If you've ever had a baby who just absolutely refuses sleep despite all of your best tricks, you know exactly how hard it is to cope when you are desperate for some Zs, but your baby just is not having it. They may scream and kick, they may cry, or they may just be wide awake for seemingly no good reason. It's exhausting, but if your baby is showing one or more of these signs your baby is fighting sleep, experts say that they may actually be overtired.
"The number one reason that babies fight sleep is over-tiredness," says Jamie Engelman, MS and Pediatric Sleep Consultant with Oh Baby Sleep consulting. "Our bodies secrete hormones to keep us up and running during the day and different ones to help us settle down and sleep at night. These regulate based on a variety of different factors, but timing is the most common. When our little ones are awake for too long, the body assumes that there's a reason that it hasn't been allowed to get to sleep, assumes that it needs to stay awake, and fires up those stimulating hormones again."
Engelman tells Romper that in adults and older children, this phenomenon is typically known as a "second wind" and is sometimes the reason why toddlers who are very wound up, despite it being time for sleep, are actually overtired in most cases.
Babies sleep a lot to keep up with the demands of their rapidly growing bodies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends infants ages 4 to 12 months sleep for approximately 12 to 16 hours each day. Their sleep is broken up between day time naps and nighttime sleep, both of which can be the subject of resistance for babies when they are overtired. If your baby's sleep habits seem to need extra attention, these six signs could tell you that they're fighting a snooze.
1. They're Crying... A Lot
I've been through this one and it is definitely not fun to try and decipher why your baby is crying. If it happens repeatedly when they are attempting to fall asleep, this could be a sign that you've kept your baby awake for too long and now your baby is fighting sleep, according to Elisa Costanza and Pam Larouche, early childhood educators and baby and child sleep consultants at Restful Parenting.
"Whether they are in arms or in their own sleep space, they might get upset at the thought of bedtime and cannot settle," they tell Romper.
2. They Wake Up As Soon As You Put Them Down
If you have ever tried tiptoeing away from your seemingly sleeping baby only to have them wake right back up and need to be settled back into sleep over and over again, you may be dealing with a baby who is fighting sleep. "If it is taking them longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, there might be something off with their sleep timing. Usually, the biggest sign of a baby fighting sleep is that they are almost asleep and you think you are safe, only to have them wake right up again," Costanza and Larouche tell Romper.
3. They Become Rigid
Trying to comfort a baby to sleep when they are doing their very best imitation of a 2x4 piece of wood is exasperating. This sign that your baby is fighting sleep is one of those red flag type of behaviors that Engelman says means your baby is overtired. "The best way to make sure baby doesn't become overtired is to get them down for sleep before they get to that point. In newborns, this is often after only about 45 minutes," Engelman says.
4. They Arch Their Back
Along the same lines as becoming rigid, Engelman says that babies who arch their back are showing signs of fighting sleep and are usually overtired. As noted above, it is key to get your baby to sleep before this point, according to Engelman. "As children get older, their stamina increases and they can tolerate more awake time, but it's still important to watch the clock and watch sleepy cues to make sure that you don't get to the point where sleep is a battle," she says.
5. They're Making Fists
When your baby balls their fist up and looks like they're ready to step into a teeny tiny boxing ring, they may actually be fighting sleep, according to Engelman. While they won't get very far in the boxing ring with as overtired as they probably are, if you notice this sleep fighting sign, you may need to think about moving bedtime or nap time up a bit earlier.
6. The Take Forever To Fall Asleep
According to Tonja Bizor, a certified Sleep Sense consultant and owner of Tonja B's Sleep Consulting, if your baby is taking much longer to fall asleep using your typical sleep routine, your baby could be fighting sleep. "For example, if you rocked/held your baby until they fall asleep in your arms and then transferred them to their crib and they fell asleep within minutes, and now it’s taking them over 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep," she tells Romper. "When your baby starts to fight the process of how you get them to sleep, take it as a great sign to incorporate teaching your baby to soothe themselves to sleep."
Bizor recommends that parents who notice their baby fighting sleep in this particular way incorporate a bedtime routine to help transition baby to self-soothing themselves to sleep. "Once you are done with the bedtime routine, lay baby down in crib awake and allow baby to fall asleep independently," she says.