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
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 let sleep happen!
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.
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 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 ASAP!
1. They are past their optimal wake time: Babies are only able to stay awake and happy for short periods of time depending on their age before they start to fight sleep. For example, if your baby has been up for 2.5 hours and her wake window is 1 hour 45 minutes, then yes, she is likely exhausted!
The best way to prevent overtiredness in the first place is to pay attention to your baby’s awake times and put her down for sleep at the right time.
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: Some babies will also tug on their ears when they’re tired.
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! Make sure you are allowing enough sleep for her age.
Struggling with Newborn Sleep?
Learn how to help your newborn get sleep with my Newborn Sleep Program. I walk you through those first few months and how to setup routines that will reinforce sleep with your baby. Learn more here.
How do You Settle An Overtired Baby?
There are ways to break the overtired cycle though! Get your overtired baby to sleep with these tips and then follow their wake times 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 ASAP—however you can!
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 different things you can do to help settle your overtired baby and get her to sleep. These are similar to the 5 S’s.
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 baby from startling awake and can help your baby 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. Hold her like this to help calm her down. (Make sure to not put baby in the crib like this though. Aalways place baby on her back when sleeping in the crib or bassinet).
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 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 amazingly!
You can use movement to get an overtired baby to settle down. We used a swing frequently for my little girl and it worked wonders. 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.
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 to Break the Cycle of An Overtired Baby
When babies are consistently overtired and not getting the recommended sleep that they need, it 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!
Should I Let My 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 would help 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 times, 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.
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 a 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 baby is well rested.
Having an overtired baby is part of having a baby. Life happens and sometimes we lose track of time 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!
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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.
Thursday 20th of January 2022
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: https://thepostpartumparty.lpages.co/newborn-sleep-options/
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 😫
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: https://thepostpartumparty.com/baby-only-naps-30-minutes/ 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: https://thepostpartumparty.lpages.co/sleep-packages/
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!
Tuesday 31st of August 2021
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.
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.
Tuesday 11th of May 2021
What if your baby can’t be put down without crying and then you have an over tired baby that only wants to sleep on his mama while nursing (nothing else works). Forget wake windows-I literally can’t put him “down” for a nap. How do you sleep train when they won’t let you put them down and you can’t let them cry it out? My baby is 11 weeks and was born at 35 weeks. I can’t put him in his bassinet without him screaming unless he’s already asleep. He has been like this since maybe 6 weeks. When he was born we had to wake him every three hours to feed him up until he was 1 month old because he was premature. I would love any help I can get! I am kinda losing my mind🤦🏻♀️
Tuesday 11th of May 2021
It's definitely a struggle! You can't really sleep train until about 16 weeks, but you can use sleep shaping methods to help them learn how to sleep.
I would try to keep baby awake while he nurses, stick to his wake windows, and then use the soothing ladder to help him get to sleep. My newborn course might be a good fit for you and explains these concepts more in detail. You can check it out here: https://thepostpartumparty.lpages.co/newborn-sleep-course/
Let me know if you have any questions! Amy