Why Do Babies Fight Sleep?

A baby crying

My baby always seemed to release a kamikaze on us when it was bedtime. Having my baby fighting sleep was one of the most exasperating moments of motherhood.

You know that old saying “baptizing a cat?” Well, trying to get my second born to sleep always feels like its easier to baptize a cat.

A baby fighting sleep would be comical if it wasn’t so draining. Rarely will a baby just close their eyes and sleep. Instead, they choose to get engaged in active combat with sleep.

Some will be writhing and screaming while scratching their eyes or noses depending on how far their little finger can reach. That war with sleep is one that any new mother would want to avoid.

See also: The No Cry Sleep Training Method: Does It Really Work?

I’ll tell you why your newborn won’t sleep and how to broker peace between your infant and the shut-eye.  These tips have worked for my son and although some days my baby will still fight sleep, we have managed to reduce those times drastically.

If your wondering why do babies fight sleep, here are some of the reasons your baby won’t sleep.

A baby crying

Baby fighting sleep? Here is why

He’s whacked

Have you ever been so tired that you couldn’t sleep? I bet you probably have! It’s because your body produces cortisol hormone in excess. You are miserable to the point of tears. Cortisol is the stress hormone and is responsible for the crying.

You toss and turn. Then count sheep until the sheared wool grows again. You regulate the heat. You stick one foot outside the blanket. Despite everything you do, you just don’t seem able to fall asleep.

That is what happens when babies are too tired. And because they don’t know how to count yet, the sheep don’t help. So, they do that they know best. Cry until mom’s ears are ringing.

He’s not tired at all

With babies, it does feel it’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That has never been truer than in the relationship between fatigue and the baby fighting sleep.

If the baby is not tired at all, he will have trouble sleeping. And any attempt to get him to bed will be met with a rebellion.

This happens if he has spent too little time between his last nap and the moment, you’re trying to get him to sleep.

He still has some energy in his muscles and brain bank account. He doesn’t get why you want him to sleep when he’s still in high spirits.

The mood is not right

Much as we may not believe it, babies have preferences. If the mood in the room you are trying to get him to sleep is not to his liking, he’ll let you know.

It could be the lighting in the room. It could be that he likes it a little lighter, but you are putting all the lights off. If the room is too bright or too dark, he will have trouble sleeping.

Maybe he likes for you to keep the door open but you keep shutting him in.

The house could be too noisy or too quiet for his liking. The womb was not a quiet place. The waterfall sound of blood rushing through the veins may have been his lullaby.

If your newborn won’t sleep, check how dark, noisy or cool it is. Then adjust accordingly. My babies all slept with the night lights on and some background music.

He’s anxious

As the baby grows older, he starts getting used to his caregiver. The mother may be enthralled that the baby recognizes them now. The ability to recognize you, however, may also mean separation anxiety when he needs to be put down to sleep.

Does your baby seem to fall asleep easily on the arms, but causes a ruckus when he’s put down? He may have developed some separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is the major cause of babies fighting sleep, especially in babies 8 months and older.

The temperature is not right

Your baby won’t sleep because he might be too cold or too hot. I gave birth to my firstborn in winter and so I would really overdress him at night.

I later realized that overdressing him was one of the reasons he used to fight sleep. Once that was fixed, he became a better sleeper.

How do you know the right temperature for your little one?

Feeling the nape of the neck of your baby is the easiest way to tell if your baby is too hot or too cold. If a baby is too hot, the cheeks may be flushed and they make appear as though they are sweating.

A baby who is overheated may breathe fast. On the other hand, if your baby is too cold, he may have cold feet and hands. The rule of the thumb is to think layers when dressing your baby. They need just an extra layer of what you are wearing.

He’s hungry

Have you tried sleeping on an empty stomach? You can almost feel your intestines touching your spine. If the baby feeds less during the hours leading to his sleep time, he will struggle with falling asleep.

This is likely to happen if you’re following a planned hourly feeding as opposed to feeding on-demand routine. The baby’s tummy is the size of your fist.

They get full very fast and also get hungry quite fast especially if they didn’t feed well.

How to get your baby to stop fighting sleep

Do not overstimulate

Do not encourage staying awake for too long. Contrary to what many have believed, keeping the baby awake for longer will not translate to a night of deeper sleep. It just makes it harder to fall asleep. Avoid eye contact or soft play.

Don’t put him down to sleep too soon

Adopt the ‘eat, play, sleep’ routine to ensure he gets tired enough. Putting down a baby who is soldier-alert will be frustrating for both of you. The best time to put your baby to sleep is when he is drowsy, but not asleep yet. This can only be achieved if you have mastered your baby’s sleep cues.

Feed the baby

Throw away the rule book and let your baby breastfeed for as long as he wants.

On-demand feeding is the best. Let the baby guide you on when he needs to feed. The baby fighting sleep may also want to cluster feed in the hours leading to bedtime. Indulge him.

Burp the baby to get rid of all air and help prevent colic or possible chocking when he eventually falls asleep.

See also: What Is Dream Feeding? Everything You Need To Know

Learn your baby’s sleep cues

Be the decoding expert that knows what each cry means. This way, you’ll learn when the baby is beginning to be sleepy and put him to bed to avoid over-stimulation. Learning your baby’s cues also helps rule out other factors such as sickness.

Be there for your little one

Provide reassurance for the baby fighting sleep due to separation anxiety. Do not be harsh or disappear hoping he will forget about you and stop screaming himself purple. Don’t sneak away from your child.

Suddenly finding himself alone escalates his panic and uncertainty. This will make the sleep fight harder. If you have to leave the child’s bedroom, do so while he’s still awake.


For the baby fighting sleep, a strict bedtime routine will be beneficial. The stability and predictability gives your baby the reassurance he needs to keep calm. Tweak your routine depending on the baby’s behavior.

Dress your baby appropriately before he goes to sleep. The fight with sleep will be over by the time he is around 18 months.

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