Is Your Baby Fighting Sleep? 10 Common Reasons And How To Cope
Medically reviewed by Robyn Rosenblum, MD, FAAP
Is your baby fighting sleep? Parenting includes all sorts of joys and challenges, and sleep woes are one common challenge that nearly all parents run into at some point.
If your baby is having trouble sleeping, you’re not alone! (Of course, knowing you’re in good company doesn’t make the sleepless nights any easier.)
It can be difficult to figure out exactly why your baby refuses to sleep, especially if you're in the throes of sleep deprivation yourself! In this article, we’ll try to help you get to the bottom of it.
We’ll discuss possible reasons your baby is fighting sleep as well as how to help your little one sleep better so you can all get the rest you need.
Table Of Contents
Why Your Baby Is Fighting Sleep
Here, we’ll go over several possible causes that could contribute to your baby fighting sleep or having trouble falling asleep (though it’s not an exhaustive list by any means).
Play detective to see if you can get to the bottom of what might be causing problems. You know your baby best.
Just keep in mind that sometimes you might not be able to put your finger on the exact reason for those napless days and sleepless nights, and that’s OK, too. This phase will pass!
If your baby is fighting sleep, it may simply be because they are undertired. That means they simply aren’t tired enough to doze off — as simple as that.
There may be times when keeping your baby awake so that they’ll be tired enough to fall asleep later seems like a good idea. However, there is such a thing as being overtired, and this tactic often backfires.
In fact, babies who are too tired can sometimes have more difficulty calming down and falling asleep when it’s finally bedtime.
What does an overtired little one act like? Exhausted toddlers might act extra cranky, unreasonable, or clumsy, while littler babies can be unreasonable in their own way by losing interest, batting toys away, and crying.
3) Day-Night Confusion
It takes time for newborns to adjust to this great big world, and part of that adjustment is getting their internal clock in tune with daytime and nighttime. After all, while they were in mom’s belly, day and night weren’t so different.
4) Sleep Regression
While this is important to consider, you can breathe a sigh of relief — your baby won’t necessarily go through every possible sleep regression.
But if your baby has had a consistent sleep schedule and all of a sudden is putting up a fight at bedtime (or naptime!) or has trouble staying asleep, sleep regression may be the culprit.
5) Change In Schedule
A change in schedule can throw your baby off enough to make it difficult for them at naptime or bedtime. (Think: Daylight Savings Time or traveling to a different time zone.)
6) Change In Location
While some little ones can fall asleep at the drop of a hat no matter where they are, plenty of babies will raise a fuss if you try to put them down somewhere different than usual.
It’s important to remember that your baby might not sleep as well when they are feeling under the weather. On the other hand, some babies sleep more when they are sick, so each case is different.
If you have concerns about your baby’s health or the cause of their difficulty sleeping, call your pediatrician.
8) Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety usually kicks in around eight or 10 months and again around 18 months. During this time, sleep can be hard to come by because your little one is so busy missing you and makes it crystal clear that they don’t want you to leave.
9) Too Much Noise
Some babies can fall asleep in the middle of a construction zone, while others need complete silence. We, as adults, might not notice right away when the environment is noisy — but our babies certainly do.
If your little one is regularly fighting sleep, pay attention to the sounds in their room. It could be something you’re used to, like the sound of vehicles from the highway nearby or the neighbor’s doors opening and closing.
It could even be something you or your family are doing in the other room that you don’t realize your baby can hear.
If you think some noise might be keeping your baby up at night, do your best to eliminate those sounds so they don’t become a distraction.
Of course, you can’t stop traffic or control the comings and goings of your neighbors, but there are simple things you can do to cover up those sounds so they don’t keep your baby awake at night.
We’ll discuss one of the easiest solutions later on in this article.
If your baby is fighting sleep, they could also just be uncomfortable. Your little one is extra sensitive, and every sight, smell, sound, and feeling is something new. If we had all that sensory information coming at us, we’d have a hard time sleeping, too.
So, before you jump to the conclusion that they’re undertired, overtired, or in the midst of a sleep regression, try making your baby as comfortable as possible when bedtime rolls around.
We’ll discuss a number of ways to do this in the next section, but here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Check their mattress (more on this later)
- Add a mattress pad
- Change the mattress cover
- Try a different pair of pajamas
- Adjust the temperature
You never know what might be making your little one uncomfortable.
Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work for your baby, and have some options on hand — a change of clothing, a different blanket — so you can switch things up to make them as comfortable as possible and prevent your baby fighting sleep.
How To Stop Your Baby Fighting Sleep
If you can get to the bottom of why your baby is fighting sleep, you’ll have a better idea of what steps to take to help them drift off.
Hopefully, the above list helped you think through some possibilities. If you’ve identified a couple of causes, keep reading to find out how to combat the problem.
