Why Do Babies Fight Sleep? 16 Tips to Get You Back on Track!

By  Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH | Updated - 2 February 2021

So, why do babies fight sleep? Surely they love it as much as we do… RIGHT??

Well... it seems that some babies have decided that sleep is for the weak and they’d much rather stay awake and disrupt your sleep too. Aren’t they just so kind and thoughtful!

The honest truth is that your baby fights sleep for a huge variety of reasons and you’ve got to do a bit of examining and testing to figure out what is causing baby to say no to sleep and what you can do to help them get back into a consistent sleep schedule. Not only for their sake, but for yours too!

Why do Babies Fight Sleep?

So before our sleep deprived eyes drift closed, let’s get right into why do babies fight sleep!

Why do babies fight sleep? The 11 Reasons You Need To Know!

There are all sorts of reasons your baby will fight sleep. Here are my top 11 you MUST KNOW:

11 Reasons Why Babies Fight Sleep!

1. Overstimulation

It is very easy to over stimulate your baby. We all want the best for our little one and we have all these things and activities that we think we should be doing with them to offer them the best opportunity to develop.

However we need to understand just how much young babies can take in and how long for. 

You will get to know the signs of when your baby is overstimulated

2. Overtiredness

Another thing to watch out for which goes hand in hand with being over stimulated is overtiredness. 

Bizarrely, a baby that is overtired will struggle to fall asleep. It makes no sense but is a sad fact of life that once you have missed that ‘I’m ready to fall asleep’ window you will struggle to get your little one to settle.

3. Day and Night Confusion

Many young babies suffer from day/night confusion. 

Thankfully there are things you can do to help your baby get their confusion sorted and on the right track to sleeping more at night than in the day.

4. Hunger

Your baby will not settle to sleep if they are hungry and will definitely wake more frequently. 

5. Sleep Regression

Sleep regression can happen at certain times in your baby’s development and may disrupt a well established sleep pattern. These hiccups are generally short lived and will pass once the cause of the regression has passed whether it be due to teething, a growth spurt or developmental milestone. 

6. Teething

Teething is an obvious and understandable reason for sleep disruption and something that again is transitional.

7. Separation Anxiety

From about 6 month old and up, your baby may well experience separation anxiety. This is perfectly normal as your baby would always rather be with you than without. 

8. Discomfort

Making sure your baby is comfortable when they sleep may seem obvious but as they can not tell you how they are feeling you need to think for them. 

9. Changes in Routine

Be prepared for your baby’s sleep routine to be disrupted if you have been away from their normal environment for a few days or weeks, or if you have had extra people in the house. Any of these may cause your baby to fight sleep.

10. Illness

If your baby has been unwell which has resulted in you having to hold them and comfort them more then very often once the illness has passed they may not want to settle back into a healthy sleep routine.

11. Hitting a Milestone

Sometimes when your baby is about to hit an important developmental milestone they will start to fight sleep. 

How do I get my baby to stop fighting sleep? 16 Tips To Get Your Precious Sleep Back!

The reason your baby is fighting sleep will dictate how you deal with it.

Here are my TOP 16 SLEEP TIPS to get your baby sleeping blissfully again!

1. Learn your baby’s sleep cues and grab the sleep window

One of the most important lessons to learn when it comes to babies and sleep is to learn your baby’s sleep cues.

If your baby has been awake for a while and starts to pull at their ears, rub their eyes and not want to focus on anything then it is time to put them down for a nap.

Missing a sleep cue can lead to an overtired baby and if baby is overtired, they are always harder to settle and will often fight sleeping. I know… it sounds bizarre, but trust me. An overtired baby will resist sleeping more than a normally tired baby!

2. Establish a healthy bedtime routine

I am always going on about a bedtime routine and that is because it is a parenting life saver. We all function better with sleep and instilling in our children that bedtime is sacrosanct is the key to you all getting the sleep you need. 

Having a regular, well established evening routine allows your little one to learn the signals that bedtime is coming and they will be less likely to fight sleep. Check out my Bedtime Routine article for the ultimate hacks to nailing this evening routine!

