Why Do Babies Fight Sleep?

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Angelic newborn pictures and sweet sleeping toddlers often give the impression that most children sleep peacefully for their naps and at night. 

However, as most parents find out, that’s not always the way it works.

While babies of all ages need a lot of sleep to support physical and mental growth and development, many little ones will fight heading off into dreamland, even when you know they’re tired. 

The Signs

How do you know that your baby is fighting sleep? Watch for these signals. 

Arching Back

You might try to lay your infant gently in the crib, only for them to arch their back and let out a shriek. The arched back is a clear signal that they don’t want to lay down and relax to go to sleep. 

Pulling Away

Bedtime snuggles can be a special bonding time for parents and children, but if your baby isn’t interested in a snooze, they are like to pull away from you, as opposed to relaxing with cuddles. 


Did you know that sometimes babies cry when they don’t can’t sleep? Yup, I thought you might. These cries are often different than their usual hunger squawks and tend to get more desperate as time goes on, wearing everyone’s nerves a little thin. 


While some younger babies will keep moving around to stay awake, this one is geared more toward older ones, entering those toddler years. Have you ever seen a 1-year-old run around in circles? They’re probably just trying to stay awake. 

The Why

Did you recognize some of those signals? If so, I’m sorry that your baby is fighting sleep. This can be incredibly frustrating (and exhausting) for parents. 

However, knowing the why behind your baby’s sleep strike might help bring understanding. I’ve compiled a list of the most common reasons babies fight sleep. 


This reason is truly the most common one, even though it might seem counterintuitive. Babies need a lot of sleep, but if you miss their sleep window, they might find it harder to drift off later. 

The best time to lay your baby down for a nap is when they first show signs of drowsiness but aren’t yet crying. Once the tears and whines come on, it’s a good bet you’re a little late to the game. 

Tips to Help

As you get close to rest time, observe your baby carefully, and put them to bed when they first start showing sleepy signs. These signs include yawning, slow blinks, and, believe it or not, shaking their heads. 

You can also consider shortening bedtime routines or even moving up your child’s bedtime to hit the sweet spot of drowsy relaxation.

baby on bed

Not Tired Enough

So this is significantly less common, but it’s also a real reason that your baby might not be interested in their morning nap. As babies grow and age into toddlerhood, they still need a lot of sleep, but not as much. 

If you suspect that your child just isn’t tired enough to go to bed, consider how much wake time they have each day and compare it with this chart from Stanford Children’s Health. It lists how many night hours and day hours for ages newborn to two years. 

Tips to Help

If you realize the numbers aren’t matching up, consider changing your routines. Your little one may be ready to drop one of their daytime naps or take a shorter one. You can also make small changes to their sleep and feeding schedule to find a solution that works well for your family. 


Overstimulation means that your baby’s brain is overtired. On busy days or situations where there has been a lot going on (visitors, traveling, doctor’s offices, etc.), your baby takes in a lot of new information. 

Processing everything is a lot of work and can send sweet sleepers into overdrive and making them fight night-night time. 

Tips to Help

Try to give your baby time to decompress between stimulating activities and rest time. It’s a good idea to turn off any electronics such as the TV or iPad two hours before bedtime in order to help little brains shift into sleep mode. 

Another idea is to create a calming sleep space. Blackout curtains, a white noise machine, and not a lot of decoration or extras in your baby’s room will help create a restful environment. 


It’s true, babies, especially newborns, don’t sleep well when they’re hungry. And they’re like to make sure you know an empty stomach is the issue!

Luckily, you can watch for your child’s hunger cues to determine if this might be the problem. Infants who are sucking on their hand, rooting, or just opening and closing their mouth probably would like a little snack before resting. 

Tips to Help

If this is a common problem, try to change up the feeding schedule. Some babies sleep better right after being fed, while others want to eat as soon as they wake up. Don’t be afraid to try out different schedules in an attempt to find the right one!


Have you noticed that in addition to a distinct lack of sleep, your baby is drooling more often? Is he chewing on everything he gets his hands on? 

At around six months (and earlier in some cases!), babies begin teething. This can be very uncomfortable and result in low fevers, sore ears, and fussy babies who just can’t relax enough to sleep.

Tips to Help

It can be helpful to let your baby chew on something cooling during your bedtime routine, to relieve some of the inflammation before bedtime. 

If that doesn’t help, try gently massaging your baby’s gums with your finger. It relieves the pressure and might be enough to help them drift off to dream. 

Separation Anxiety

Somewhere in the 8-10 month range, little ones might begin experiencing some separation anxiety. This phase does eventually pass, but it can last for a while, often peaking around 18 months. 

What does that have to do with sleep? Well, if your child sleeps in her own room, then she may begin fighting sleep because she doesn’t want to be away from you.

Tips to Help

Of course, you want to comfort your child and reassure her of your presence. It’s good to offer this comfort with some boundaries, so as not to create new sleep problems. Try checking on your child after a set period of time, as little as one minute to start, and then gradually increase the time between check-ins. 

This will help your baby know you’re there, even when you’re not physically in the room. 


When your infant doesn’t feel well, sleep is likely to be hard for them. Their body is already working overtime (overtired!) to get well, and they often have pain, a stuffy nose, or something else that keeps them from being comfortable. 

Tips to Help

If you suspect your baby is under the weather, it’s a good idea to put in a call to the pediatrician, explaining the symptoms to see if you need to make an appointment. Depending on the issue, the doctor’s office might also have some tips that can help give some much-needed rest to both you and your little. 

Sleep Disorders

While unlikely, this could be a factor if your baby is fighting sleep. Infants and babies with sleep disorders have significantly disrupted sleep that can lead to extreme overtiredness. If you think there is something off about your baby’s sleep habits, discuss it with your pediatrician as soon as possible. 

Tips to Help

Some sleep disorder signs to watch for include: 

  • Appearing simultaneously awake and asleep regularly
  • Snoring
  • Mouth Breathing
  • Restless sleep

Social Babies

Babies who love people quickly realize that things keep happening after they go to bed. These infants might begin fighting sleep because they find stimulation more interesting than rest and don’t want to miss out. 

While this is a real reason babies (particularly older ones) fight sleep, it’s a good idea to rule out the others first. 

Tips to Help

Try to be quiet for a period of time after your baby goes down. Even little ones are listening to see what happens once you close that door. Lots of laughs and noises might make them think it’s worth staying up! Once they’re asleep, they’re less likely to wake up. 

Sweet Dreams

If you’re in the trenches of parenting sleep deprivation, it can be hard to think clearly. However, your baby will sleep again, and so will you! 

This phase doesn’t last forever, and hopefully, knowing some of the reasons that could be behind the all-night party might help you shut it down, or at least make it a little more bearable. 

Here’s hoping you and your little one are soon on the path to sweet dreams and restful nights.

Emily is a former language arts teacher, turned professional stylist and freelance writer. She and her husband are high school sweethearts, raising their three boys in the same neighborhood where they grew up. In her free time, Emily enjoys running, baking, and singing along to Broadway soundtracks.