Even if you aren’t quite sure why your little one won’t snooze, the tips we’ll share below are still baby-sleep basics that can help you help your baby drift off peacefully.
Watch For Sleep Cues
To avoid an overtired or undertired little one, watch for your baby’s sleep cues. These signs that they are getting tired will help you put them to bed at just the right time.
You’ll have to learn your baby’s particular sleep cues, but they often include:
- Moving slowly
- Staring off into space
- Losing interest
- Rubbing eyes
In addition, crying can certainly be a sign that your baby is tired, but it’s probably more indicative that your baby is overtired. Ideally, you’ll want to get them to their crib before they start screaming.
Stay On Schedule
It’s important to learn your baby’s natural sleep patterns and stick to a schedule. Babies thrive on routine!
Remember that a baby’s sleep schedule usually has less to do with the time on the clock and more to do with how many hours it’s been since they last woke up. Keep in mind that you’ll need to adapt this schedule as your baby grows and requires less sleep.
Make Them Comfortable
It can be hard to settle in for some sleep if you aren’t comfy. The same goes for your baby. To prevent discomfort, it’s always best practice to make sure your baby has a clean diaper and is not going to bed hungry.
You’ll also want to create an environment that promotes good, safe sleep. Keep the temperature of the nursery somewhere between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains to make the room dark, and turn on white noise to drown out street and house noise.
Last but certainly not least, put your baby to sleep on a mattress that is both comfortable and safe. Since it’s not safe for newborns to sleep on soft surfaces, a firm crib mattress is the way to go. However, a firm mattress doesn’t have to mean an uncomfortable mattress.
The Newton Baby Crib Mattress offers just the right level of comfort, support, and air circulation to keep your baby sleeping safe and sound every night.
This mattress is made without foam, glue, latex, or springs. Instead, we’ve outfitted it with a Wovenaire core, made of 90% air and 10% material that yogurt cartons are made of.
That makes this hypoallergenic mattress 100% breathable, providing comfort for your baby and peace of mind for you when your little one starts rolling over in the middle of the night.
Swaddle Your Newborn
Your newborn may find comfort in the coziness of being swaddled. Try swaddling to help them drift off and stay cozy while they snooze.
Wrap your baby in our Organic Swaddle Blankets, which are breathable to help regulate your baby’s temperature and reduce the risk of overheating.
When should you stop swaddling? Simply put, when it seems like your baby is going to start rolling over. At that point, it’s safer for your baby to snooze in a sleep sack (blankets are still a no-no).
Create A Bedtime Routine
When you create and stick to bedtime and naptime routines, it will help your baby clue into the fact that it’s time to wind down and rest.
Choose a series of calming activities, like giving a baby massage, reading a book, rocking, singing, and a goodnight kiss.
Put Your Baby Down Sleepy
Part of helping your baby sleep well is showing them how to fall asleep on their own if they wake up during the middle of the night.
To do this, rather than rocking your baby until they’re sound asleep and then tip-toeing them to the crib, put them down when they are drowsy but not fast asleep. This can help them learn how to drift off without being in your arms.
Try Sleep Training
While sleep training isn’t the best fit for every family, keep in mind that there are several different techniques. You may find one that works well for you and your little one.
For more information on sleep training, read our guide here.
Maintain Day-Night Rhythms
To help your newborn combat day-night confusion, maintain normal rhythms for daytime and nighttime. This means sunshine and fun activities during the day and darkness and quiet in the evening.
If you think day-night confusion is part of why your baby is fighting sleep, learn more here.
Find Your Baby’s Wake Windows
To help prevent your baby fighting sleep, find their wake windows and plan naps and bedtimes accordingly.
A wake window is the amount of time doctors recommend that a baby or toddler can spend awake before becoming tired. Wake windows change by age, so here’s a quick listing of the suggested ranges:
- 0-4 weeks: 35 to 60 minutes
- 4-12 weeks: 60 to 90 minutes
- 3-4 months: 75 to 120 minutes
- 5-7 months: 2 to 3 hours
- 7-10 months: 2.5 to 3.5 hours
- 11-14 months: 3 to 4 hours
- 14-24 months: 4 to 6 hours
To find your little one’s wake windows, follow this simple process:
- Get your baby on a consistent schedule based on the recommended wake windows
- Take note of the length and quality of their sleep
- Watch for sleep cues to help refine the awake range
- Adjust your baby’s wake windows according to their needs
So, for example, if you start your six-month-old out on a wake window of three hours, but you notice that they’re not sleeping very long and they’re fighting sleep more often than not, you might adjust their awake range to 3.5 hours and see what happens.
Just remember that every baby is different, and no two sleep schedules will be exactly the same. Similarly, no two babies will have the exact same wake window.
Offer A Pacifier At Night
While you may avoid pacifiers during the day, giving your baby one at night can help them stay calm and fall asleep faster.
