When your baby refuses to rest, it feels like you’re trying to solve an impossible puzzle. They’re not hungry, their diaper is clean, and they have everything they need to conk out, but instead, you’re both exhausted as you attempt to understand what’s causing your little Rubix cube to rebel against bedtime. Not even a teenager yet and already rebelling!

Many new parents drive themselves crazy wondering, “Why do babies fight sleep when they’re so clearly tired?” It’s not you—this is a very common issue with newborns and older babies as well.  Newborns are adjusting to life outside the womb without a rooted circadian rhythm, which means you’ll go through some highs and lows together in the beginning, including eventual sleep regressions long after they’ve established that rhythm. The ebbs and flows of parenthood are hard but the first 3 months are particularly rough! 

But where there’s a definitive explanation for your baby’s resistance to sleep, there’s also a solution. Let’s discuss why babies fight sleep and what you can do about it.

Reasons Why Babies Fight Sleep

While your infant might be fighting sleep for dozens of reasons, the likely culprits include these five obstacles that most often disturb babies’ sleep.

1. General Discomfort

This ranges from tummy troubles like gas, indigestion, or reflux, to age-related conditions like teething. Physical discomfort makes it hard for babies to settle and sleep easily. They could also be too hot or cold depending on the temperature of their bedroom and the clothing they’re in, or they may simply want a pacifier to suck on.

2. Developmental Milestones

Certain developmental milestones signal your baby’s growth. They’ll vary with age, but these markers give you a good idea as to where your little one is in terms of physical and mental development. Any number of these milestones can cause discomfort that sometimes keeps babies up at night, so knowing what to expect in your baby’s age range will help you support them.

3. Overtiredness

Ironically, if your baby isn’t sleeping enough during the day or they’re going to bed too late for their age, they can become overtired—and less likely to fall asleep later in the evening. Parents tend to think that a super tired baby will immediately drift off to dreamland, but in reality, this increases sleep pressure which results in overtiredness and triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that keep your baby’s body from being able to fall asleep. Many times when this happens, doing a “reset” by feeding again will do the trick to get your baby’s body to finally relax enough to fall asleep. You may then have to hold your baby until he is in a deep sleep before you lay him down. Usually this means holding for at least 20 minutes. 

4. Overstimulation

An overstimulated baby rarely sleeps well! Overstimulation happens when there’s just too much going on around your newborn—loud noises, bright lights, screens, or lots of talking and interaction with caregivers or other children. Bustling activities prior to bedtime can completely upend their subtle sleep cues. Similar to how we fall asleep better after intentionally winding down for the night, babies benefit from relaxing environments, too. If you have an older baby, start winding your house down about one hour before bedtime. 

5. Adjusting to a Routine

It’s also vital to remember that your baby is learning how to follow a routine for the very first time. Infants are adaptable and they want you to create predictability for them, but it’ll still take them a while to figure out when to sleep and when to wake. Every baby is different, so some may be more receptive to a routine than others; if yours is finding it difficult to adapt to the outside world, be patient and don’t give up. While it may be a bumpy ride, parents that stay the course have babies that are better sleepers earlier on than parents that give up too soon! 

What You Can Do as a Parent

Thankfully, there’s lots you can do to be proactive and make things easier for your little one, (and for you!) Once you’ve identified the reason behind your baby’s topsy-turvy relationship with sleep, you’ll no longer worry about them fighting sleep. Instead, you’ll understand what’s happening in their body so you can respond with confidence, rather than just continuing to throw spaghetti at the wall and hope something sticks. 

Tend to Their Discomfort

The tummy trouble and growth-related conditions? They don’t have to squirm through it! You can relieve your baby’s gas or indigestion through gentle movement, massage, or burping; even a warm bath or essential oils could be the key to calming their delicate stomach. It’s tough to see your infant visibly uncomfortable but manual limb stretching, soft heating pads, and lots of cuddles with mom or dad do wonders. 

Try Swaddling

Another useful tool is swaddling. This technique encourages babies to sleep soundly thanks to the protective and secure sensation a swaddle provides. If you’re not already swaddling your baby, it’s worth trying to see how they respond, and if you are, swaddling could be to blame. Remember to give your baby lots of floor time out of the swaddle so they can work the gas out. There will come a time when your baby no longer needs to be swaddled as it becomes detrimental to their sleep beyond a certain point, but it’s a great option for fussy newborns.

Follow Sleep/Awake Windows

I have one major piece of advice for all of the parents asking themselves, “Why do babies fight sleep?” Infants actually carve out unique sleep and awake “windows,” where they begin to exhibit a clear pattern between resting and waking. Your baby’s sleep window is a big clue to when they’re most tired, which is obviously much more conducive to smooth sleep. You can even actively track your baby’s sleep and awake windows to gauge a rough outline of a schedule. (And don’t forget the importance of regular napping throughout the day!) Giving your baby opportunities for regular sleep throughout the day will make both of you feel better! 

Stay Consistent

Foundational routines with a newborn lead to healthy sleep habits in the future. Staying consistent with your baby’s sleep routine is so essential. Though you won’t have much consistency from your baby in the first few months, you can offer them that bit of equilibrium to streamline the sleep process as much as possible. It’s never too early to prioritize rest! So don’t give up on taking a proactive, consistent role in your baby’s sleep routine.

Hire a Sleep Consultant

Finally, if you’re really struggling to find your groove as a family with a newborn in tow, a pediatric sleep expert might be the answer to your prayers. As a mom of three with years of experience helping families sleep better, I’m here to demystify baby sleep and overcome all of the hurdles associated with early parenthood. Hiring a seasoned sleep consultant will help you to shorten the learning curve and reduce the stress! 

Pediatric Sleep Consulting: Your #1 Solution!

Why do babies fight sleep? A whole host of reasons. But it’s not an unsolvable puzzle—even if it feels like that right now! With a pediatric sleep consultant on your side, everyone in your house can rest easy. Your Sleeping Baby supports your family’s sleep goals so that your little one can grow into a restful routine that works. 

Sweet dreams aren’t as far away as you think. Book a consultation today and see what Your Sleeping Baby can do for your family. 

10 Simple Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep Better Tonight

These tips are simple, easy to implement, and created to help your baby slowly step into a healthy, secure relationship with sleep!

Congrats! Check your email for your free guide!