Babies fighting sleep is totally exhausting. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ll be familiar with the fact that both my girls have been what you might call ‘non-sleepers‘. I’ve personally been known to call them worse, with Pixie’s original alias being ‘the Devil Pixie’ for this precise reason. Today I’m going to tell you about a gentle and easy sleep solution I developed with my eldest and used again with my second baby.
It saved my sanity!
Thankfully she changed her ways eventually, and when I was pregnant with her baby sister I was convinced that if there’s any justice in the world, I was due a sleeper. Sadly, where my little ‘Elfin Angel’ is concerned, a moniker which started out as a hopeful premonition quickly became a cruel joke: she’s not on par with her sister – she’s worse. Way worse.
Thank Christ I found a solution with Pixie, and I’m going to share with you how to survive sleep-deprivation without turning to controlled crying or even gentle sleep training.
Babies Fighting Sleep Is All Kinds of Hell
Until Pixie was around 18 months, I was that mum: the one all the others looked at as though they’d birthed something possessed. There’s a natural wariness – just in case Pixie’s prior affliction was contagious.
She was your classic Sleep Thief.
For more than a year I survived on six hours’ broken sleep each night. For most of that time I was roused from my bed six times before morning arrived. In case you’re reading while delirious with sleep-deprivation yourself, I’ll save you the brain power of calculating the sum: it equated to rarely sleeping for longer than ninety minutes at a time, and often significantly less.
Sometimes I’d get a stretch of two hours; rarely, a blissful three. Reading back over this paragraph, I want to give me then a gentle shake for being so naive. Yes, it was tough – but I had no idea. No. Idea. If Elfin slept like that, I’d be a happy mummy.
I checked it out and apparently she should be having around 13 or 14 hours sleep in 24 hours; she can comfortably – and regularly does – exist on fewer than ten. There’s something very wrong with my daughter – a baby fighting sleep to that extent is not normal. But it does happen.
Why Is My Baby Fighting Sleep?
So why do they do it?
The Problem: Your Baby is Not Tired
With the best intentions, we can attempt to follow the perfect baby sleep schedule, but what we sometimes forget is that they’re little people with their own individual needs. Schedules are fantastic as a guide, but we must also remember to follow our baby’s cues. And sometimes – despite what the books tell you they should be doing or feeling – they’re just not tired.
This may be the case early on, or it might be later during a transition when they’re getting ready to drop a nap.
Whilst routine is important for babies, it’s also necessary to remain flexible and pay attention to their cues when they’re trying to let us know that something isn’t working for them.
If you think this might be the issue for your baby, try adjusting your routine. Make more time for playing and practicing new skills:
Get some fresh air, and depending on their age try tummy time or messy play, introduce new textures or foods – anything that stimulates their brain and encourages balance, coordination, and fine motor skills.
The Problem: Your Baby is Overtired
It may seem counterintuitive, but being overtired can be the reason your baby appears to resist sleep.
Sleep begets sleep!
Of course if we think about ourselves, the reality is more likely that they’re having trouble falling asleep. The good news is this means you can help them.
If you baby is restless and overtired, depending on their age you can try the following:
- Swaddling can help some babies if they’re still young enough.
- White noise – this has been a Godsend for us. Our girls are now five and two and we still use white noise every night.
- Taking them for a walk in the pushchair or cuddling and rocking them can soothe and relax them enough to sleep.
- A good bedtime routine is also key, starting perhaps with a calming bath and followed by a quiet story.
The Problem: They’re Going Through a Regression
Sleep regressions are developmental phases that every baby experiences – although they all respond differently with regards to sleep – some worse than others!
Essentially, your baby is too busy to sleep: they have too many new and exciting tricks to master!
Unfortunately, often as you come out of one regression, another strikes – which is why it can seem that babies rarely sleep well at all during the first couple of years.
In just the same way as with your baby not being tired enough, they need lots of structured time dedicated to playing, learning, exploring, and practicing. The more of this time they have, the less they’ll be seeking it out at inappropriate times.
At least that’s the theory!
The Problem: You Have a High Needs Baby
Both of my girls fit the bill, and it’s exhausting. But we can’t change our baby’s personalities, and just as some adults are independent and confident while others are shy introverts, babies are the same.
If your baby is high needs it simply means they require extra comfort and reassurance. Which, while it may be exhausting, is also kind of a blessing if you view it the right way. And I’m a big believer in viewing things the right way.
Just cuddle them. You can’t fix what ain’t broke, so in this case there’s nothing to be done except embrace your situation, and snuggle down with snacks and books if necessary. If your baby is anything like mine have been, their attachment is an intrinsic and fundamental part of who they are. So just cuddle them.
It can be tough, but it’s also a time during which you’ll build beautiful memories which you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.
If you need a break, reach out and ask for it. Look after yourself, fill your cup, let your partner take over while you take a bath. Drink the coffee, eat the cake, accept your body will not be your own for the foreseeable and that your life will be consumed with love for a long, long time to come. Just cuddle them.
