Why Do Babies Fight Sleep: 7 Most Common Culprits and How to Solve it

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Blog, Sleep Challenges | 0 comments

BONUS MATERIAL: Download my FREE sleep chart HERE that has ALL my suggested wake windows, sleep totals, and nap totals for babies ages 0 until age 5! You’ll know if your little one is getting enough sleep, as well as what their sleep needs will be next month and next year!

If you have a baby who constantly fights sleep, you are not alone!  Getting a baby to fall asleep without tons of effort can be easier said than done.  

If this is your struggle, you’re in the right place.  In this article, I’m discussing the 7 most common reasons why babies fight sleep- and what you can do about it.

This is very fixable- I promise!

Culprit #1- Overtiredness

Overtiredness is probably THE MOST common reason why babies and children of all ages fight sleep.  This is primarily because overtiredness causes our nervous systems to produce higher levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.

And when babies have higher levels of stress hormones in their bodies, they will likely have a second wind of energy, making it MUCH harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Moreover, overtiredness can exacerbate sensory sensitivity in babies, leading to overstimulation. As babies become increasingly tired, their sensory thresholds may lower, making them more sensitive to light, sound, and other environmental stimuli. This can often cause babies to fight sleep.   

And lastly, overtired babies are usually fussier and more irritable than usual.  It goes without saying that it’s MUCH harder for fussy babies to fall asleep than it is when they’re happy and relaxed.

So when your baby is overtired from:

he will probably fight sleep!

Culprit #2- Undertiredness

Undertiredness is a lesser-known culprit of why babies fight sleep- but it’s equally problematic!

When a baby hasn’t been up for long enough, it means he hasn’t built up enough homeostatic sleep pressure needed to fall asleep nicely.  

Babies need certain levels of physical activity, mental stimulation, and overall awake time to feel tired enough to fall asleep.  And when you try getting your baby to sleep before he’s ready, it won’t work. He’s likely to be restless, fussy, and resistant when it comes to settling down for sleep.

On top of this, when your baby finally IS tired enough to fall asleep nicely, he might continue to fight sleep regardless.  This is because he’s too wound up and restless from the previous attempt to get him to sleep too soon!

Culprit #3- Too Much Light

When your little one isn’t sleeping in a dark room and has too much light in their sleep space, it can disrupt her natural sleep-wake cycles and cause her to fight sleep.  

Light plays a crucial role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythm, which controls the sleep-wake cycle.  Exposure to too much light, especially during the evening or nighttime hours, can suppress your baby’s natural production of melatonin. This makes it MUCH harder for him to fall asleep and stay asleep.  

Moreover, bright light can overstimulate babies, making it difficult for them to relax and settle down for sleep. Babies are particularly sensitive to environmental stimuli, and excessive light can keep their brains and bodies feeling especially alert. This often leads to increased restlessness, causing babies to fight sleep. 

Additionally, exposure to bright light can disrupt the development of a baby’s internal body clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. Your baby could start fighting sleep because his body is confused as to when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime.

Culprit #4- Too Much Noise

Loud noises can make it much harder for a baby to fall due to its impact on their auditory systems.

See, babies have a heightened sensitivity to sound.  And loud or continuous noises can easily overstimulate them. This means they’ll likely have a harder time relaxing and settling to sleep. 

Culprit #5- Overstimulation

When a baby becomes overstimulated, it often means he’ll fight sleep because his body is in a heightened state of arousal.  

See, babies have developing nervous systems that are highly sensitive to sensory input such as:

  • noise levels;
  • bright lights;
  • busy or chaotic surroundings;
  • prolonged periods of activity or play; and
  • interactions with multiple people or unfamiliar environments.  

When they are exposed to an excessive amount of stimulation, it can overwhelm their senses. 

This sensory overload can make your baby especially agitated and excited. As a result, it’ll likely be more challenging for him to relax and fall asleep nicely.

Furthermore, an overstimulated baby may have higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol in their system.  This often interferes with the natural production of melatonin and hinders their ability to fall asleep easily. 

Culprit #6- Reliance on Sleep Associations

When babies rely on sleep associations to fall asleep, such as feeding, rocking, or patting to sleep, it means they don’t know how to fall asleep and connect their sleep cycles without this help.  Now, in theory, this isn’t a problem…as long as your current routine works for you and your baby.

Except it’s usually only a matter of time before your baby “outgrows” their current sleep crutch because it’s no longer doing the trick.  For example, your baby may have needed to be rocked to sleep for 5 minutes.  And suddenly, it starts taking you over an hour to get him sleeping.

All sleep crutches have a shelf life, requiring you to provide your baby with MORE assistance to fall asleep. Otherwise, your baby will likely struggle to fall asleep.

Culprit #7- Developmental Milestones

Developmental milestones can cause babies to fight sleep due to a combination of excitement, physical discomfort, and cognitive changes.

