Overtired Baby: Signs and How to Help Your Baby Sleep

Overtired Baby: What You Need To Know

Overtired. If you’re a parent, it’s no doubt a word you’ve come to fear! An overtired baby is one who is too tired to sleep, and who will fuss and cry. And then, when sleep finally does come, an overtired baby will likely wake too soon and have a hard time falling back to sleep.

Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?

That’s why it’s so important to understand what overtiredness is, to recognize the signs of it, and to be proactive about preventing your baby from becoming overtired.

What Is Overtiredness, and Why Does Your Baby Get Overtired?

When your baby is overtired, it simply means that her body is past the point of being ready to sleep. When your baby is overtired, she is so physically fatigued that her body’s stress-response system is activated. Once your baby is overtired, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline flood your baby’s bloodstream, making it even harder for your baby to relax and calm down. And this tends to be a cyclical pattern. The more overtired your baby becomes, the harder it is for your baby to relax and fall asleep, which makes overtiredness even worse, etc. etc.

Your baby gets overtired when she stays up longer than she should between naps, or before bedtime. Older children can obviously handle long periods of wakefulness, but newborns can’t handle much awake time at all, Many newborns cannot go more than 45 minutes without needing another nap. (This is one reason why it’s easy to let your newborn or young infant become overtired!)

Signs of An Overtired Baby

Generally, babies who are overtired show some of the following signs.

  • Your baby will rub her eyes or face.
  • Baby will move his face away from stimulation.
  • Baby will yawn, hiccup, or sneeze often.
  • She will fuss and whimper. Eventually, the fussing may spiral into full-blown inconsolable crying.
  • Baby will become clingy with mom or dad, or with a caregiver, making it impossible to put her down for sleep.
  • Baby will grow increasingly physically active and “wound up” as the awake period wears on.

Your baby’s overtired signals will be as unique as he is, so it’s best just to watch your baby closely and “learn” his overtiredness signs.

How To Get Your Overtired Baby To Sleep

The main thing to remember is that, when your baby or toddler is overtired, you want to calm her down first. Once your child is calm, you can begin to work on drowsiness, which will (hopefully!) lead to sleep.

Use these strategies to calm your baby or toddler and help induce drowsiness:

  • Swaddle your baby.
  • Hold your baby.
  • Feed your baby until she is calm and drowsy.
  • Rock your baby.
  • Play white noise while you soothe your baby.
  • Make your baby’s room dark.
  • Sing a lullaby while rocking your baby.
  • For older babies and toddlers: read a few bedtime story books in your child’s dim room.
  • For toddlers and preschoolers: offer a quiet time during which your child can read books and play with toys in his sleeping area.

How To Prevent Your Baby From Becoming Overtired

Even better than dealing with overtiredness when it crops up is preventing your baby from becoming overtired in the first place. Simply put, you prevent overtiredness by laying your baby down for sleep slightly before her window of awake time closes. Use the following as guidelines:

  • A newborn can handle no more than 45 minutes to an hour of awake time.
  • A 6 month old can handle about 2 hours of awake time.
  • A toddler can handle 4-5 hours of awake time.

Basically, you ward off overtiredness when you watch your baby’s sleep and feeding schedule carefully. Make sure that naps and feedings are happening at the right times so as to ensure your baby or toddler doesn’t stay awake too long. Use these scheduling resources to help:

Baby Nap Chart (includes awake time recommendations by age)
Baby Bedtime Chart (includes recommended bedtimes by age)
Sample Schedules By Age
Mastering Naps and Schedules e-book (VIP Members have unlimited access to this e-book and many others)
How To Put Your Baby or Toddler On A Schedule audio course (VIP Members-only access)

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24 thoughts on “Overtired Baby: Signs and How to Help Your Baby Sleep”

  1. I purchased the master nap plan book and am using the nap hour. We are on day one and he only slept 25-30 minutes for each of his two naps (he’s 15 months and sleeps about 11 hours a night). Now he is very overtired – is the lack of sleep going to sabotage the rest of our sleep training or does it all work out once he gets used to sleeping by himself?

    • Hi @Nicole, thanks for making a purchase with us and for writing to us. It will take some transitional time for him to get the hang of it for sure. If you find his nighttime suffers because of it, you may need to make some adjustments to accommodate for the short naps. Hopefully things will improve for you soon but let us know how things progress as the days go on and if you need more help!

  2. My 6w old will yawn and show signs of tiredness, I will be proactive and swaddle him, turn on white noise and make the room as dark as I can but he will not close his eyes and go to sleep! It’s so frustrating because he quickly becomes overtired and I feel I’ve done all I can do to get him to sleep. He continues to look around the room and stimulate himself until he’s overtired!

    • Hi Nicole,
      Thank you for your comment on The Baby Sleep Site! I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling with your newborn’s sleep! Many young babies up to about 4 months-old will not really be able to fall asleep by themselves when put in the crib, but will need some help from a parent. This is very normal. Some families will rock or nurse, some will baby wear. We have an article with more information about sleep at this age that I hope will help here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/newborns/2-month-old-baby-sleep-tips/
      Please let us know if you have other questions!

  3. So I have a two month old that seems perpetually tired she yawns and rubs her eyes whenever she’s awake it seems. I try to be responsive but she’s hard to put to sleep even when her 17 month old brother is sleeping. Sometimes it seems like she’s only awake for 20 minutes before she’s tired again (including eating). I bought the newborn sleep essentials book, but I feel like I’m barely making it by in terms of her sleep and have to resort to car rides more and more to get her to sleep. Help!

