Why do Babies Fight Sleep?

Parents: it is inevitable that one day your baby or toddler will refuse to go to sleep.


It is almost as if your little one is fighting sleep. You are probably baffled by the behavior but there are numerous reasonable explanations for the frustrating action.

Sleep Struggles in Toddlers and Babies

A one-year-old baby fights sleep because he is overly tired, not tired enough, or suffering from separation anxiety. Once you figure out why he is struggling not to fall asleep you will be able to fix the problem.

At the ages of two and three, your child might start to battle bedtime but it can occur in babies who are only a year old. Even if your tot is dead dog tired, he may still fight to stay awake. In a one-year-old, the sleep battle typically occurs because he is either overly tired or not tired enough.

Sleep struggles often occur in a two to three-year-old because your little one is trying out his strength by objecting to things that he does not want to do or which he deems as unfair. Unfortunately, one of the ways he might make to display his independence and newly perceived maturity is to take a stand against a scheduled bedtime.

Determine Your Baby’s Sleep Problem

If your one-year-old baby is objecting to sleep he is probably either too tired or not tired enough. As his parent, you must determine which situation best fits him. If he is napping too much then cut out the naps but if he is not napping enough then you will need to increase his nap time.

Separation Anxiety in Babies and Toddlers

A one-year-old baby or a toddler can suffer from separation anxiety. The combination of anxiety and fear makes them fight falling asleep.

There are several ways you can go about alleviating their fears:

  • Stay: Stay in the room with your little one until they fall asleep.
  • Leave the Door Open: Leave the bedroom door opens your child does not feel isolated and alone.
  • Share a Room: Some parents allow their child to remain in their room until the little one starts to develop a strong sleep routine and overcomes anxiety. At that point, they can move their child into his own room.

Foster Nighttime Independence in a Toddler

A toddler often fights sleep as a natural stage of independence. The first thing that you have to remember is that you are in charge but you must also respect your child’s new-found independence.

It is perfectly okay to stick to a bedtime routine but also allow flexibility by offering your toddler the option to choose to tweak the ritual.

Here are a few choices that might help your toddler stop battling sleep:

  • Outfit: Let him choose his pajamas before bed.
  • Book: Give him the option of picking from several bedtime stories instead of just one.
  • Light: Always ask if he prefers to leave a night light on or if he wants complete darkness.
  • Kisses:  A bedtime kiss or no bedtime kiss? How about asking how many smooches he wants before you leave the room?

Sleep is a Natural Occurrence

Sometimes parents believe that a child needs more sleep then he actually requires. If a child is truly not sleepy then he will fight sleep.

Sleep is a natural occurrence in children and cannot be forced, according to Dr. Sears. Instead, creating a relaxing environment helps to lull your little one into a restful slumber.

Tips to Lull Your Child to Sleep

Here are several tips to let your child naturally progress into a sleepy state to achieve a good night’s rest.

  1. Nap: All toddlers reach a stage where an afternoon nap might be counterproductive. Your child may be receiving too much sleep and this is why he fights sleep at night. You should either shorten the afternoon nap or consider doing away with it entirely.
  2. Firm Bedtimes: Letting your child dictate when his bedtime is will make him drag out the inevitable occurrence. Even though you want to be a bit lax and foster independence in your youngster you still must keep a firm grip on the reins and make sure that bedtime is a set and firm time. Some parents like to announce bedtime about thirty minutes before it occurs so that your child can start preparing for the event.
  3. Routines Matter: Routines create comfort and relaxation. A nice bubble bath, cozy pajamas, a bedtime book, a lullaby, and a kiss or two are ideal.
  4. Books: Reading to your little one is relaxing. The tone of your voice and the flow of the story all create an atmosphere that is conducive to a good night’s sleep. Save the best stories for bedtime to make them special.

Fighting Sleep Because of Fears

When the lights go out and the bedroom door is closed many children become afraid. The classic fear of monsters or the unseen is very real in some children and such anxiety makes the child fight sleep.

Often placing a night light in the room or leaving the door open can alleviate worries. Doing a full room monster check can also reassure the child that there is nothing hiding under the bed or in the closet.

You could also pick a special stuffed animal to stand watch while the child sleeps to provide him with enough reassurance to drift off.

What the Experts Say

“Having set routines for your toddler during the day is helpful in ultimately ending the day with restful sleep,” says Texas-based Dr. Eboni Hollier, who is board-certified in both general and developmental and behavioral pediatrics. “In general, having healthy sleep habits and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule — including age-appropriate and consistent wake and bedtimes, having a predictable bedtime routine, and ensuring that your child is receiving enough sleep — are important for all children and helps to ensure healthy child development and behavior.”

“It’s entirely normal among toddlers,” explains Rachel Waddilove, baby sleep expert and author of Sleep Solutions – Quiet nights for you and your child from birth to five years. “Some children will be about 2 when they start making a fuss about going off to sleep at night; others will be as young as 1. If a toddler is rushed at bedtime, and there isn’t enough time for him to wind down, it is hard for him to settle. Try singing a few songs; if he is sitting on your knee, you can often feel your child’s body relax.”

Pediatric psychologist Dr. Elena Mikalsen states, “2-year-olds have to sleep a little bit more and the recommendation is about 12 to 13 hours, 3 to 5-year-olds can sleep a bit less and the recommendation is about 10 to 13 hours.”

Many parents fear that their little one will continue to fight sleep but, rest assured, it is a phase that will pass. With an established bedtime routine, your tot will soon drift off into dreamland nightly with minimal fuss.


Kimberly Sharpe

Based in Florida, Kimberly Sharpe has been a full-time writer since 2006. Her writing has a strong focus on travel, parenting, outdoor sports, gardening, health issues, pets (both domestic and exotic), home improvement, DIY, and business promos. Her work has appeared in USA Today, MORR Gear, Hipmunk, Travelocity, Livestrong, Hotels.com, Hydro Live, Maximum Yield, eHow, Yahoo News, SF Gate, Garden Guides, Whitefence, S.F. Gate, fixr.com, and numerous other publications. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe, India, and Sri Lanka in an effort to expand her knowledge and enhance her writing skills.

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