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5 Signs Your Baby is Overtired & How to Get Them to Sleep

Learn the signs of an overtired baby and how to help calm your overtired baby so you can get her to sleep. We also have ways to break the overtired cycle so you can avoid an overtired baby in the future.

overtired upset baby

One of the most important things to me as a new mom was to avoid overtiredness with my newborn. It’s probably one of the hardest parts and most common sleep problems new parents face.

I knew early on that sleep begets sleep so I tried my best to prioritize sleep.

Overtired babies can be incredibly hard to calm down and to get to sleep. Overtired babies also have a harder time staying asleep once they are able to finally settle down. It sounds so contradictory, but overtired babies simply won’t sleep well.

And if all that isn’t enough, overtired babies often don’t eat well, because they are too tired to feed.

When your baby isn’t eating well because she is too tired, and isn’t sleeping well because she is too tired, it makes life pretty difficult for new parents of newborn babies.

Getting an overtired baby to sleep and sleep through the night can be one of the hardest parts of being a new mom. And that over tiredness comes a lot quicker than you might think!

Babies have really short wake windows, so once they are awake for too long, they can quickly move into the overtired phase. Once they are overtired, it becomes much harder for them to fall asleep on their own or even with assistance.

Keep reading to see how you can spot an overtired baby and what you can do to help your baby sleep once they have gone into the overtired phase.

Is your baby struggling with short naps? To help you better, grab my free guide to solving short naps to get practical tips of how to get your baby to take longer naps every single day. Click here to grab it, it’ll be super helpful.

infographic of signs of an overtired baby

What Are Signs of An Overtired Baby?

One of the most obvious signs of an overtired baby is a fussy baby.

Of course, babies fuss for all sorts of reasons.

But when babies are overtired, they tend to be fussier than usual and it is difficult to get them to sleep even when it is naptime or bedtime. 

There are also more subtle signs leading up to the fussiness. Don’t feel bad if you don’t notice these!

Sometimes they are very subtle and some babies display them more obviously than others. 

The subtle signs of overtiredness can include:

  • Zoning out
  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Clenching their fists
  • Starting to fuss or being clingy
  • Difficulty with sleep 

The sleep difficulty can look like a few different things. You may notice one of these or a combination: short naps, false starts at bedtime, and early morning wakings

overtired baby awake but zoning out

How To Know if Baby is Overtired?

There are a few different hints that babies give us when they are getting tired or overtired. Look for these baby sleep cues to know if your baby is past his max and needs to be put down for a nap.

1. They are past their optimal wake time: Babies are only able to stay awake for short periods of time depending on their age. If your baby has been up for 2 hours and her wake window is 1 hour, then she is likely in sleep deprivation mode and exhausted.

The best way to prevent overtiredness in the first place is to pay attention to your baby’s wake windows and put her down for sleep at the sweet spot. This way the sleep pressure is built up, but hasn’t been exceeded.

2. Zoning out: Your baby may start to avoid eye contact or stare off into the distance. This is a sign that they don’t want to play anymore and they want to sleep.

3. Baby will start to rub her eyes or face: Rubbing their eyes or face can also cause some baby’s to get red eyebrows. Some babies will also tug on their ears when they’re tired.

signs of overtired baby

4. Clenched fists. Some babies will clench their fists or keep them closed.

5. Clingy: Baby will be very clingy to mom, dad, or another caregiver, making it harder to be put down.

6. Fussy: Baby is fussier than normal. Perhaps your overtired baby won’t stop crying or is crying loudly.

7. Short Naps: Baby could be overtired if she wakes up early from her nap or shortly after being put down for bedtime. It might sound counterproductive, but often overtired babies take short naps and wake up screaming after sleeping for about 20 to 30 minutes. Overtired babies can have a hard time getting to sleep and transitioning to the next sleep cycle.

8. False start bedtime: Your baby goes to bed but then wakes up 30 to 60 minutes later.

9. Baby waking up early: If your baby is consistently having early mornings, it may be because they need more sleep.

fussy overtired baby

What Happens When Baby is Overtired? 

When a baby is experiencing a lack of sleep, sleep becomes very challenging for them. They also become fussy and can be difficult to soothe.

Your overtired newborn or baby may be distracted during feeds, which can contribute to poor sleep if they are getting hungry more often than usual. 

