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Why Do Babies Fight Sleep? What to Know


Why do babies fight sleep?

Babies are one of society’s human wonders. They’re precious, cute, and overwhelmingly needy. And that’s okay. One of the areas where new parents often struggle is sleep. New parents are often at a loss as to how much they can expect their new baby to sleep.

Given that newborns don’t know the difference between night and day for about 3 weeks, and they need to eat every 3 to 4 hours, it’s natural that new parents are jittery about the subject of sleep once they take a newborn home.

For some parents, this is more than just something to be nervous about. A baby who fights sleep is a real possibility for just about any new parent, and if you’ve been blessed with a newborn that routinely fights sleeping, welcome to the club. Millions of parents experience this and wonder why babies fight sleep.

In order to understand why your baby won’t sleep, it’s important to understand what fighting sleep means. Babies have needs just like every other human being on earth. They’re just not capable of communicating those needs with words, so what might look like fighting sleep for no reason is usually the baby fighting sleep for a reason that you can’t know because the baby can’t tell you.

When you put your baby in his or her crib, they seem to squirm, cry, and generally fuss for long periods of time. You want the baby to sleep. You’ve fed the baby, changed baby’s diaper, and now you’re wondering why the baby is over there fighting sleep. We’re here to find out why babies fight sleep.

Infant Sleep Patterns Explored

The typical baby sleep schedule calls for between 16 and 17 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, a truly astounding number given that adult parents need only about 7-9 hours of snoozing a night. Babies are naturally inclined to sleep. It’s what they do most of the time.

What babies don’t do is always sleep all the way through the night like their parents do. In those first few weeks of life, they have no concept of “night” and of course they don’t understand that parents have to wake up early in the morning to go to work. They can’t just tell you what they need in order to sleep again. In many ways, the world of babies is a mystery even to parents.

Sleep Triggers

No one remembers what the experience of being a baby was like themselves, and so they have nothing to refer back to when they need to understand that fragile, helpless world of infants. Baby sleep can be a mysterious world.

There are many internal and external triggers that might cause an otherwise sleepy baby to fight sleep. Knowing precisely why babies fight sleep isn’t really possible, but scientists and parents alike have their theories about this important subject. In order to end the fight and get your infant to dreamland, you have to first solve the problem of why babies fight sleep. Since there is more than one reason why babies fight sleep, there may be more than one solution.

Reasons Why Babies Fight Sleep

It’s important to realize that when a baby won’t sleep, it isn’t always because the baby is fighting sleep. Sometimes it’s because they need something from you. A few things a baby might need from you are:

  • Food
  • Diaper change
  • Comfort
  • A trip to the doctor

The language barrier between infants and their parents is as insurmountable as it gets. Your baby is never going to be able to tell you that they are hungry, wet and icky, scared, or sick. It’s up to you to play detective.

You’ve covered all the basics, though…

If you’ve covered all the basic needs and know your baby should still be tired, it’s time to explore those other mysterious reasons why your baby fights sleep. These reasons are in many ways guesses by adults who can’t confirm exactly why the baby isn’t sleeping, but if all the basic needs are met, and the baby isn’t sick, there is something psychological at play here.

Separation anxiety is one of the primary reasons why babies fight sleep. A child may simply be conscious and missing mom or dad. This is where gentle cuddling and bonding will come into play, although knowing when to cuddle and when to leave alone is a matter for a more in-depth look at this subject. Parents all have their own theories and even experts disagree on the amount of cuddling and attention you should give to a baby who should be sleeping but isn’t.

Another big reason why babies fight sleep is when they’re overexerted and overly tired. Just like adults who work too hard in a given day and become too tired to sleep, babies experience this, too. And finally, a baby, like an adult, can be not sleepy even when they want to be or should be. Sometimes that little one just isn’t ready to sleep yet.

Help Your Baby Fall Asleep

Like you, your baby needs to fall asleep in a way that is soothing and comforting to them. They can’t fall asleep on demand, so you shouldn’t expect them to. Sometimes it will take some soothing techniques and experimentation to learn how to cuddle your baby and make him or her ready for sleep.

Be patient and understanding, but also follow some helpful parent tips to help both you and your baby enjoy a calmer and better sleep schedule. Why babies fight sleep is an important subject because parents need to have their rest in order to be able to take good care of their children and hold down jobs at the same time.

Separation Anxiety & feeding

Separation anxiety, extreme tiredness, and extreme wakefulness are the three primary reasons why babies fight sleep. You can help your baby with these problems by tweaking a few things in the routine that can make your baby less apt to fight the sandman. For example, you might change their feeding schedule.

Babies need to eat every 3-4 hours. Your feeding times for your baby need to be consistent, and you should attempt to stick to them (life happens though). If the problem is separation anxiety, things get even more complex. Some recommend that you try your best to remain as calm and worry-free as you want your child to be.

Wait, so is it your fault?

Babies are prone to picking up on your emotions, and if they sense your anxiety, they might become even more anxious. Don’t panic! Separation anxiety is completely normal in infants.

One final thing to remember when trying to get those feeding times comfortable and your infant calm close to bedtime is that you can make your baby’s war against sleep even worse by doing certain things, such as causing added excitement at bedtime.

For example, you don’t want to excite him or her too much if you’re trying to get them to go to sleep. Even if there’s a lot of crying and anxiety, you should gently soothe, not excite. This means no playing games to try to tire the child out.

Remember! Sometimes your baby isn’t sleeping because they’re already overly tired, so exciting them is going to make it even worse. Keep things calm.


If you follow all of these simple rules, bedtime is going to be a lot easier for both you and your baby. Bedtime needs to be kept consistent. For infants, this can certainly be challenging because they’re going to keep their own schedule, but when it’s time for them to sleep and their basic needs are taken care of, it’s time to provide a warm, soothing environment that promotes sleep instead of excitement.

As you learn the triggers for why babies fight sleep, you’ll become better able at recognizing them in your own infant, and life will become much more peaceful. Until then, you’re only learning, so give yourself a big pat on the back for trying to solve this problem. It’s a very common one and one that you’ll learn to address each time it happens.

1 thought on “Why Do Babies Fight Sleep? What to Know”

  1. If your baby won’t sleep, check out the sleep method from – Thank you SleepBaby for this brilliant method! My daughter now sleeps from 7pm to 6 or 6:30am every night with almost no night wakings. And even if she wakes, it’s usually just for a second and then she falls back asleep all on her own.

    Most nights I get my 8 hours of sleep and it’s just wonderful! I really feel like I understand her little body and mind and can address her sleeping holistically. I can’t thank you enough, Kacey and the team!

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