Why fighting sleep is really about fighting big feelings

Why fighting sleep is really about fighting big feelings

Guest article provided by Eliza Parker of Conscious Baby

If you’re having trouble getting your baby or toddler to fall asleep or sleep longer stretches, you’re not doing anything wrong. There’s a reason! 

Fighting sleep

Many parents feel like their baby fights sleep. Do you resonate? This may look like: 

  • Difficulty settling
  • Baby cries before sleep
  • Toddler winds up instead of down
  • Falls asleep fine, but wakes soon after
  • Wakes several times during the night
  • Will only sleep on mom or dad

Fighting feelings

Yes, your baby or toddler is fighting something. But not sleep itself. You see, sleep is a state, and it’s required for survival. The good news is that your baby really does know how to sleep! 

But your child is having difficulty relaxing deeply enough to sleep well. This is actually related to pent up stress or big feelings. 

Before you get too worried: this is normal! Babies need to process their experiences, just like we do. They remember their birth, and they may need to work through some feelings about it. Or perhaps your family moved recently, or a parent went back to work, or your child required a medical procedure, or you’ve all had a very stimulating day.

When babies and toddlers are tired, they’re vulnerable—and this is precisely when those old feelings start to bubble up. It’s harder to hold it together! 

How to help your baby

First, you need to know that not all crying is bad. Crying is a healthy response. It’s how we respond that makes an immense difference. Crying in your loving, listening, accepting presence is very, very different from “crying it out” alone.

When it’s time for sleep, notice if your baby starts getting fussy or cries “for no reason.” 

If not, is there anything you’re doing, which if you didn’t do, your baby would cry—such as bounce, walk, shush, rock, nurse for comfort only, or offer a pacifier. If you set a boundary for your wound up toddler, would she get upset?

This is your golden ticket. Rather than try to stop the crying, hold your baby in your arms and allow those feelings to bubble up. Your child wants to tell you her story! After she has ‘let off some steam,’ she’ll be able to relax. 

Transforming the ‘fight’ into a gem

So you see, your baby isn’t fighting sleep itself. Trying to stop the crying is understandable. But if your baby’s true underlying need is to “get it out,” then trying to stop the crying may be working against you. 

This is the fight you’re sensing! Because this process often arises around sleep, it can look like your baby is fighting sleep. But when stress release crying is (lovingly) stopped, your baby will try to “fight back the feelings.” When I work with families, I find this to be the #1 most common reason behind their child’s sleep troubles. 

In order to truly help your child sleep in the long run, you must understand what they’re fighting. Know that crying itself—in arms—can be a true need and a solution!