12 Things to Do When Your Newborn Fights Sleep

Struggling when your newborn fights sleep for hours? Learn 12 tricks that can help you can get the rest you and your baby need!

Newborn Fights SleepNever mind that I was beyond exhausted—I knew my newborn was, too.

He’d sleep easily in my arms but not in a 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 mine 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 rhythms 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. He constantly fights sleep in the evening, leaving you dreading putting him down for fear he might wake up crying a few minutes later hungry.

It’s heartbreaking to hear his 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, despite eye rubbing or yawning.

But first, why is he fighting sleep and not sleeping at night?

One reason is that he’s missed his sleep window and feels overtired. It’s that feeling of being too exhausted to have a restful sleep. Other times, it’s because he’s not tired enough. He’s alert and ready to be awake to fall asleep.

Keep in mind too that 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 stop your baby fighting sleep? For any exhausted mom, take a look at these ideas to get your overtired newborn to finally sleep:

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. When your baby 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.

Instead, cap his awake time sooner than later so that you can catch him when he’s sleepy for a nap but not overtired. For bedtime, put him down earlier than usual so he can fall asleep easily.

Newborn Sleep Cues

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One Mistake You're Making with Your Baby's Awake Time

2. Establish a newborn routine

Babies thrive on a bedtime 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 can play, likely with the same toys and activities, then head straight for another nap. The time when these events happen doesn’t matter—what’s more important is the order you do them.

That way, he starts to expect certain things as a given, rather than a surprise. For instance, sleep always happens after he plays, making him less likely to fight it.

3. Feed your baby

I would dart dagger eyes at anyone who suggested I feed my little one whenever he’d fuss. As the only one who could breastfeed, I resented 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 his hunger can make drifting off to sleep impossible.

As useful as sleep routines can be, newborns especially don’t always follow the ones we set. Don’t feel like you’re veering away from good sleep habits because you have to feed him between scheduled feedings.

And if he continues to fight sleep after feeding, make sure he’s 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.

4. Swaddle your baby

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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 sleep environment, which is quite different from the snugness of your womb. Swaddling emulates that familiar snug feeling, helping him feel better rested.

If he 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 also recommend ready-made swaddles to make middle-of-the-night swaddling more efficient:

Take a look at these newborn tips and tricks.

Newborn Tips and Tricks

5. 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 baby 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. This might trigger him to start sucking again for another sleep cycle, keeping the pacifier more firmly secured in his mouth.

6. 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 from the trouble of rocking your newborn to sleep. The problem is, it’s tempting to use the ball to bounce harder if he continues to fight sleep.

So, my new advice is this: use the yoga ball to gently bounce him in your arms. That goes for any kind of rocking in general—doing it too hard can only exhaust you and make rocking ineffective in the long run.

If the rocking isn’t working at 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!

7. 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.

8. 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 the emotions to feel, I can see that now.

Instead, I found that showing compassion—soothing sounds, talking softly, gentle caresses—calmed him down more than any vigorous rocking or swaddling could.

After all, imagine trying to fall asleep with someone hovering above you with an angry, frustrated face. Babies feel our energy and might fight sleep more if we’re not compassionate.

9. Turn off the lights

You may have heard to keep the lights on and the drapes pulled back during nap times to avoid night confusion. That doing so helps babies 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 it. He already resists daytime sleep as it is—keeping the room bright only adds to the challenge.

Instead, turn off all the lights and even use blackout curtains to block out stimulation. The dark room sends the signal that it’s time to relax and rest, inviting sleep to come.

10. Use white noise

It’s always that small sound—the closing of a cupboard, the creaking of the floor—that disrupts your baby’s sleep and startles him 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. A white noise machine works well, as does a regular fan or heater, or even an audio or app on your phone.

11. Use a swing

My newborn would take naps in a swing, a perfect alternative for when your arms just can’t 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 newborn 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.

12. 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 he 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.

Learn how to establish a baby nighttime routine.

Baby Nighttime Routine


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, these 12 tips can help you get through this difficult stage.

And rest assured that the newborn stage is indeed temporary—and that you, and your whole family, won’t always be this exhausted.

Newborn Stage

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  1. My baby is only two months old. He fights naps all day and ends up very cranky.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Kayla! At two months old, you’re in the thick of sleep deprivation, so I can totally understand why that would be your biggest struggle. Thankfully it’s temporary and you’ll hopefully move past this stage soon enough. Hang in there, mama <3