Struggling when your newborn fights sleep for hours? Learn 12 tricks that actually work so you can get the rest you and your newborn need!
Never mind that I was beyond exhausted—I knew my newborn was, too.
He’d sleep easily in my arms, but would cry the second I put him down in the crib or bassinet. I tried changing his diapers, walking him around the house, snuggling with him in bed—nothing seemed to convince him that it was time to sleep.
Even as he’d start to doze off, he’d force his eyes open, determined not to fall asleep no matter how tired he was.
As a first-time mom, this was especially frustrating because I thought newborns were supposed to sleep a lot. Except my newborn didn’t seem to get the memo—he’d always fought sleep every night… and it was getting worse, not better.
What to do when your newborn fights sleep
If you’re here, perhaps you can relate. You wonder whether your newborn’s sleep patterns are normal, maybe even worrying if something is wrong with him.
Whatever solution you may have found—rocking him, for instance—only works if you do it for a long time, or frequently. So much so that your newborn constantly fights sleep in the evening, leaving you dreading putting him down for fear he’ll wake up crying a few minutes later hungry.
It’s heartbreaking to hear your newborn’s cries and screams, but you’re not sure what to do to help him sleep more consistently. Instead, he just keeps fighting the sleep you know he so needs.
But first, why is your baby fighting sleep and not sleep at night?
Your newborn fights sleep because he’s missed his window of sleep and feels overtired. It’s that feeling of being too exhausted to actually have a restful sleep. Other times, he’ll fight sleep because he’s not tired enough. He’s alert and ready to be awake to fall asleep.
The newborn stage is all about trial and error. What one mom swears by can flop in your case, and vice versa. And what worked one day for your newborn might be useless the next. It really can be that fickle.
Still, we remain resourceful, cycling through our list of go-to strategies to find one that works for that moment. I even suggest combining several of these strategies for the ultimate sleep solution.
So, how can you get your baby to stop fighting sleep? For any exhausted mom, take a look at these ideas to get your overtired newborn to finally sleep (or watch the video below):
1. Have an earlier bedtime
I assumed that my little one would fall asleep better when he was awake for a long time. After all, you’d think that exhaustion would drive anyone to conk out the minute they could.
But it turns out, sleep begets sleep. That is, a good nap means your newborn will likely take another good nap.
Free printable: If you struggle when your newborn fights sleep, try putting him down earlier than usual. Relying on newborn sleep cues might mean he’s already overtired by the time he’s fussy and rubbing his eyes.
Check out my PDF below, where I share optimal awake times for your baby to be awake depending on his age. Download the PDF instantly—at no cost to you. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:
“I’m too tired to properly put in words how grateful I am for this. It’s everything I wanted to hear and everything I’m going through with my 2 year old and my baby. Thank you Nina.” -Marianka Berlin
2. Feed your newborn
I would shoot dagger eyes at anyone who suggested I feed my little one whenever he’d fuss. As the only one who could breastfeed, I felt resentful at this time-consuming task that left me glued to my seat for who knows how long.
But in hindsight, and later with my twins, I learned that babies cry mostly because of hunger. And if you’ve ever tried to fall asleep hungry, you know it’s not always a pleasant experience. Your newborn may be tired, but if he’s also hungry, he’ll remember his hunger even as he drifts off.
A feeding routine and newborn schedule are fantastic, but newborns especially don’t always follow our routines. So aim to feed him in a regular flow or rhythm to your day, but don’t feel like you’re setting him up for bad habits because you have to feed him in between.
And if he continues to fight sleep after feeding, make sure he’s actually awake the whole time he’s supposed to be eating. Tickle, switch positions, and listen for a “swallowing” sound to know that he’s eating and not simply sucking to sleep.
3. Swaddle your newborn
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Every parent swears by the swaddle, and for good reason. In this stage, your newborn is still adjusting to his new environment, which is quite different from the snugness of your womb. Swaddling emulates that feeling, so that he’s better rested in the familiarity of being snug.
If your newborn fights against having his arms contained, experiment with leaving one or both arms out of the swaddle. An added benefit of keeping his arms out is the opportunity for him to suck his hands to self-soothe.
I especially love the ready-made velcro swaddles like the Miracle Blanket to make middle-of-the-night swaddling more efficient:
4. Tug at your newborn’s pacifier
Parents have a love/hate relationship with pacifiers. As effective as they can be, pacifiers also easily slip out of the mouth… with no way for a newborn to re-insert it.
One trick you can try—especially if your newborn wakes up soon after having just fallen asleep—is to “tug” at his pacifier. Right when he’s starting to stir, give his pacifier a gentle tug, which will trigger him to start sucking again, keeping the pacifier more firmly secured in his mouth.