3. Try swaddling

While your baby is very young they will still have the Moro or Startle Reflex which can wake them abruptly as they are falling asleep. Swaddling can prevent this from happening and also makes your baby feel more secure.

It has been proven that swaddling is very beneficial in settling young babies to sleep so give it a try.

If you’ve never used a swaddle before & are not sure which swaddle would work for your baby, I have compiled my favourites into my Parenting Toolbox! Head over there for a little bit of inspiration!

4. Teach your baby to spend short periods of time alone in their crib while awake.

I know this one is hard and we all love to cuddle and hold our babies. However babies need to learn to sleep alone and teaching your baby to self settle is important if you do not want to be rocking your little one to sleep for months to come. 

You have to start slowly but even when they are quite young you can lay your baby on their back awake in their crib and let them look at a mobile for a short period of time. This will get them used to the idea of being left alone while still awake. Trust me you will reap the benefit later on and help alleviate separation anxiety which is often a cause for fighting sleep.

5. Re-configure nap schedules

As your baby grows their sleep patterns will change. Knowing how much sleep you should expect them to have during the day is important so that you can adjust their nap times accordingly. Your baby might be fighting sleep because they want to be awake more during the day.

As they grow your baby will need to nap less during the day. If they are not wanting to nap in the morning you will need to consider letting them have a longer nap in the afternoon.

Always remember that SLEEP BREEDS SLEEP so do not worry that a long nap in the afternoon will impact on their sleep at night. You might find that this nap shift actually helps with them settling to bed at night.

6. Make sure your baby is tired enough

Sometimes toddlers and older babies fight sleep because they are not tired enough. Getting outside every day and getting rid of some of that pent up energy is a good way to ensure they are tired enough when night time comes around.

Also ensure that as they grow, you are offering them lots of new and stimulating things to do.

7. Don’t let your baby become overtired or overstimulated 

As I mentioned earlier, a common reason for babies fighting sleep is that they are not able to tell you if they are tired or have had enough of being handed around from one person to another or being offered a new stimulating toy. 

Therefore, it is up to you as their parent to limit the amount of stimulation they have and for how long and to know the signs that they have had enough. 

Watch out for sleeping cues and if your baby is not focusing and looking away from you they are probably ready for a nap. 

8. Adjust baby’s bedtime

As your baby grows their sleep habits change. In order to make sure your little one is ready for sleep you need to have the correct bedtime and this will change as they grow. 

In the first year your baby’s bedtime will change from 10pm in the early months to no later than 7pm by the time they are 1 year old.

9. Make a clear difference between day and night interactions

Making a marked difference between day and night sleep is essential in sorting our day  night confusion. This is a very common issue with very young babies and can be fixed by making your interactions with them markedly different depending on what time of day it is.

Day time interaction can be chatting and upbeat while when your baby wakes at night you should keep the lights dim, voices low and no playing.

10. Make sure your baby is comfortable

Making sure your baby is comfortable when they sleep may seem obvious but as they can not tell you how they are feeling you need to think for them. 

Make sure they have a clean nappy when you put them down. Ensure they are not too hot or too cold by putting them to sleep in a suitable swaddle or sleeping bag. 

Check out my favourite baby clothing companies and baby sleepwear in my Parenting Toolbox! Be sure to check them out!

11. Make sure your baby’s sleep environment is conducive to sleep

Your baby will sleep better if their sleeping environment is dimly lit, at the right temperature and is calm and welcoming. 

Many babies experience separation anxiety any time from 6 months onwards and making their sleep environment cosy and familiar will help with this. A favourite soft toy or musical toy playing a familiar tune will make separating from you easier.

Top Tip

Keep in mind that using a white noise machine can help them get to sleep with or without a night light.

12. Make sure your baby has had enough to eat

Ensuring your baby takes a full feed and is well winded before going to sleep is essential if you wish your baby to sleep for a decent length of time.

13. Make sure your baby is having tummy time during the day

Very young babies need to exercise too and they spend a lot of time on their backs. 

Offering tummy time is important for all sorts or developmental reasons but it also allows them to have a different view of the world and gives them the opportunity to expel a lot of energy both physically and mentally.