Why Does an Overtired Baby Fight Sleep?

Although it sounds very counterintuitive, babies fight sleep when they aren’t getting enough of it.

When your baby is awake for too long, her body will produce increasing levels of cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone,” to help her stay awake.

This increase in cortisol levels can make it difficult for your baby to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Their body initially compensates by trying to keep them awake.

This is why babies get a second wind, which is essentially a burst of wakeful hormones that make it hard to settle and fall asleep. 

They may seem completely awake when in reality, they have been awake for far too long.

You’ve probably heard the saying before, and that’s because its true:

Sleep begets sleep.

There is no such thing as a baby who always sleeps wonderfully. But in general, well-rested babies tend to sleep better than overtired babies. 

When a baby consistently doesn’t get enough sleep, it’s easy for them to fall into a cycle of short naps, difficult bedtimes, and early mornings, which continues the cycle of poor sleep.

Baby sleep schedule binder mockup image

Eliminate Short Naps with a Predictable Sleep Routine

Take away the stress of figuring out your baby’s sleep needs. With the Baby Sleep Schedule Binder, you’ll get sleeping and feeding schedules that you can implement for every age, even if you currently have no routine in place. Check out the Baby Sleep Schedule Binder here.

How Long Can An Overtired Baby Stay Awake?

Sometimes, an overtired baby will remain awake for hours after their usual nap or bedtime. Other times, they may fall asleep within 30 to 60 minutes of their usual time. 

Will An Overtired Baby Eventually Sleep?

Overtired babies do sleep.

Eventually, the wakeful hormone surge goes away and if offered sleep at the right time, an overtired baby will fall asleep. 

But, the sleep typically isn’t as long as if they weren’t overtired and you may notice that your baby wakes up more often than normal. 

baby swaddled

How Do You Settle An Overtired Baby?

There are ways to break the overtired cycle.

Get your overtired baby to sleep with these tips and then follow your baby’s sleep schedule to make sure you never have an overtired baby again.

Once your baby has reached her overtired limit, it’s time to get her to sleep—however you can.

This may be assisting baby to sleep by using something like the Shush Pat, or even doing a contact nap to help baby get some sleep.

Once your baby is past is in the overtired phase, it’s going to seem like baby hates the crib, and will be harder to get her to sleep in it.

When you have a predictable, consistent routine and follow good sleep habits, your baby can learn to fall asleep independently. Until these sleep patterns are established; however, it will be really hard for baby to do so on her own, especially if she’s overtired.

Here are some things you can do to help settle your overtired baby and get her to sleep.

These are similar to the 5 S’s, which are soothing techniques from Dr. Harvey Karp.

swaddling baby can help calm down overtired baby

Swaddle Baby

Swaddling your baby can help soothe her. Swaddling provides a similar environment as the womb and can help your baby feel safe and cozy. Overtired babies may seem to hate being swaddled initially, but can eventually settle after being swaddled.

Another reason to swaddle an overtired baby is that it can help her stay asleep.

Swaddling helps prevent your baby from startling herself awake and can help her sleep longer. See the best swaddles here.

Make sure to follow the recommendations on when to stop swaddling your baby.

Hold Baby On Her Side or Stomach

Holding your baby on her side or stomach against your chest or torso can calm her.

Make sure to not put baby in the crib like this though. always place baby on her back when sleeping in the crib or bassinet.

White Noise

Use white noise from a sound machine to help soothe an overtired baby. Babies are used to the loud noises of the womb, so silence can be deafening to them.

When using white noise, make sure it’s continuous noise and that it won’t turn off in the middle of baby’s sleep.

Basic swooshing noises are better than the sound of rain or heartbeats.

This is my favorite sound machine, because it plugs in and stays on all night. The whirring sound helps me and my baby sleep!


You can use movement to get an overtired baby to settle down.

You can also try holding your baby close to your body on her side or stomach and swinging her back and forth.

Another technique from the Baby Whisperer is the shush pat.

Put your baby in her crib or bassinet and gently roll her to her side. Hold her on her side and gently pat her bottom for several minutes while making a shhhh sound.