As babies experience big changes and reach new milestones, such as learning to crawl, stand, or walk, they often become more active and eager to explore their surroundings. It’s also very common for them to want to practice their new skills in their cribs, when they should otherwise be sleeping. This increased physical activity and curiosity can make it difficult for babies to wind down and relax at bedtime.

Moreover, cognitive advancements, such as language development or increased awareness of their surroundings, can contribute to sleep disturbances in babies. As babies become more cognitively aware and curious about the world around them, they often struggle with “switching off their brains” and falling asleep. 

How to Get Babies to Stop Fighting Sleep

If your baby is constantly giving you a hard time when it’s bedtime, the good news is this is fixable!

Here are my top tips for helping your baby fall asleep peacefully at bedtime and naptime:

1) Follow Age-Appropriate Wake Windows

Putting your baby to sleep at the right time is one of the most important steps to preventing your baby from fighting sleep.  Adhering to your baby’s wake windows means that you’re putting him down JUST as he begins to get tired.

If you put him down too late, he’ll become overtired.  And if you put him down too soon, he won’t be tired enough to sleep well.  

**If you need guidance in figuring out your baby’s or toddler’s wake times, grab a copy of my free sleep chart that has all my suggested wake windows, nap totals, and sleep totals for babies ages 0-5!**

Free sleep chart

Remember that the wake windows suggested in this chart are general tips.  Use those ranges as a starting point to figure out the wake windows that YOUR particular baby or child needs! 

2) Create an Optimal Sleep Environment for your Little One

Humans sleep best under specific conditions and babies are no different.  Here are my recommendations for ensuring your little one’s sleep environment is as conducive to good quality sleep as possible:

  • Darken the room.  It’s much easier for a baby to fall asleep in a dark room because darkness encourages their bodies to produce melatonin.  This is why blackout curtains and shades are your best friend here.  On a scale of 1-10, if ’10’ is pitch black and ‘1’ is a sunny day, you want your little one’s room to be an 8.5-9/10 during daytime hours.
  • Use a white noise machine.  These drown out background noise and create a calm, soothing sleep environment for your little one. This makes it much easier for them to fall asleep.
  • Ensure your little one is comfortable.  Keep your eye on the temperature of the room as it should ideally be in the range of 20-23 degrees Celsius.  Make sure your little one is dressed comfortably for the temperature of the room.  If they’re still in a crib, always dress them in a sleep sack

Here are links to some amazing products for your little one’s bedroom:

*I may earn a commission from links on this page at no additional cost to you, but I only recommend products I love.   

3) Introduce a Consistent Bedtime Routine

A predictable and relaxing bedtime routine can help your baby stop fighting sleep by signaling to him that it’s time to wind down.

Babies thrive on routine and predictability. Having a consistent bedtime routine helps establish associations between specific activities and the onset of sleep.  It also helps regulate the baby’s internal body clock, making it easier for them to recognize and respond to sleep cues. This ultimately promotes a smoother transition into sleep.

Additionally, a peaceful and relaxing bedtime routine gives your little one ample opportunity to wind down and prepare for sleep.  This reduces the likelihood of overstimulation or arousal that may cause babies to fight sleep.

See, a bedtime and nap routine help prevent overstimulation in babies by gradually winding down their activities and reducing sensory input leading up to bedtime. By engaging in calming activities such as bathing, reading a book, or dimming the lights, it allows your baby’s body and brain to truly relax.

This gradual decrease in stimulation helps lower the baby’s arousal levels and prevents sensory overload, making it easier for them to transition from wakefulness to sleep. 

4) Rule Out Any Medical Concerns

Make sure that your baby is healthy and isn’t under the weather or uncomfortable.  Medical issues such as ear infections, reflux, gastro viruses, or even regular low-grade fevers can cause babies to fight sleep.  

Always seek out professional medical advice if you’re unsure about a medical issue.  

5) Teach your Baby How to Sleep Independently

Implementing a sleep training technique of your choice allows your baby to learn how to fall asleep without reliance on sleep associations.  

For babies who are always fighting sleep because their sleep crutch of choice stopped “working”, this step is crucial.  Being a fully sleep-trained baby means they now can confidently rely solely on their sleep SKILLS to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s a game changer.

**If you’re ready to teach your baby to sleep on their own but you have no idea where to start, watch my FREE sleep masterclass where I will show you how to get your little one consistently sleeping 11-12 hours at night and napping like a champ (even if you feel like you’ve tried everything).**

Free sleep masterclass for sleep training

Additional Resources

When can my baby sleep through the night without a feeding?
Baby Sleepy Cues and the Truth about What They Mean
Pacifiers- The Good, the Bad, and When to Use Them
Understanding and Managing the 4 Month Sleep Regression
How to Transition your Baby Out of the Swaddle
Baby Sleep Regression Ages- What You Need to Know

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