Often, in this situation it’s actually other people’s perception and judgement of your situation that can make you feel there’s a problem. Ignore them. If you’re okay with things, then nothing needs to change.
That said, a little extra sleep is always welcome. So, read on for how I coped with this difficult phase without using any sleep training methods.
How to Survive Sleep-Deprivation Hell When Your Baby Fights Sleep
I know the special kind of torture insufficient sleep is. After Pixie started sleeping, it took months before I felt I was finally emerging from a dream-like state. All memories of that time have a fuzzy, surreal quality. I was basically a walking zombie. And then I was back there – to the power of ten.
For anyone perplexed as to where my hubby fitted in to this sleep schedule, here’s a bonus secret for the good of your marriage: if your partner is getting up for work, let them sleep at night (unless you have two waking up of course).
Accept the help of your mum/sister/neighbour the following day – and take full advantage of your partner at the weekend, sure. But during the week, as far as possible, allow them to rest so they can do a day’s graft and be useful when they’re at home. Obviously there are caveats, and you can read more about my thoughts on this here.
I Developed a Gentle and Easy Sleep Solution to Survive Sleep-Deprivation – Without Sleep Training
A little disclaimer before I share my secret for how to survive sleep-deprivation… I would truly love to impart a tip which genuinely helps others. But just so we’re clear – I can’t swear that this will magically fix your baby fighting sleep or waking up every hour.
What I can promise however, is that it will ease your problems if your baby is not a fan of sleep, and you/your partner is not a fan of co-sleeping.
I knew I did not want to co-seep. With Pixie, we tried a couple of times out of desperation, but hubby and I agreed it was uncomfortable and not a long-term solution. So we put Pixie in the bedroom next door – but each night I was getting up to her repeatedly. And every time I would lean down into her cot to pick her up, before traipsing back to our bed with her – and she wasn’t getting any lighter! My back was beginning to protest.
I had other concerns too: absolute darkness was paramount so as not to disturb Pixie as I laid her back down. After months of tiptoeing along the corridor like a cat burglar, I figured that with each new trip my luck was diminishing: our accident-free journeys were numbered and at some point I was going to crash into a doorframe or wall.
There was no space in the nursery for a chair; I was shattered; I didn’t want to resort to co-sleeping. There had to be a gentle sleep solution…
I regularly found myself eyeing up her cot, tempted to jump in, and debating whether my hurdling skills from my youth would betray me. I decided not to risk it for fear of the cot collapsing on impact.
But it did give me an idea…
My Top Tip For Getting More Sleep
Several months before things began to finally improve, at a point when I’d reached my wit’s end with my baby resisting sleep and rarely sleeping deeply, I asked hubby to dismantle the cot. I wanted to try putting Pixie’s mattress directly on the floor, from which height she could not injure herself if she fell, and – crucially – where I could lay down beside her.
Hubby thought I was making a mistake. My mum thought I was crazy.
We already had a gate across the top of the stairs, and Pixie slept in a sleeping bag anyway, ie. her ability to walk was compromised (unless of course she truly was possessed, in which case she’d merely have glided instead).
I set the space up to look cosy, with bumpers propped against the wall with teddies. I put a spare pillow at the head of the bed (for me), and a spare blanket at the foot (also for me). Granted, it looked a bit strange because it’s not our cultural norm. But it also looked oddly inviting.
In the interests of transparency, Pixie didn’t immediately start sleeping through.
But – I was comfortable.
How Our Improvised Bed Improved Sleep For Both of Us
That was not the only positive though, there’s a whole lovely list of reasons my gentle sleep solution is the best thing I ever did in the history of my sleep-deprivation. It meant:
- No more leaning into a cot to lift a heavy baby out;
- No more leaning into a cot to fail at transferring a sleeping baby;
- No more creeping the corridors in the dark, with only a foot to open doors;
- No more crying baby to disturb hubby;
- No more desperation leading to unsuccessful attempts of co-sleeping;
- It may not have been ideal, but when I had to, I could lay down, with a pillow and a blanket;
- …And – hallelujah – I could SLEEP.
(For anyone concerned about what may seem an inevitable issue, Pixie rarely moved from her bed when she woke during that period. I can count on one hand the number of times we found her anywhere other than her mattress upon waking.)
After desperate, desperate measures making us succumb to co-sleeping second around – we went on to round two of this solution ourselves and again, we haven’t looked back. Never mind the lovely brand new cot which remains unused…
So, if you have a light sleeper or your baby frequently fights sleep altogether and you’ve exhausted your options and refuse to sleep train, this has to be worth a try.
When it comes to surviving sleep-deprivation, if you can’t beat ’em – join ’em! Stop fighting it and embrace it instead: make yourself a comfortable space beside your bubba, and accept you’re in this for the long haul. Try it, I hope it works. Let me know how you get on.