As your baby settles to sleep, you can try rolling her to her back so she can continue to sleep.

baby using pacifier to calm down

Use A Pacifier

Babies have a natural inclination to want to suck. Providing your baby with a pacifier can help her calm down and fall asleep. We used to hold the pacifier in my daughter’s mouth so it wouldn’t fall out until she fell into a deeper sleep.

Offer Breast or Bottle

We tried to follow an eat play sleep routine so our baby wasn’t fed to sleep often, but sometimes it’s necessary.

If your baby gets too overtired, you can try feeding your baby to sleep. Sucking on the breast or bottle can help calm baby and help her fall asleep.

How Do You Help An Overtired Baby Catch Up On Sleep?

One of the best ways to help an overtired baby catch up on sleep is to be extra mindful of your baby’s wake windows for a few days and do your best to get your baby down for a nap or bed on time. 

Your baby may also need extra soothing to fall asleep and that’s okay!

If your baby usually falls asleep independently, you can always move back to independent sleep once your baby is sleeping better and is no longer chronically overtired. 

mom holding tired baby

How to Keep an Overtired Baby Asleep

Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way to keep an overtired baby asleep. Your baby may need more soothing than usual to fall asleep and return to sleep. 

Offering naps a little earlier than normal or moving bedtime a little earlier can help when your baby is clearly tired as well. 

You can also help set them up for success by making sure their room is dark using blackout curtains and has white noise. Keeping clear separations between nighttime and daytime until their usual wake up time can help too. 

If your baby wakes for the day extra early and needs you, stay in their room with them with the lights off rather than bringing them to the main room, turning on the lights, and starting the day.

Early exposure to bright lights, over a period of days, will make it harder for your baby to sleep to their usual wakeup time as their brain may start to think the early wakeup time is the correct time to start the day. 

signs of overtired baby

How to Break the Cycle of An Overtired Baby

When babies are consistently overtired and not getting the recommended hours of sleep that they need, it can create a vicious cycle that can start to cause cognitive functioning and other health issues.

Make sure your baby is getting their daily sleep amount and that you are following the recommended wake times for their age.

As you consistently get baby to sleep within their wake windows, they will start to get out of their sleep debt and you’ll break the overtired cycle!

You can also bring up your baby’s bedtime routine by about 60 minutes on particularly rough days.

baby sleeping

Should You Let an Overtired Baby Cry It Out?

Once your baby gets to the overtired phase, it can be really hard for her to fall asleep on her own. Leaving your baby to cry it out until she falls asleep will likely cause her to get even more tired and upset.

I recommend helping your baby get to sleep when she is overtired using the methods above.

Once your baby is on a regular sleep routine and you are following her wake windows, you can work on getting your baby to sleep independently through sleep training.

One thing I found really helpful when I was trying to establish healthy sleep habits and balancing independent sleep was reading about the sleep hierarchy from The Babywise Mom.

You can focus on small goals until you reach the goal of your baby sleeping in her crib during nap time.

Remember that babies are tiny, little beings and it takes time and practice for them to learn how to sleep. Leaving a baby to cry it out to fall asleep won’t help her learn those independent sleep habits any sooner.

overtired baby breastfeeding

Should I Wake an Overtired Baby to Feed?

We usually woke our baby from her naps to keep her from going too long between feeds and to keep her from oversleeping during the day.

That being said, we tried to put her down before she became overtired.

If your baby was especially overtired, I would let her sleep a little longer to help make up for her sleep debt. You can get back on her sleep schedule once she is well rested.

cranky toddler covering his eyes and crying

Overtired Toddler

Just like babies, toddlers and older children can become overtired too!

The good news is that they can usually handle their wake times being stretched a bit longer better than babies can.

The bad news is that overtired toddlers are prone to meltdowns, crankiness, and irritability. You may also notice that your toddler becomes extra active or hyper when overtired. 

You deal with an overtired toddler the same way you deal with a baby.

Do your best to stick to usual nap and bedtimes for the next few days, and offer additional soothing if needed. This can be especially true if your toddler gets hyperactive and needs parental presence to help them stay in bed. 

Having an overtired baby or toddler is bound to happen.

Life happens and sometimes we lose track of time, have events that go to late, or forget that our babies need a nap.