Babies have an instinctive need to suckle that can continue even after they’ve been fed. When they’re older, they may suck on their fingers to satisfy this need.
Newborns, though, may not be able to coordinate this activity — because they’re swaddled or they can’t get their hand in their mouth — and may not be able to self-soothe enough to fall asleep.
Giving your little one a pacifier at night if they’re fighting sleep can relieve the need to suckle and help them drift off to dreamland.
Keep Your Little One Active During The Day
If you notice your baby fighting sleep at night and you think they might be undertired, take steps to keep them active during the day.
Just like you, if they’re not getting all their energy out when they’re awake, they may still be raring to go when bedtime rolls around.
To prevent this from happening, plan plenty of activities while they’re awake, including:
- Tummy time
- Walks (weather permitting)
Do your best to keep your little one as active as possible while they’re awake so they’re tired and ready to fall asleep when it’s time to go down for the night.
Move Or Eliminate Naps
Another way to prevent your baby fighting sleep at night is to move the last nap further away from their regular bedtime.
Even if you do your best to keep your baby active during their wake windows, a nap that’s too close to bedtime can leave them with just enough energy to keep them up at night.
Try rescheduling their naps to follow closely with when they get tired during the day, but do that in such a way that leaves plenty of time for them to burn off all their energy before bed.
As your baby grows, you may even have to eliminate naps here and there in order to prepare them to fall asleep better at night.
Adjust The Number Of Feedings Per Day
One of the keys to sound sleep for babies is a full belly, but you may be overfeeding or underfeeding your little one slightly to the point that it disrupts their sleep patterns.
Check with your pediatrician to see how many times per day your little one should be eating and how much they need at each feeding. Then, adjust their schedule to provide enough nutrition to keep them happy, healthy, and tired when it gets dark outside.
Another factor associated with nutrition and baby fighting sleep is the transition from formula or breastmilk to solid foods. Again, check with your pediatrician to find out when it’s time to introduce solid foods into your little one’s diet.
Bathe Your Little One Before Bed
It’s not a good idea to bathe your little one before every nap, but playing in the tub at night is a great way to help calm a fussy baby fighting sleep.
Include bath products that are safe and soothing so their skin doesn’t become dry, itchy, and distracting when it’s time to catch some Zs.
Then, dry them with a soft, fluffy towel and dress them in their favorite PJs so they’re comfortable and ready to relax for the night.
Apply Cream To Their Skin
After a bath is the perfect time to moisturize your little one’s sensitive skin. When your baby’s skin feels soft and smooth — and doesn’t itch from dry spots — they’ll fall asleep faster, have better quality of sleep, and wake up less often throughout the night.
Make this a part of the pre-bedtime routine and follow up your baby’s nightly bath with a bit of skin-to-skin contact and a gentle moisturizer.
Focus on the more sensitive spots, like the inside of the elbows and the back of the knees, but be sure to apply moisturizer to other parts of their body as well.
Give Your Baby A Massage
While feeding your little one right before you go to bed can help calm them down, sometimes it just isn’t enough.
When your newborn isn’t in the mood to settle down and continues fighting sleep, try giving them a gentle massage when they’re finished eating to help them relax and fall asleep.
Choose a baby-safe cream or oil with a gentle, soothing scent and use it to massage your little one’s shoulders, arms, chest, back, legs, and feet.
The increased blood flow to their muscles, the attention they get from you, and the soothing scent will comfort, calm, and relax your baby so that they can fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Try A White Noise Machine
We mentioned earlier in this article that too much noise can be a major cause of your baby fighting sleep — and, sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to eliminate the noise.
When that happens, one of the best ways to cover up the noise is with a white noise machine. For more information on this easy-to-use solution, check out this article from the Newton Baby blog: 14 Baby Sleep Aids To Help Your Little One Sleep Through The Night.
Rock Your Baby To Help Them Relax
Rocking chairs have been around for a long time not just because they’re fun for adults, but because they help babies relax and wind down.
Studies show that rocking, swaying, and bouncing motions help little ones — and adults — fall asleep more consistently than lying still.
If a rocking chair isn’t your thing, try variations of the movement, including:
- Standing and bouncing up and down gently
- Sitting and bouncing on an exercise ball
Even a little movement may be enough to help your baby relax and fall asleep when they’re not quite ready.
Sweet Dreams, Little One
In this article, we’ve shared a few possible causes of your baby fighting sleep as well as some tips on how to help your sweet one get to sleep easier. With this information under your belt, hopefully, your little one (and you) will be having sweet dreams in no time.
No matter the underlying cause of your baby’s sleep woes, provide them with a comfy, safe place to sleep. For peace of mind for you and safe sleep for your baby, put them down on a Newton Baby Crib Mattress for every nap and at night.
Sweet dreams, little one!