babies Fight Sleep?
Baby Sleep Cycles
Babies have much shorter sleep cycles than adults while their brain is developing. Generally, they have 45-minute sleep cycles.
Within this sleep cycle, only 20 minutes of sleep is deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is when dreams occur.
The other 20-25 minutes are light sleep, and during this period, they’re susceptible to outside stimulation.
It could be a tiny noise, change in room temperature or smell that wakes them, and it’s usually something so small that you wouldn’t even notice it.
If your baby appears to constantly wake up around 20 minutes after you’ve put them down to sleep, it’s not because they’re deliberately fighting sleep; it’s because it’s so easy to wake them when they’re in this light sleep stage.
To maintain their sleep, you’ll need to ensure that they’re completely settled when they’re transitioning from light sleep to REM sleep. To do this, you’ll need to look at:
Getting your baby’s temperature just right is the key to getting a good night’s sleep for them and you.
Most experts will tell you not to overdress your baby for bed, but it’s tempting to add too many layers, especially in the winter, for fear of them being too cold.
When dressing your baby for bed, a good rule of thumb is to add a single extra layer to what you’re wearing yourself.
Yes, they’re more sensitive to cold temperatures, but they’re also more susceptible to heat, and one of the leading causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is suffocation due to overheating.
If you’re wearing a thin cotton nightshirt, then a baby grow, and a thin pair of PJs will work for them.
If it’s a little colder and you’re finding yourself wearing woolly PJs, then a baby sleeping sack with fleece lining may work better.
Remember that the best way to control your baby’s temperature is to control the room temperature rather than adding extra layers.
Turn down your aircon or turn up the heat to keep them warmer.
A proper sleeping routine is key to getting your baby to sleep through the night faster.
It would be best if you tried to put them down to sleep at the same time each day, even going as far as to keep their nap times to the same time each day.
This helps them to get used to the environment around them at that time of day.
They’ll get accustomed to the temperature, the noises around them, and any smells if you happen to be cooking dinner then.
Creating A Good Bedtime Regime To Prevent Your Baby From Fighting Sleep
It’s not just the times that you need to focus on when creating a routine that will help your baby to sleep.
You’ll also need to focus on the task right before the sleep too so that they feel comfortable when you’re putting them down to sleep.
This will help them be less alert, meaning that they can start to sink into REM sleep faster and not be affected by their environment.
- Bath time – make sure your baby has their bath at around the same time each evening.
- PJs – Make sure your baby is dried thoroughly and is comfortable in their clean PJs.
- Feeding – Feed your baby a short while before bed, making sure they’re not hungry while they’re asleep (this can wake them up too). Give them a bottle or a sippy cup or a portion of fruit when they’re a little older before they head off for bed.
- Burping – If your baby is still at an age for burping, make sure you do this before bed to prevent gas.
- Diaper Checking – Right before you put them down, make sure the diaper is completely clean and dry; babies won’t relax into sleep if they’re uncomfortable.
- Hugs and Kisses – Cuddling your baby before bed will make them sleep as they’re full, comfortable, and warm from your body.
If you complete each of these actions every evening at scheduled times, you’ll find that your baby relaxes into sleep much more quickly, and you’ll convert to sleeping through the night much faster than a baby with no routine.
Feeding is crucial to giving your baby that relaxing, sleepy night.
At first, your baby will wake in the night for feeding; even if you fed them right before bed, there’s no avoiding it.
However, it’s about managing that time that they wake up and minimizing the break up of that sleeping pattern.
When your baby wakes up during the night, having some bottles prepared to feed them is essential.
Don’t decide to make the bottles from scratch in the middle of the night. You might:
- Make them up incorrectly with the wrong quantities if it’s formula, or heat them incorrectly.
- It’ll take much more time. Have two or three bottles ready to go.
When your baby wakes up, get to them as soon as you can, quietly pick them up and do a feed. Try to minimize talking and lights when you do this.
You need your baby to remain in a state where they can just go back to sleep.
Making a ton of noise and turning on all the lights will make them feel like it’s morning, and their mentality will adjust to being awake.
(It’s just like when you wake up earlier when it’s sunny outside because your body feels like it’s time to be awake, whereas, in the winter, when it’s darker, you’ll find it much more difficult to get out of bed).
Complete the feed as quickly as possible with minimal disruption and try not to talk to them too much.
Burp your baby as normal and put them right back down to sleep. The faster you get through this process, the easier it’ll be to get them back down again.
Once you’ve mastered the art of stealth feeding, your baby should start to go longer during the night without waking up.
