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

overtired upset baby

Overtired babies can be incredibly hard to calm 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.

Keep reading to see how you can spot an overtired baby and what you can do to help your baby sleep.

If you still have questions after reading this post, leave them in the comment section and we’ll try to troubleshoot your specific situation.

how to help an overtired baby sleep graphic

How Do You Get An Overtired Baby to Sleep?

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

1. Calm Yourself First

I know it can be so stressful when your baby is screaming and nothing seems to soothe her. It can really stress parents out.

Babies mirror our emotions though, so it’s important to try and center yourself first so you can help soothe your baby.

2. Use Darkness

Help decrease stimulation by going into a dark room with your baby. Use blackout curtains to create a dark space.

3. Turn on the White Noise

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.

I prefer swooshing noises over the sound of rain or heartbeats.

4. Movement

Movement can help overtired babies calm down.

Try holding your baby close to your body on her side or stomach and swinging her back and forth.

Another technique I like it is holding your baby against your shoulder and doing the shush pat.

5. 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.

6. Swaddle Baby

It can be really challending to swaddle a fussy baby, so try and settle your baby first.

Overtired babies may seem to hate the swaddle initially, but can eventually settle after being swaddled.

Swaddling is one the 5 S’s, which are soothing techniques from Dr. Harvey Karp, because it creates a similar environment as the womb.

7. 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 your baby.

8. Assist to Sleep

It’s okay to help your overtired baby get to sleep however you can. This might mean a contact nap, baby wearing, or even going for a walk in the stroller.

Should You Let an Overtired Baby Cry It Out?

Most likely it won’t help to 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.

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.

Here’s how to break the cycle of overtiredness:

Pay Attention to Wake Windows

Babies are only able to stay awake for short periods of time depending on their age.

The best way to prevent overtiredness in the first place is to pay attention to your baby’s wake windows and get them down for sleep at the sweet spot.

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

baby wake windows

Watch for Baby Sleep Cues

In addition to the clock, your baby will start to show you signs that they’re getting sleepy.

These baby sleep cues include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Zoning out
  • Yawning
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Red eyebrows

Once you see these sleep cues, go ahead and start your nap routine and get baby ready for sleep.

Get Naps in How You Can

Naps can be extremely challenging for babies under 7 months old and it’s not uncommon for babies to only nap for 30 minutes.

If daytime sleep is a struggle and is leading to your baby being overtired going into bedtime, then take some of the pressure off everyone and help with naps.

This could mean:

  • Doing more contact naps
  • Going for a stroller walk at nap time
  • Wearing your baby for naps
  • Going for a drive around nap time

Why Won’t An Overtired Baby Sleep?

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. 

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

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.

infographic of signs of an overtired baby

Signs of An Overtired Baby

There are many 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. 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.

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

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

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

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

Baby sleep schedule binder mockup image

Sleep and Feed Schedules for Every Age

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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Overtired Baby

Will An Overtired Baby Eventually 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. 

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 mindful of your baby’s wake windows and do your best to get your baby down for a nap or bed on time. 

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.

If your baby wakes up too early and needs you, stay in their room with them with the lights off rather than 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. 

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.

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. 

Questions about your overtired baby or toddler? Leave them in the comments and we’ll help troubleshoot!

get overtired baby to sleep

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  1. 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.

  2. 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 😫

    1. 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,

  3. Hi

    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!

    1. 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!

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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🤦🏻‍♀️


    1. Hi Nicole,

      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!

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