5. Bounce your newborn on a yoga ball
I give this advice with a caveat: as much as I thought a yoga ball was a genius idea, after several weeks, I wanted nothing more to do with it.
You see, a yoga ball is a fantastic way to save your arms the trouble of rocking your newborn to sleep. Trouble is, it’s tempting to use the ball to bounce harder and harder if your newborn continues to fight sleep.
So my new advice is this: use the yoga ball to gently bounce your newborn in your arms. That goes for any kind of rocking in general—doing it too hard will only exhaust you and make rocking ineffective in the long run.
If rocking isn’t working in the moment, a better option is to simply move to a new technique, rather than bouncing even harder. Trust me—I had two aching knees to prove it!
6. Wear your newborn in a wrap
When my arms couldn’t take any more holding, an infant wrap became the next best thing. For a newborn, this is like heaven, since they’re snug like they used to be and close to you as well. And for mom, baby wearing is a welcome chance to “hold” your little one while keeping your arms free.
There are a ton of options for wraps, but the one I used was the Moby Wrap. It does take some practice, but I liked that I was able to carry my little one from the newborn stage all through infancy.
7. Show compassion
I don’t know about you, but I was not my best when my newborn was fighting sleep. I was often impatient, flustered, anxious, and irritated. All this, while I was supposed to be soothing him to fall asleep. Not exactly effective, I can see that now.
Instead, I found that showing compassion—soothing sounds, talking softly, gentle caresses—helped calm him down more so than any vigorous rocking or swaddling could.
After all, imagine trying to fall asleep with someone hovering above you wearing an angry face. Babies feel our energy, and will only fight sleep more if we’re not being compassionate.
8. Turn off the lights
You may have heard to keep the lights on and the drapes pulled back during naps—that doing so helps them take shorter naps and longer nighttime sleep.
The problem is, bright lights don’t lend themselves well to any sleep, especially when your newborn fights sleep. We’re more likely to resist daytime sleep as it is—keeping the room bright only adds to the challenge.
Instead, turn off all the lights, and even install darkening curtains (we got curtains like these) to block out even more sunlight from your windows. The dark room sends the signal that it’s time to relax and rest, inviting sleep to come.
9. Use white noise
It’s always that small sound—the closing of a cupboard, the creaking of the floor—that startles a newborn awake. And if he’s already fighting sleep to begin with, sometimes silence isn’t what he needs.
Instead, use white noise, or any constant, muffled sound to block out anything to startle him awake. Several white noise machines work well, as do a regular fan or heater, or even an audio or app on your phone.
10. Use a swing
My newborn would take naps in a swing, a perfect alternative for when your arms just can’t quite cut it anymore. The swing was a godsend when I later had twins and literally couldn’t hold two babies at the same time.
Of course, use common sense and follow best practices when using a swing.
For instance, don’t leave your baby unattended or too long in the swing (or other baby gear like car seats and strollers). Avoid padding the swing with blankets, make sure he’s buckled correctly, and follow the swing’s safety use and advice.
11. Give your newborn a warm bath
Giving your newborn a warm bath—especially if he’s keen on taking them in the first place—can be a great way to relax him into sleep. It can be hard to break from routine, especially when you’ve already invested a long time rocking him to sleep, but a bath may be just what you need.
An added benefit of giving a bath is that your newborn might be so accustomed to falling asleep after a bath that he automatically drifts off soon after.
Make the bath extra relaxing by turning off any lights you don’t need, and being gentle and warm with him throughout the experience.
12. Establish a newborn schedule and routine
Babies thrive on routine, even from day one. This doesn’t mean you’re strict with sticking by the clock. Instead, it’s about doing the same things in the same order, like a flow to your day.
For example, after waking up, you change his diaper before feeding him. Then you play, likely with the same toys and activities, then head straight for another nap. The time of when these events happen doesn’t matter—it’s more the order they do.
That way, he starts to expect certain things as a given, rather than a surprise. Sleep always happens after he plays, making him less likely to fight it.
Nothing is worse than feeling trapped when your newborn fights sleep, as if you’re dealing with a miserable newborn all day.
While nothing is guaranteed when it comes to babies, at least you now have options to try. From bouncing on a yoga ball to baby wearing to showing compassion to your newborn just when it’s hard to, these 12 tips can help you get through this difficult stage.
And rest assured that the newborn stage is indeed temporary—and that you, or your newborn, won’t always be this exhausted.
Get more tips:
- 13 Ways to Cope with Newborn Sleep Deprivation
- 7 Secrets to Get an Overtired Baby to Finally Sleep
- Clever Solutions to the Newborn Witching Hour
- How to Get Your Baby to Nap in the Crib
- Newborn Life: Expectation vs Reality
Check out my PDF below, where I share optimal awake times for your baby to be awake depending on his age. Join my newsletter and download the PDF instantly—at no cost to you: