How to Stop Your Baby Fighting Sleep

Exhausted with your baby fighting sleep during the day and at bedtime? Learn how to get your baby to stop fighting sleep once and for all.

Baby Fighting SleepIf there’s one thing all new moms struggle with, it’s sleep. From not getting enough of it to managing erratic patterns, it seems there’s never any end to these issues.

Perhaps the biggest headache? A baby fighting sleep all day.

One of my kids seemed to have it worst. He never liked to nap (and would wake up cranky each time). Putting him to sleep would take up to an hour each time. No matter how tired he looked, he still fought going to sleep.

I even used to rock him in my arms to sleep, but instead of closing his eyes, he tried to keep them wide open to look around the room. It got to the point where I’d cover his eyes with my hand to see if that would do the trick.

And that was on the good days.

Other times, he’d stir and squirm in my arms, or his fussiness relentless when I’d lay him down. Then I’d have to repeat the whole process all over again.

The longer he was awake, the fussier he got, and the harder time I had putting him to sleep. I remember panicking when I realized he had been awake a full six hours straight and hadn’t gotten much sleep. We were living in pure exhaustion.

How to stop your baby fighting sleep

Babies fight sleep for many common reasons. They’re overtired, can’t put themselves to sleep, or feel frustrated with the way they’re being put to sleep.

The good news is, there are certain techniques that can help your baby transition into sleep willingly, all without a fight. Try these tips and you just might notice a considerable difference in how he falls asleep. As these parents said:

“Thank you for this article! Its everything I needed to hear right now.” -Jessica G.

“I wanted to say that it’s very comforting to know that there is someone else that went through the same situation as me and was able to manage it. Your articles are helping me improve and feel better with myself so thank you.” -Lola

1. Give your baby a chance to self soothe

Why is your baby fighting sleep in the first place?

Many times, it’s because he struggles with putting himself to sleep. He may have gotten used to being held or nursed to sleep, so if he wakes up in the crib, the unfamiliarity can distress him.

Instead, each time you put him to sleep, do so when he’s still awake.

He might not fall asleep the first few times you try this (in fact, he might wake up shrieking and crying for you). But this will at least give him a chance to fall asleep on his own. After all, how can he learn to self soothe when he has never had a chance to?

Put him down awake as a first resort each time he needs to sleep. Then, down the line, you might find he’s better able to sleep on his own without your help.

Free resource: Want to teach him how to self soothe and sleep on his own? Discover the 5 mistakes that are keeping him from self-soothing!

Whether you’ve tried to teach him to self soothe in the past or are just now considering it, take a look at the 5 key mistakes to avoid. Grab the PDF below—at no cost to you. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:

“All that I can think to say is ‘Wow. You really do understand.’ You give out hope and inspiration in a day and age that seems dead set on casting a web of constant stress and feelings of inadequacy on moms everywhere! Truly, thank you for sacrificing your time to tend to the emotional needs of all of the parents who need advice, or even just need to hear that they are not alone in their struggles of doing the most important job anyone could ever have: parenting. God bless you Nina, for all the good that you do.” -Melissa A.

5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing

2. Reduce stimulation

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Babies are like you and me: we need the right sleep environment. Overstimulation can prevent them from falling asleep, no matter how tired they feel.

A few minutes before naptime and bedtime, start reducing the stimulation your baby might see. Turn any loud sounds off, keep blinking lights out of the room, and hang darkening curtains to keep out the sunlight and maintain a dark room.

darkening curtains

A white noise machine can also muffle distractions that can startle him awake. You can also use a fan, heater, or even an audio app to mimic this soothing sound.

This also goes for how you speak to and handle him. Talk in hushed and subdued tones, carry him slowly around the house, and be gentle as naps and bedtime roll around. The less stimulation, the less he’ll resist going to sleep.

3. Put your baby down by the clock

Has anyone ever told you that you’ll “know” when your tired baby is ready to sleep? That you’ll figure out his sleepy cues and know instinctively when to put him down for a nap?

Except, if you’re like me, you have no idea what those sleepy cues are. This can make you feel even more terrible that you can’t decipher what your baby is communicating.

In fact, I thought babies just fall asleep when they needed to. No wonder I ended up having an overtired baby instead, one who couldn’t get himself to fall asleep no matter how exhausted he was.

Here’s the thing: parenting takes practice, and as a first-time mom, it shouldn’t come as a shock that you can’t always tell when he’s sleepy. In fact, I eventually stopped relying on sleepy cues to decide it was time to put my baby down.

Instead, I put him down by the clock.

I kept track of how long his wake time had been and based his next nap from the time he woke up. For instance, if he woke up at 9am, I’d put him down at 11am. The younger the baby, the shorter the time he should be awake.

And wow, what a difference this made. Now, I no longer had an overtired baby fighting sleep — instead, he’d fall asleep much quicker and with less resistance.

4. Experiment with your baby’s bedtime

Does your baby fight sleep at bedtime? You might want to experiment with when he goes to sleep for the nighttime as well as the time he wakes up from the last nap.

For instance, your baby might be overtired between the time he woke up from the last nap to the time he’s supposed to sleep for the night. In that case, move bedtime up earlier so he’s less likely to be overtired.

Another problem that could happen? Your baby’s last nap is too close to bedtime, making him not tired enough.

