sleep fighting

"My baby fights sleep!" "He's too tired to sleep!" These and similar complaints are made by parents of children with problems going to sleep (I am not referring to babies who always mildly fuss for a minute or two before nodding off - I mean what people label the serious "sleep fighters").

"Sleep fighting" is a concept that has no existence outside the perceptions of parents. It is the label parents apply to difficulties with falling asleep, but is just that - a label. In reality, there is no such thing as "fighting sleep" or "being too tired to sleep." (Ever hear of someone too active to wake up?) What parents usually are describing is one of three situations:

The first is the infant who falls asleep in mother's arms, then awakens and cries when placed in the crib. Up until about 8 months of age, infants fall first into dream sleep - REM sleep - and remain in that state for 10 minutes or so before drifting down into deep enough sleep to be moved. If he is placed in the crib before then, the baby awakens with a start and cries. Mother eventually figures out that she must rock her baby for 10-15 minutes after he seems to fall asleep before putting him down. But of course this is a dreadful mistake to make, since it guarantees later problems with night waking and crying at around 8 months of age. See trained night crying. Baby should be placed in his crib drowsy but awake, and fall asleep there.

Then there is the older infant or toddler who very definitely resists being placed in the crib. This child is being put down before her internal body clock says it's time, that is, before her natural bedtime. She protests loudly - I can't say I blame her. You must remember that children do not stay up late to aggravate their parents. Little kids can't tell time. They go to sleep when they are tired, just like everybody else in the world.

The cure here is to keep the child up until she is actually tired - no matter how late. Then put her down, and she should go to sleep gladly. You may need special separation techniques if there is separation anxiety involved - often this is the case.

Which is the third situation: "sleep fighting" which is actually just separation anxiety. This also crops up first at around eight months, and may make return visits over the next six months or so. This is cured by 1) again, keeping the child up late til he is really tired, and then 2) using the gradual separation technique I teach on my video. Do not let anyone talk you into "crying it out" techniques just because that's all they know about. It will be distressing for you and the child, and it is totally unnecessary.

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