Why Does My Baby Fight Sleep? – Sleep Coaching the Super Alert Child

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  • April 06, 2007
fight sleep

fight sleepSometimes I hear parents who haven’t tried my system, predict that it could not possibly work for their child. They believe it will only work for “easy” or “mellow” babies. It can work for all children, including some babies, toddlers, and preschoolers with special emotional needs or physical challenges.

Patience and consistency are important for sleep-shaping with any child. They are are particularly essential in dealing with these more alert or spirited youngsters who tend to fight sleep. If your child has a physical disorder or disease, work with your doctors to address it first. Then use my system to help your child catch up on the sleep-learning he or she missed during his illness. It’s been a useful approach even for children with serious diseases like cystic fibrosis.

Why Does My Baby Fight Sleep?

It’s true that some unusually alert, bright and aware babies and toddlers fight sleep, have a little more trouble learning to sleep. These children often reach physical milestones, like walking, on the early side. They tend to have slightly disturbed sleep as well.

Temperamentally, they may be the kind of children who know what they want and when they want it. They are also willing to hold out until they get it. That’s a great quality in an adult, but it can be a little daunting to parent such a determined little person.

Sleep Coaching the Super Alert Child

It’s true that some unusually alert, bright, and aware babies and toddlers do have a little more trouble learning to sleep. These children often reach physical milestones, like walking, on the early side. They tend to have slightly disturbed sleep as well.

Temperamentally, they may be the kind of children who know what they want and when they want it and are willing to hold out until they get it. That’s a great quality in an adult but it can be a little daunting to parent such a determined little person.

Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that an alert child needs less sleep than average. He needs just as much sleep as any other baby, maybe even a little bit more than average. A child like this has a harder time shutting out the world in order to get to sleep, so he will fight sleep.

How to Help Your Child

  • Room darkening shades are essential for these babies and children. It helps them shut out distractions and focus on sleep
  • Sound screens, fans or white noise machines are great, particularly for naptime. You don’t want to use them forever but they can be useful while your child is learning the art of self-soothing and falling asleep
  • Be super-vigilant about watching your child’s sleep window, the time when he is naturally ready for sleep. Keeping him up later will not make him more tired, it will let him get a second wind and then he’ll really be too wired for sleep
  • All children need predictable soothing routines before bed and before nap. These very alert children need routines that are a few minutes longer. Make sure you aren¡¦t reading stories or doing activities that will stimulate them, you should really focus on soothing and winding down not making them jump up and giggle
  • Nurse (or bottle feed) these children in a dim, quiet environment where they don’t get distracted
  • If you use music as part of the bedtime routine, make sure it’s very gentle, soothing that’s not going to make him want to get up and dance! It’s usually better if you turn it off the music or at least turn it very very low as he is actually going to sleep. Otherwise, you risk turning the music into a sleep crutch.  Then he’ll need you to come running in to hit rewind and play each time he stirs all night long

Sleep Coaching and the Importance of Routine

These children tend to be less flexible sleepers for several years so they can be extra sensitive to disruptions of routine or travel. If you do have disruptions, including routine childhood illnesses or trips to grandma, be prepared to emphasize sleep and getting back on track when the illness or travel is over. Really put aside some time to concentrate on this and you’ll see it pay off.

Children With Specific Barriers to Sleep Coaching

I’ve also worked with many children who have physical problems. If you think allergies, chronic ear infections, apnea or other physical disorders are preventing your child from learning to sleep, discuss it with your pediatrician and consult an ear, nose and throat specialist if warranted. When the physical problem is under control, your child may still not miraculously start sleeping. They may still have to unlearn some bad habits. But sleep shaping goes much more smoothly once the physical difficulties are addressed.

The same applies to reflux. Lots and lots of babies I have worked with have had reflux, it’s very common. I have a lot of advice on how to manage reflux in my book and of course, you and the baby’s pediatrician should consider whether it’s severe enough to warrant medication. But remember that getting reflux under control does not mean that your child will magically start falling asleep and staying asleep. All those months of tummy distress can really interfere with an infant’s ability to learn to self-soothe and fall asleep on his own. But once the reflux is managed, controlled, or outgrown, you should be able to help your child make up for lost time and learn those precious skills.

He’ll thank you for it.

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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