Get your baby down however you can when you realize they are reaching their overtired point and you can get back on track later.

get overtired baby to sleep
Amy Motroni

How To Break Overtired Baby Cycle - 8 Best Solutions

Sunday 11th of June 2023

[…] It can sometimes be challenging to determine if a baby is overtired, but there are a few signs and behaviors that may indicate this. Some of them may include2: […]


Thursday 20th of January 2022

My baby is 4 weeks old. The night he was born he barely slept. Every time I put him down he would cry. Hr nurses great though. The first week and a half he’ll nap1-2.5 hours but at night 10 mins-maybe an hour, rarely 2 hours. During the day he naps in a snuggle me in the living room and at night in a bassinet in my room. Now the past 3 days every time we put him down regardless where he will wake up and doesn’t nurse as long. I’m not sure how much he’s eating but we get lots of wet and dirty diapers. He will only sleep held. I’m thinking he has to be overly tired by now since he will wake up each time we would out him down. The only good sleep he gets is from 10ishpm-12am(-almost 2 hours) the rest he will wake up from instantly-30 mins.

Amy Motroni

Thursday 20th of January 2022

Hi Mia,

That sounds so hard and definitely like he is overtired. Newborns need a lot of sleep!

Have you taken my Newborn Sleep Course? I think it could really help your family start establishing routines and get more sleep. You can learn more here:

Let me know if you have any questions, Amy


Thursday 14th of October 2021

My baby is 3 months old & we’ve been stuck in the over tired cycle for over a week now. Before he would only be awake for 1 hour or 1.5 hours and he would sleep for 2-3 hours. Now he stays awake for 2 hours or longer & only sleeps for 40 minutes. Sometimes I get him to sleep before he’s overtired but he still will only nap less then a hour. He also can’t nap in his bassinet he always has to be held, we had this problem before the over tired cycle started. It’s exhausting 😫

Amy Motroni

Sunday 17th of October 2021

Hi Hope, Sorry you are struggling! The short naps are really common at this age. This post may help with that: If he is close to 16 weeks or 12 pounds, you can sleep train him to help him start learning independent sleep. Let me know if you want to book a free 15-minute call:

Sweet dreams, Amy


Friday 27th of August 2021


My baby is only 6 weeks old and she used to sleep about 2-3 hours for the first few weeks, but the last few weeks she's decreased to 1.5 hours, to 1 hour, to 45 minutes, to 20-30 minutes of sleep. Same with her eating. She would eat 2 ounces, then 1 ounce, and now it's sometimes hard to get her to get down 1/2 an ounce at a time. But she's gaining weight and seems to feed enough each day.

Also, it feels like we always have a heck of a time trying to get her to initially fall asleep (I'll rock her for about 25 minutes before her eyes may or may not get heavy) so I feel like we have a hard time getting her to sleep in her "wake window".

[I know this part isn't your department, but figured I'd add so you know the whole story, just in case] she's now started crying for 2 hour bouts 1-2 times a day and is very fussy and moves a lot when she eats. I told pediatrician all of this and they didn't even have us come in, which is fine, just feel like there's a lot going on here and thought they'd at least want to check her. But we talked over the phone and they just had us change her formula a couple times.

Anyway, have you heard of anything like this? Do you think it's possible that she's just overtired and we are trapped in the vicious cycle? I also wonder how long it would take to get her out of it. Tonight, I'm staying up all night, determined to keep her asleep as long as possible in her swing. Obviously, I will do what peds say, but will take any advice or answers I can get on the sleep portion.

Great article btw, I'm determined to get her sleep!

Amy Motroni

Tuesday 31st of August 2021

Hi Catie,

I'm sorry you are going through all this! I'm not a feeding specialist, but I would be very curious to see what happened with trying a different formula. Half an ounce would not be a full feeding and would lead me to question if there was something else going on. Has she been checked for a lip tie or tongue tie?

I would start by getting her feeding issues worked out first and go from there.

Good luck! Amy


Friday 18th of June 2021

My baby is 7 months old and he goes to sleep at 8pm and wakes up around 6am. But once he wakes up in the morning and I feed him, change him, and play with him for about an hour to an hour and a half but he won't fall asleep to take a nap until about 12-1:30 in the afternoon until then he just cries no matter what I do.

Amy Motroni

Friday 18th of June 2021

Hi Meaghan, Are any sleep props involved? At that age, I'd try putting him down for his first nap about 2.5 to 3 hours after he wakes up.