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Why Do Babies Fight Sleep? 8 Possible Causes (And What to Do)

Quality sleep is essential for babies’ wellbeing. Sleep deprivation can trigger irritability, tantrums, and stress. It also makes waking hours miserable for kids and parents alike.

So, why do babies fight sleep? Since they don’t have words to explain, their sleep resistance can be a frustrating mystery for exhausted parents. But knowing common reasons it happens can help you interpret the signs. Here are eight reasons why your baby could be fighting sleep.

1. They’re overtired. 

This might sound counterintuitive but it’s very real: Babies who get overtired may have missed their ideal opportunity to fall asleep easily. Overtired babies can be irritable, frustrated, and resistant to sleep. Enforcing a regular daytime nap schedule can help promote nighttime sleep.

2. They’re distracted or overstimulated.

Professional sleep trainers recommend that parents strip their baby’s room of stimulating items like nursery mobiles. That’s because things like toys and mobiles excite babies’ minds, and keep playtime front of mind.

3. They’re dependent on a set of circumstances.

Maybe your baby sleeps well at home thanks to a mobile, sound machine, light projector, and high-tech rocking bassinet. But remove any of those things from the equation and you might find your baby fighting sleep without all the comforts he’s come to rely on. 

If possible, bring these items on the road when traveling with your baby. Or, an even more sustainable solution: Wean your baby from each of these tools slowly, gently, one by one, until they don’t require as many conditions for sleep.

4. They’re hungry.

It’s well known that newborns wake during the night for frequent feedings, but even older babies and infants may fight sleep because they’re hungry. Make sure they’re getting enough food during the day — both frequency and portions. 

If you suspect hunger is keeping your baby from sleep, consult your pediatrician for tips on how to beef up their intake.

5. They slept too much during the day.

Just as overtired babies fight sleep, babies who aren’t tired enough will do the same. If they nap too much, too long, or too late into the day, they might be simply too rested to fall easily into sleep at night. 

Alternatively, your baby may have outgrown the sleep schedule that had previously worked well. Kids need less sleep over time as they develop and grow. 

6. They’re anxious.

Babies fight sleep when they’re experiencing separation anxiety. It’s normal for your baby to cling on physically when you set them down, or even throw intense tantrums at bedtime or during night wakings when you’re not in sight. 

You can help soothe this anxiety by creating a peaceful bedtime routine to minimize anxiety and promote calm. Moshi can help with soothing audio stories and white noise.

7. They’re sick.

A sick baby is an uncomfortable baby. And at any age, it’s hard to sleep if you can’t get comfortable. If your baby is fighting sleep, look out for symptoms that might indicate a cold or an ear infection, for instance tugging at the ear, change in appetite, congestion, or fever.

8. FOMO

Yes, that’s the acronym for fear of missing out. And it’s not just for Instagram-addicted young adults, but for babies at bedtime, too. 

Babies fight sleep if they feel like all the good stuff is happening in the waking world without them. Help alleviate this feeling by minimizing stimulating activities at least 30 minutes before bed. And keep the noise to a minimum after bedtime, as the sound of voices or a TV might trigger the FOMO feelings. 

Moshi can also help by muffling stimulating sounds in the home, while giving kids something special just for them at bedtime.

For more tips on helping your baby fall asleep independently, check out our complete guides to sleep regression and sleep training.


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Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle writer with a focus on parenting, wellness, and travel. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Good Housekeeping, Parents, TODAY, Best Life, and countless other outlets.
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