Why Do Babies Fight Sleep – 6 Ways To Help Your Little One

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Is your baby fighting sleep? Wondering why your bundle of joy goes from eyes half shut to wide awake the second you lay her down?

Whimsical photos of sleepy newborns are everywhere. So, why do babies fight sleep? It’s true that sleep needs are highest during the first year of life, but sending your little one off into dreamland isn’t always easy.

The good news is that you’re not alone. This is a common problem that many parents face for a variety of reasons. Keep reading for all the essential info, including some must-have tips and tricks to help your baby stop fighting sleep!

What Does Fighting Sleep Mean

Crying, arching his back, rubbing his eyes—all the signs were there. But as soon as he’s in his crib, his eyes pop open, and he goes from tired to wired in less than a millisecond. Sound familiar?

7 Baby Sleep Facts Infographic

Reasons Why Baby Fights Sleep

It can be so frustrating when your tiny bundle of joy refuses what she so obviously needs—rest! There are a few main reasons why this happens:


Newborns need plenty of rest, so this is more common in older babies and toddlers. Over the first 12 months, sleep needs change dramatically. This could be one of the first signs that it’s time for a schedule change, like dropping a nap or extending the wake window (the time awake between rest).

Learn more: How Much Sleep Do Kids Need? Recommendations by Age


It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the most common reasons for fighting zzz’s is being overtired. Newborns are usually only able to stay awake for around 45 minutes. Being overtired activates a stress response that releases hormones like cortisol, which makes it even harder for babies to settle.


Even from birth, tots already display signs of their personality, including chronotype. This genetic trait dictates the type of sleeper they’ll be. If you have an active baby on your hands, he’ll probably struggle with falling asleep if he hasn’t had enough playtime; likewise, a more sensitive babe may need some extra snuggles before bed.


Oh, the dreaded regressions. When babies are going through a major growth spurt or working on a developmental skill, they temporarily regress in sleep. For some reason, the brain can’t focus on both. The good news is that blissful rest usually returns once your little one has mastered rolling over, crawling, or whatever other milestones they’re learning.


Cutting teeth is serious—and oftentimes painful—work. Teething babies usually have a few rough nights, especially when the tooth is about to erupt. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to soothe sore gums and get your teething tot on track with sleeping again.

7 Baby Teething Symptoms Infographic

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety usually starts once babies develop object permanence, which is the realization that you exist even when they can’t see you. This usually happens around nine months of age, but it can also set in as early as four to five months. You can ease worries by letting your baby see that when you leave, you come back.



Tummy aches and runny noses happen to babies too, but the difference is they have no way to tell you about it other than to cry. Babies are obligate nose breathers, which means a stuffy nose can make it hard to breathe. Using saline, a bulb syringe, or extra humidification can all help to clear the airways so your little one can rest.

How to Help Newborns and Babies to Stop Fighting Sleep?

Whether you’ve identified the cause or not, there are a few essential tips and tricks to getting your baby to stop fighting sleep.

Establish a Nap Routine

Establishing an age-appropriate routine for naps and nighttime can minimize hang-ups. If you’re not sure how many naps your baby should take, check out this chart:

AgeDaily Naps
Total Nap Time (hours)Average Wake Window (hours)Total Nighttime Sleep (hours)Total Sleep (naps and night)
1 month3-56-71-28-1015-16
3 month3-45-62-310-1115
6 month2-33-4
9 month22-42-411-1214
12 month1-22-33-411-1213.5-14
18 month1-22-34-611-1213-14
2-3 years11-35-811-1212-13

**Newborns typically sleep in 1-5 hours periods throughout the day and night.

Reschedule Bedtime

Now that you know how much rest your little needs, use this chart to set an appropriate bedtime. You may need to adjust this earlier or later than what you’ve been doing to align with your baby’s needs. Be sure to leave enough space between their final nap and bedtime for the best success.

Adjust the Entire Schedule

Once you figure out what your infant’s ideal wake window is, use this info to plan her schedule accordingly. You may have to play around with it some until you find what works best. In some cases, shortening the time between naps can make a world of difference.

Illustration of a Dad Transitioning His Baby to His Room

Stay Nearby

If separation anxiety is the cause, staying close by may help your little one to feel calm and secure so he can fall asleep.

Ensure Comfort

If your tiny tot is refusing sleep, remember to check for signs of illness, teething, room temperature, or any other signs of discomfort.

Increase Daytime Cuddles

Babies need lots of love and comfort. Being sure to fill their little love tanks during the day should help them to feel more secure when night time comes.

Noticing Signs of Sleepiness in Babies

Infants can go from happily playing to tired quickly because they have very short wake windows. Learning the sleepy signs can help you to put your little one to bed before he hits that overtired point. Pay attention to signs of sleepiness including:

  • Yawning

  • Rubbing face and eyes

  • Pulling at ears

  • Losing interest

  • Fussing

  • Staring off

  • A lull in activity

  • Arching back

How Long Should Infants up to 12 Months Old Be Awake?

As you can see in our chart above, the wake window changes greatly over the first year of life. While newborns can only manage 45-60 mins before they need to snooze, 12-month-olds may be able to stay awake for periods up to 3-4 hours. Keep in mind that every baby is different, and your child may need more or less rest than what’s stated.


Most new parents are shocked when their tiny bundle of joy fights sleep. Aren’t toddlers and teens the ones who typically avoid bedtime like the plague? In reality, fighting sleep is a common phase that babies go in and out of for a variety of reasons.

Babies are constantly growing and changing, and so are their sleep needs! Play detective to figure out the most likely culprit, and if that doesn’t work, following our tips and tricks should! Learning sleepy signs and establishing routines can go a long way in getting your little one sleeping like a baby!

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Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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