14. Dealing with separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is common in babies over 6 months of age and many babies will experience usually between 8-10 months old.

Along with making the bedroom environment safe, familiar and cosy, self settling will help with your baby’s anxiety about being left alone. Having a favourite soft toy and or a favourite musical toy will also help.

Separation anxiety is usually a passing phase and it is important that you stick to the established bedtime and evening routine during this time. You may have to pop back a few times to settle your little one but stick with it.

15. Stay calm and be consistent

When dealing with sleep issues it is important to stay calm and to be consistent. If your normally smooth and seamless bedtime and nap schedule hits a bumpy patch, don’t think you have to change everything.

Consider any of the above issues regarding age or milestones and then stick with the programme. The bed and night time routine needs to be stuck to as much as possible! Even if you have to adjust the timing a little, the sequence of events should stay the same.

16. Sleep Training

If you’ve started a bed and evening routine from day one and you’ve encouraged your baby to self settle, you probably will not need to do any sleep training. 

However, if you find that baby is a bit older and fighting sleep, you can invest in some sleep training practises. 

If you would find it helpful to have an article about training your baby to sleep, and you’d like me to write an article about Sleep Training then please leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

Knowing How long your baby should be awake is key

Babies of different ages need different amounts of sleep. Here is a handy reference for you!

Why Do Babies Fight Sleep Baby's First Year Sleep Schedule!

0-6 weeks:

  • 16-20 hours sleep per day 
  • Waking every 2-4 hours 
  • Length of time able to stay awake: 30 mins to 1 hour

6-12 weeks:

  • 14-17 hours sleep per day
  • Length of time able to stay awake: 45 mins to 2 hours
  • Naps in the day lasting between 45 minutes and 2 hours 
  • Longest stretch of sleep at night: 3 to 6 hours 

3-6 months:

  • 12-16 hours per day with a minimum of 2 - 3  naps
  • Length of time able to stay awake: 1 ½ hours to 2 ½ hours 
  • Naps in the day lasting between 1 to 3 hours 
  • Longest stretch of sleep at night: 4 to 8 hours

6-9 months:

  • 10-12 hours per day with 2 - 3 naps
  • Length of time able to stay awake: 2 to 3 hours
  • Naps in the day lasting between 1 to 3 hours 
  • Longest stretch of sleep at night: 5 to 10 hours

9-12 months: 

  • 10-11 hours per day with a maximum of 2 naps
  • Length of time able to stay awake: 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours
  • Naps in the day lasting around 1 to 2 hours
  • Longest stretch of sleep at night: 10 to 12 hours

Signs baby is ready to sleep

When dealing with sleep and babies it is important to know what sleep cues to look out for as if they are missed then getting your little one to sleep will be an uphill struggle. Common sleep cues in babies are:

  • Rubbing eyes 
  • Pulling at ears
  • Yawning
  • Looking away
  • Squirming and restlessness

To learn more about newborn sleep, read my post on Getting a Newborn to Sleep at Night!

Establish a Routine

Again, one of the BEST ways to get your baby ready for sleep is to establish a healthy bedtime & evening routine

If you change the pace towards the end of the day and slow things down then your baby will begin to recognise the cues and be more ready for sleep.

With regard to nap times try to create a nap routine where you do things in a particular order and say the same things every time you put them down. Knowing when your baby is tired and acting promptly is also important.

For more information on how to establish a healthy evening routine that REALLY works then check out my post on Hacking The Bedtime Routine!

Reassurance for the Parents

Sleep and getting enough of it is one of the biggest issues for parents of new babies in the first year.

I’m not going to pretend that it is easy, and every child is different. Some will quite naturally be great sleepers... while others will put up more resistance and there is no one solution that fixes all the answers.

However, I can assure you that if you have an arsenal of sleep remedies to hand and an understanding of how much sleep your baby needs, eventually you and your baby will get the sleep you need and deserve!

Top Tip

Start early as you mean to go on and tweak your naps and day time routines according to your baby’s development as they grow.

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As I mentioned in this post, if you're looking for products for your little one and you're not sure where to begin, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox.

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Thank you for your continued support!

Teething to Tantrums Author

Paula Mclaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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