Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
Who had said this before? "My baby hates sleep".
I can assure you that your baby or toddler does not hate sleep. In fact, hate is something that babies aren't even capable of doing, because it's a very mature emotion. If you're one of those people who candidly (or not so candidly) says "my baby hates sleep", then your baby is most likely crying when they go to sleep or they're refusing to go to sleep at all, perhaps napping for short stints or waking very frequently overnight.
This doesn't mean that they hate sleep.
Lets look at a few reasons your baby (or toddler) is fighting sleep:
If your baby is sleeping poorly, then it might seem like they hate sleep, when actually they're just very overtired. A baby who is overtired is going to go into their bed and cry and flap around, they're going to be unsettled and grumpy and probably fight you if you're trying to settle them to sleep. It's not that they hate sleep; sleep is actually the one thing that they really, really need in that situation. They just can't go to sleep because they're so overtired.
To remedy this, you'd want to have a look at your baby's awake times between naps. If their awake time is too much for their age, they're already super overtired come naptime and will nap poorly as a result. It will also be really difficult to actually get them to sleep in the first place and it will definitely seem like they "hate sleep".
For an overtired baby, we'd recommend swaddling them (if under 4 months), cranking up the white noise and settling them in a very dark room. Do whatever you can to get them to sleep! Then, trim back the amount of time they're awake between naps to try and avoid overtiredness in the first place. We can help you with the ideal awake times for your baby's age in our Sleep Programs.
A similar thing can happen if your baby or toddler isn't ready for sleep yet, or "undertired". Undertiredness will occur if:
- your baby has already napped enough (or too much) for the day
- your trying to put your baby to sleep too early for their naps and at bedtime
If your baby is undertired, they don't hate sleep, they're just not ready for sleep.
It is really easy to get overtiredness confused with undertiredness as they look really similar with nap refusal and unsettled behaviour! Getting the awake times right for your baby's age is crucial to avoiding both of these scenarios.
They are hungry or uncomfortable
A hungry baby won't settle or sleep no matter what you do! If your baby is very young, you'd want to look at when their feed times are occurring in relation to naps to ensure they're getting the chance for a big feed before they go to sleep, without being so sleepy that they don't take a big feed. BUT, make sure your baby is winded really well. A baby who has trapped wind will hate sleep, because they're uncomfortable and lying down exacerbates this.
There are too many other things to do
As your baby gets older and turns into a toddler, their FOMO (fear of missing out) really kicks in. So does their desire to play and be nosey. If your baby is abruptly whisked away from their activity and put in their bed, they are going to protest because they didn't expect that sudden change and they were busy doing something else! If there are toys or stimulating nightlights or mobiles in their nursery, you can guarantee they would rather look at these things than sleep, and this will definitely seem like your baby "hates" sleep.
Having your little one in a predictable nap schedule is a great way to avoid springing naps on them, and using a little wind-down routine prior to naps and bedtime is the icing on the cake.
Turn off those nightlights too and remove anything from their sleep environment that would be stimulating to your baby. They are there to sleep, not to play!
Sometimes we hear people say "the second I walk into my baby's room, they start crying because they hate sleep and they associate their room with sleep". It's not because they hate sleep, it's more likely because they've made the connection that their room is the place where they go to sleep, which isn't a bad thing! It's a good thing that they're starting to make those connections and sleep associations and understand that when they're in their room, they sleep. But, they're probably crying because they are overtired or undertired or they're still hungry, or they have wind, or they're uncomfortable, or their sleep environment is too stimulating, or bright and they're just not able to go into their room and get in the zone for sleep.
What can also happen, and it happened with my eldest child, is some babies just grizzle when they're going to sleep, no matter what you do. You might even be actively settling them to sleep and they just grizzle while they're falling asleep. For some babies, this is how they unwind and get some stress release; they're just winding down to sleep. These babies generally then go on to be toddlers and children who will just chat or sing to themselves when you put them in bed, while they're lying there getting ready to go to sleep.
This doesn't mean they hate sleep.
Then there are other babies, like my second child, who would go into bed and be totally silent and you wouldn't know if he was awake or asleep because he just lay there in silence while he drifted off. So, if you think your baby hates sleep because they're grizzling or crying, maybe this is just the way that they're winding down for sleep.
If you think your baby hates sleep because they're just not sleeping at all, then that's something that we could help you look at a bit more. Maybe it's something in their daytime structure that needs changing, like their nap times or their awake windows, or maybe we need to start looking at the environment in which they're going to sleep. From there we can help with feeding recommendations and settling strategies that suit your family.
No baby hates sleep. Babies want sleep, they need sleep and it's actually our job as parents to help them sleep and to help them get the best sleep possible for their age.
To do that, you need our world-leading Sleep Programs.
Gradisar M, Jackson K, Spurrier N, Gibson J, Whitham J, Williams A.S, Dolby R, Kennaway DJ. Behavioral Interventions for Infant Sleep Problems: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Coons S, Guilleminault C. Development of consolidated sleep and wakeful periods in relation to the day/night cycle in infancy. Dev Med Child Neurol. 1984 Apr;26(2):169-76. PubMed PMID: 6724155.
"The progress my daughter has made so quickly is nothing short of magical. Luckily my little one has always been a great night sleeper but I dreaded daytime naps. They were a constant battle that left me drained from the relentless bouncing to sleep and catnaps. As many parents do, I diligently watched for tired signs then scooped her up at the first yawn and put her to bed to avoid the dreaded overtired baby. But I was consistently faced with screams and tears that took a good half hour of bouncing to lull into sleep, only to have her wake up 30-45 minutes later. The Little Ones programme has helped me to understand my daughters sleep needs and to put her to bed when she is really ready for sleep. Now she actually protests until I leave the room then happily turns over puts her thumb in her mouth and independently goes off to sleep - for every nap, every bed time and between sleep cycles. I know now that my baby wants to sleep, and wants to do so independently and Little Ones has helped her to learn this vital skill. Thank you for creating such a comprehensive, easy to follow, scientifically grounded programme. We will continue to follow the little ones programme into toddlerhood as I truly believe that this is the best framework for managing my daughters ever evolving sleep needs." - Larice