Basics Sleep

Babies Who Fight Sleep Are Smart: Fact or Fiction?

If you are a parent, you’ve probably heard the age-old belief that babies who resist sleep are destined for greatness.

But is this just an old wives’ tale, or is there some scientific truth behind it?

Are babies who fight sleep really smart, or is this just a believable-sounding myth with no evidence to back it up?

In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of baby sleep patterns, intelligence, and the myths that surround them, and attempt to answer once and for all whether babies who fight sleep are truly on their way to becoming geniuses.

Let’s jump straight in.

The Science of Sleep In Babies

To set the stage, let’s begin with a fundamental understanding of sleep in babies.

Sleep is like rocket fuel for their growth and development, and its importance should not be downplayed because it’s during slumber that their little bodies and brains work their magic.

Newborns can clock in as much as 16 to 18 hours a day, gradually reducing to around 12 to 14 hours by the time they’re three months old.

But for babies, infants, toddlers, and older children alike, sleep plays a huge role in a child’s development.

baby lying on white comforter

What Does Fighting Sleep Look Like?

A baby who fights sleep may be fussy, restless, cry, or outright refuse to settle down to sleep.

This resistance may lead them to appear alert and active when they should be winding down for rest.

It’s worth noting that this phenomenon can occur at both naptime and bedtime, and leave parents feeling confused, frustrated, and often exhausted by their baby’s behavior.

The Myth of Sleep-Resistant Babies

Now, onto the myth that has probably made you wonder whether your baby’s nightly revolt is a sign of future brilliance.

The idea that babies who fight sleep are smarter has been passed down through generations, but while it’s a charming notion, it’s essential to consider its origins and cultural significance.

While we can’t be sure where this idea sprouted from, it likely originates from several theories, including:

  • Many highly intelligent people are night owls, choosing to burn the midnight oil to accomplish great feats.
  • Curiosity (along with stamina and energy) are naturally important traits in babies, and smart babies may not want to fall asleep in fear that they’ll miss out on exploring or learning something amazing.
  • Others say it may be down to evolution, believing that super-sensitive babies are more in tune with their environment, therefore making them more likely to survive. Especially if their parents are on call to pick them up, soothe them, and keep them protected from any external threats such as predators.
  • It may have been something parents on the receiving end of a fussy baby told themselves or were told by well-meaning friends in an attempt to make them feel better about their situation.

baby under purple blanket

Making A Case For Sleep Resistance and Intelligence

So, is there any scientific backing to support the idea that sleep resistance in babies correlates with intelligence?

While a few studies have explored this intriguing notion, these studies come with a few asterisks and footnotes, particularly around their significance.

One study, conducted by Dr. Louis Penner at the University of Michigan, suggested that children who displayed sleep resistance at an early age might have a slightly higher chance of becoming intelligent adults.

But, before we start celebrating those sleepless nights, it’s important to note that this correlation is by no means a one-size-fits-all explanation, and the number of studies that support the view that intelligence is linked to fighting sleep is tiny in the grand scheme of things.

Factors Affecting Baby Sleep

Before you start panicking or celebrating your baby’s sleep behavior, it’s crucial to consider the factors that can influence their nocturnal antics.

Baby sleep patterns can be impacted by various elements, both internal and external (think parenting styles, routines, and the sleep environment).

A baby with a predictable and nurturing sleep schedule is likely to sleep better than one with erratic sleep habits, and creating a comfortable sleep environment can also make a significant difference.

And remember, a pacifier, a favorite stuffed animal, or a gentle lullaby can be your ally in the fight against sleep resistance.

The Intelligence-Sleep Connection

Let’s circle back to the million-dollar question: does being a sleep-resistant baby equate to being a future genius?

Intelligence is a complex and multifaceted trait influenced by genetics, education, early environment, upbringing, and a child’s early experiences.

So, while some studies hint at a correlation between early sleep resistance and later intelligence, it’s a small piece of a much larger puzzle.

Being a bit fussy at bedtime certainly doesn’t guarantee you’ve got a future Nobel Prize winner on your hands.

Experts in child development suggest that sleep resistance can be attributed to a myriad of factors, including temperament, personality, and individual sleep needs.

It’s a unique cocktail of elements, and it doesn’t directly determine a child’s intellectual prowess, and as we saw above, sleep is actually vitally important in shaping a child’s development because it helps with brain maturation and memory consolidation.

So, although there may be a few studies that support the view that intelligent babies fight sleep or sleep less than other children, their level of statistical relevance is very low, and they fail to take into account the factors mentioned above.

toddler wearing white dress sitting beside white sofa

Strategies for Healthy Baby Sleep

Now that we have finally debunked the myth, it’s important to focus on what truly matters – ensuring your baby gets the sleep they need for healthy growth and development.

Whether your little one is an instant dozer or a sleep-resistance warrior, there are strategies that can help parents establish healthy sleep habits.

  1. Routine is Key: Establish a consistent bedtime routine to signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep. This can include activities like a warm bath, a bedtime story, or a gentle lullaby.
  2. Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment: Ensure the sleep space is safe, comfortable, and free from distractions. A cool, dark room with white noise can work wonders.
  3. Watch for Sleep Cues: Learn to recognize your baby’s sleepy cues. Yawning, eye-rubbing, and fussiness are signs that it’s time for them to rest.
  4. Be Patient and Loving: Remember that all babies are unique. Some will fall asleep easily, while others may need more time and comfort.


In the end, the belief that babies who fight sleep are smart is more of a charming myth than a concrete reality.

Intelligence is a multifaceted trait shaped by numerous factors, and a baby’s sleep behavior is just a tiny piece of the puzzle.

It’s a lot harder than it sounds, but instead of stressing over your baby’s sleep patterns, focus on creating a nurturing, consistent, and loving environment to help them thrive and break the pattern of resistance that your little one may be putting up.

So, the next time your little one insists on a late-night party to test your patience and resolve, remember that while you cannot comfort yourself in the knowledge it’s a sign of their intellectual prowess, you can rest assured that it’s just a phase and that it will pass soon.

Must Read: The Ultimate Guide To Baby & Toddler Sleep

Nick is a passionate dad who co-founded Rockinbaby to share his parenting journey with other new parents. He has a BSc and MBA, and works as a senior marketing professional. In his spare time Nick loves watching sports, staying fit and traveling. Learn more about Nick here.

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