White noise works well for some adults, but not all; however, it does work for most babies.
A low, quiet hum will help your baby to tune out other noises in the environment around them that may trigger them to come out of light sleep.
Babies also find the constant low noise comforting as it mimics the noises they would have heard in the womb. The ideal white noise provider is a small desk fan.
You should place this away from the baby’s crib, so it’s not directly blowing on them – this could trigger a temperature change that would wake them.
Leave it on a medium blow during nap time. The continuation of noise will keep their light sleep going until they drift back into REM sleep.
This is only recommended for nap time while you’re awake. It would be best if you didn’t leave a fan overnight without your supervision for health and safety reasons.
However, if you have an aircon in your home which can be placed on low, this will work just as well and can be left on.
When your baby gets to around 8 months old, they’ll naturally start the clingy phase.
This is right when you begin to feel that it’s okay to leave them in their cribs with a baby monitor.
When they’re young, you’ll be with them all the time, and naturally, they’ll start to get scared or anxious when you’re not around.
This is a phase that lots of babies go through, and you may find that they wake up regularly and cry just because they want you to come to them.
To minimize the effects here, you should always comfort your baby by letting them know you’re there. This could be by talking or singing to them.
However, picking them up each time they cry may worsen this issue.
Reassure them that you aren’t too far away but try to refrain from giving them too much attention; otherwise, they’ll come to expect this when they cry, and this can cause them to wake up more often.
If you’re on vacation, you may have changed the environment around your baby and the crib too. Babies like routine; that’s why your sleep routine is essential.
Although you may still put them to bed at the exact times and follow the same routine as at home, there may still be some disturbance if the environment looks or smells different.
Be prepared for this to happen and ensure you put your baby down to bed regularly to prevent them from becoming overtired.
The last thing you need is an overtired, cranky baby on your vacation.
Why Do Babies Fight Sleep When They’re Tired?
Babies are noticeably fussier when they haven’t had much sleep, and despite all efforts, they seem to be determined to stay awake for longer.
Parents are often left puzzled that it seems to take more effort to get a baby to go to sleep when they’re tired.
While adults would actually sleep better when they’re super tired, babies who get overtired are the opposite.
The lack of sleep makes them anxious and frantic and causes them to look more awake.
In turn, this leads to parents trying to ‘tire their children out’ to help them sleep better the next night.
This exacerbates the problem, meaning that the baby is more tired and less likely to sleep.
Babies Who Fight Sleep Are Smart – Fact or Fiction?
There’s a common misconception that babies who fight sleep are more intelligent, and the reason they fight it is simply because they don’t need as much sleep as other babies.
Some scientists claim that there’s actually no benefit to a regular sleep pattern where your baby sleeps for more extended periods and that it doesn’t have any lasting effect on their cognitive or mental abilities.
However, there has been significant research to the contrary.
The University of Montreal asked 60 parents to keep sleep diaries for their babies aged between 12 and 18 months.
The results showed that those babies that slept through the night more often and had a regular sleep routine had faster motor skills and performed better on tasks to test their mental abilities.
It was also found that there’s a definite positive correlation between a high amount of regular sleep and the memory, language development, and cognitive functions of babies.
Briefly put, babies develop faster if they experience a better sleep cycle.
And, there’s also a good chance that they’ll be better behaved and will more easily fit into a routine when they get older and need to go to school, as you’ll have developed a routine at an early age.
Depriving a baby of regular sleep or not enforcing a regular sleeping schedule could affect your baby’s intellectual development later on.
How To Get A Baby To Stop Fighting Sleep
Ensure that you always stick to your routine; developing this is key to your baby’s successful sleep cycle and ultimately, their development.
- Go through the bedtime routine at the same time every day.
- Minimize contact with your baby when they wake up – it’s easier to get them back to sleep.
- Have a stack of bottles to give to your baby when they wake up, so you don’t waste time making them up.
- Ensure your baby is comfortable in their bedtime clothing and with the temperature around them.
Above all, maintain the routine as much as possible. Once it’s broken, you’ll have an uphill battle to try to repair it.
The faster your baby gets into a sleep routine, the faster you’ll reach the stage where they’ll sleep through the night.
Routine is vital when trying to get a baby to stop fighting sleep.
They need to understand that when certain things happen at specific times, it’s a trigger for them to start to go to sleep.
Try to minimize disturbance throughout the night, even if you need to feed or change your baby.
The more effort you put into their sleep cycle when they’re young, the easier it will be to get them to sleep through the night at an early age.
The more sleep they get, the more sleep you’ll get.