    • Hi @Holly MacGill, thank you for writing to us. I am so sorry to hear you’ve been struggling with your baby’s sleep. The first few months can definitely feel like survival mode, especially with a 17 month old as well! At this point you may need to do what you need to do to keep her from being overtired and then you can work on establishing a rhythm. When you say it’s hard to put her to sleep, is it that she’s refusing it even though she’s showing signs of tiredness?
      If you find you need more help beyond the ebook you’ve already purchased, please let us know! It sounds like you’ve looked around here, so you know we have tons of resources available. Contact us directly anytime at [email protected]. Hang in there!

  4. My 9 month old transition to two naps has been terrible. He is always over tired. He used to self settle in 15 minutes, now I have to sit beside the bed for sometimes hours to make sure he stays down (He can sit up but can’t get down onto his back and won’t sleep on his tummy). And then he wakes multiple times during the night and sits up. The latest issue is a 5am wake up, won’t go back down, and then tired in an hour. My question, do I watch his sleepy queues and put him to nap super early or stay closer to the 9 month wake window / schedule? He will not take a 3rd nap no matter how tired. And when I try for an earlier bedtime, he fights it getting more and more hyper.

    • @Shelley – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village and for sharing. The transition from 3 naps to 2 naps can definitely be tough and easily lead to you having an overtired baby on your hands – we feel your pain! It sounds like your little guy has learned to sit up but not lie back down, which could be a developmental trigger that starts a common sleep regression around this time. Here’s an article that overviews it and gives tips for surviving it – https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-patterns/8-9-10-month-old-baby-sleep-regression/ If you find you need more support during this time, please consider connecting with one of our sleep consultants who can work you this step-by-step. You can read more about our lovely ladies here:https://www.babysleepsite.com/about Hang in there, Shelley!

  5. My son is 10.5months old. He needs to be rocked n bounced to sleep. It takes anywhere between 20 mins to 55 mins for him to fall asleep. He doesn’t take pacifier or bottle, even breastfeeding cannot calm him down. He is having gas/constipation issues. His naps/night sleep is cut short because he has need to pass gas or poop. After he has relieved himself, he will still be sleepy and hence gets overtired within 2 hrs of waking, if we miss that window to put him to sleep then it takes very long to put him back to sleep. Any tips on how to sleep train a gassy baby who is also overtired? It’s difficult to judge if he is not sleeping due to being overtired or due to gas bothering him. He won’t cry loud in both the situations, he makes fussing noises only. Please help

    • @Prathibha Dattatraya – Thank you for visiting the Baby Sleep Site and for your comment. I am so sorry your son has been struggling with gas and constipation – I went through this exact struggle with my son just a few months ago (we are still working through it as well) so I know how difficult this can be. If you haven’t yet, I’d make sure to bring up the gas/constipation to your son’s doctor to see if they can help find the cause of the issue. Because your situation is more unique, I think you would benefit from working one-on-one with one of our sleep consultants. They have a ton of experience with working with families who’s children are experiencing similar things – and trying to determine which problem (gas or overtired) is causing the sleeping issue! If you are interested, you can view our packages online here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/ or can email us at [email protected] if you need help selecting the package that would be the best fit.
      I hope this helps and you see some improvement soon! Hang in there!

  6. My baby goes straight from being normal, alert and awake to being fussy and fighting sleep with all her might. It’s very frutsrating. She also doesn’t like to be held, she just kind of pushes away from you. I haaaate that kind of moaning noise she makes constantly once she gets to that point. Would really like to figure this out.

  7. My 5 month baby is getting overtired within half an hour his naps are short too pls help me he is not taking milk also properly

    • Hi @ Nandhini – Thank you so much for writing, and I would be happy to give you some resources to help with your son’s sleep.
      Here is a link to our recommend schedule for both 4 month olds, and 5 month olds.
      You might find these helpful to see where you might be able to adjust your current schedule to help ensure naps and bedtime are at good times for him. Especially while his naps are all short, the 4 mo schedule may be a better fit:
      Try to make sure that he is getting enough sleep at night, as this may help him not be overtired during the day too. And feel free to offer more naps too! Regarding his milk intake, please consult with your son’s doctor, where they can give you the best local resources and information.
      Good luck and thank you again for visiting!

  8. My 2 month old cannot fall asleep on her own. I rock her, swaddle her to fall asleep but wakes up anywhere from 5 min to 40 min with so many attempts. Therefore, she hardly naps, and becomes overly tired.

  9. Hi, my 1 yo son don’t take a dummy and now uses his bottle to dummy throughout the night to fall asleep again. I know I need to break the habit of falling asleep with a bottle and self soothing, but he doesn’t take to a soft toy or blanket or anything… I have to get up about 4 times a night to just give him the bottle, even if it is empty. I have another 3 yo and if I let him cry the older one also wakes up. Should I just deal with it and do it? Feed him the bottle and then before he falls asleep put him drowsy in bed and when he wakes just try and soothe him with touch and voice? He works himself up until he vomits sometime.

    • @ Rhona – well, it does sound like your son has a deeply-ingrained bottle habit that is interfering with both his sleep and yours. My suggestion would be to, as you ay, “just deal with it and do it”. You’ve identified the problem, so the next step would be to work on eliminating that problem. If you are anxious about crying or fussing, you could certainly use a more gentle approach. A great place to start would be our free guide, 5 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night. Another great option would be an Express Sleep Plan; this would provide you with a customized sleep coaching plan for your son.

      However you choose to go about fixing this problem, best of luck to you! I hope your family is sleeping soundly very soon 🙂

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