See what happens if you push bedtime back later so that he has enough awake time between the last nap and bedtime. Another option—especially if you <em>can’t</em> push bedtime back—is to cut his last nap short and wake him up.

Either way, see what happens if you fiddle with the times he goes to sleep so that he’s comfortable and ready to go to sleep when it’s time.

Baby playing in the crib instead of sleeping? Here’s what to do.

Baby Playing in Crib Instead of Sleeping

5. Do the opposite of your current strategy

We often hear the importance of consistency and routine—I’m a big fan of doing the same things in the same order.

Except… sometimes, as with all things in life, we also need to be flexible.

Your baby, who might have always taken to the pacifier in the past, now spits it out each time you put it in his mouth. Rocking him on the yoga ball—no matter how long you bounce—isn’t getting you anywhere anymore.

Stop doing what it is that he’s fussing about. He’s complaining about something, a sign that what you’re currently doing in that moment isn’t making him happy.

Sure, he might drift off eventually after an hour of rocking. But the chance of him waking up the minute you put him down is pretty high if he started his sleep fussy and upset.

So, try doing the opposite.

Instead of rocking him on and on, see what happens if you put him down on a blanket (maybe he’s tired of being held). Instead of insisting on a pacifier, see if he could be hungry. And if he keeps stretching himself out of a swaddle, put him down unswaddled or partly swaddled.

He’s resisting the current way you’re putting him to sleep, even if just for right now. Use this as an opportunity to try new strategies and see if he takes to one of them.

5 Month Old Baby Only Sleeps When Held

6. The fussier your baby gets, the calmer you need to be

The first time I got truly upset at my baby—to the point where I felt guilty and ashamed—happened when he was only eight weeks old.

He wouldn’t nap, no matter how long I tried rocking him, and he fussed the whole time. Just when I thought he was sleepy, I laid him down only for his eyes to fly wide open the second his head touched the crib mattress.

And I lost it. I yelled at my little baby, so upset just because he wouldn’t nap.

What happens next shouldn’t surprise you: he cried even more tears, and looked upset and even afraid. I scooped him up, apologized for my unreasonable reaction, and vowed not to get upset anymore.

You see, our babies pick up our mood and energy. They know when we’re upset versus when we’re soothing and compassionate. And if you had to pick between the two, you can imagine which mood would be more helpful for them to fall asleep.

After all, can you imagine falling asleep when someone with a furrowed brow and a down-turned mouth is looking at you? Not exactly calm and soothing.

The next time you start your nap routine, remind yourself that he needs you to be patient when he’s at his fussiest. You can’t only be happy and calm when he is—he needs you to be the calm anchor through all his emotions, good or bad.

Think of yourself as helping him through a hard time. The fussier he gets, the calmer you need to be. If you’re too upset, pass him off to someone else (who’s calmer) or take a quick break while you collect yourself.

You’ll find that he’ll usually fall asleep with someone calmer, or with you once you’re calm as well.

Learn how to stay calm when your baby won’t nap.

Baby Won't Nap


One of the biggest challenges of being a new mom is handling a baby fighting sleep. You’re not used to the sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood, so it’s easy to get upset when nothing seems to comfort your baby.

The key takeaway? Stay calm and keep trying. Do the opposite of your current strategy, since he might be resisting it. Put him down for sleep time by the clock, and not only based on sleep cues.

When you do, put him down awake each time he goes to sleep to establish good sleep habits. Spend a few minutes reducing stimulation and gearing him up for a calm, restful environment. And finally, remind yourself that the fussier he gets, the calmer you need to be.

By applying these tips, you can help him stop fighting sleep once and for all.

Being a New Mom

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5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing


  1. Graham Finch says:

    Thanks for this article Nina. I think the big one is being overtired. Sometimes when my wife comes home from work later than me, my baby girl gets all excited when she sees her, and consequently becomes overtired and can’t settle down to sleep. Nothing more frustrating than a baby who fights sleep! However, we’ve generally found a later bedtime works well for her (and us) as she will “usually” wake up around 7am if she goes to bed about 8pm.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      You’re welcome, Graham! I’m glad to hear that the later bedtime works for both baby and parents 🙂

  2. Jessica Garcia says:

    Thank you for this article! Its everything I needed to hear right now. I just screamed at my baby cause she hasn’t slept in 7 hours and she just cried more and I felt so guilty. She wouldn’t stop squirming and fighting her sleep in my arms so I set her down tapped her chest shushed her to sleep and she fell asleep for the first time in her crib. Maybe I will still to that method. As soon and she fell asleep I searched on google for some tips and ran across this article I’m so happy I did. I need to practice a lot of patience cause she’s only my little baby once.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I’m glad the article helped, Jessica! Thanks for letting me know. It can definitely be difficult staying patient when our babies don’t sleep well. You’re definitely not alone <3

  3. Nina, what should do when practicing independent sleep but the baby doesn’t fall asleep and starts crying? Do I let her cry or should I try to make her sleep? If I let her cry, for how long should I allow that?

    Also I wanted to say that it’s very comforting to know that there is someone else that went through the same situation as me and was able to manage it. Your articles are helping me improve and feel better with myself so thank you. ❤️

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Lola! Have you considered sleep training and teaching them to self soothe? At some point, your baby might be old enough to learn how to fall asleep on her own, but that might mean she’ll cry because she had grown used to your current ways of putting her to sleep (feeding, rocking, etc). And thank you for your kind words—you’re definitely not alone, mama <3

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