6 Signs You Have An Overtired Baby: Solutions & Prevention!

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 11/26/21 •  10 min read

Any parent will tell you that navigating the delicate balance of deciphering a baby’s sleep patterns is tricky enough to master without having a curveball of an overtired baby crisis thrown into the mix!

So, what are the signs you have an overtired baby? What are the solutions and steps to take to break the overtired cycle before it becomes engrained and how can we prevent babies from getting overtired in the first place?

Why do babies get overtired?

Simply put, babies get overtired because we miss their sleep cues. 

If you misread your baby’s cues then they can easily become overstimulated which often results in them missing essential naps or going to bed a little too late.

When your baby is overtired they experience a stress response which triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline… 

This, ironically and counterproductively, makes it difficult for your little one to settle and sleep. 

This is why it is so common for tired babies to fight sleep.

The bad news is that once your baby is overtired, it can be very difficult to get them to sleep, despite the fact that they desperately need to do so. 

It’s a weird phenomenon I know… but sleep really does breed sleep.

Therefore, it is imperative that you learn to spot your baby’s sleep cues and act swiftly!

What are the 8 signs baby is getting tired?

Babies have three stages of tiredness… 

There is a fine line between needing to sleep and becoming overtired so it is useful to know what to look out for!

So, when your baby is getting tired and in need of a nap, they will:

  1. Rub their eyes and yawn
  2. Start to fuss and whimper
  3. Pull at their ears
  4. Suck their fingers
  5. Have jerky movements
  6. Turn their head away 
  7. Have a fixed stare, often looking into space
  8. Clenched fists

But if you miss these subtle sleep signals, what are the signs baby has become overtired?

What are the 6 signs you have an overtired baby?

Common signs that your baby has reached the point of overtiredness are:

  1. Squirming
  2. Arching back
  3. Easily frustrated and irritable
  4. Difficult to soothe
  5. Fitful naps
  6. Falling asleep while feeding or not feeding well

How to prevent your baby from getting overtired

The best and easiest way to prevent your baby from getting overtired is to learn the sleep cues that I mentioned above. 

It is also important to know how much sleep your baby needs in order to establish an age-appropriate sleep schedule. (I will tell you the age-appropriate sleep guidelines in the next section!)

Getting the balance between sleep and offering your baby attention and stimulation can be tricky, especially in the early weeks. 

Luckily, there are lots of guidelines you can follow to help avoid your baby becoming overtired while making sure they get all the fresh air and age-appropriate stimulation that they need!

1. Ensure that your baby is having adequate age-appropriate daytime sleep 

It can help to keep a sleep diary for a few days if you are struggling to work out how much sleep your baby needs.

2. Have a regular and healthy bedtime routine

Establishing a healthy and regular bedtime routine early on will teach your baby to get ready for sleep in a calm and relaxing way.

3. Make the sleep environment conducive to sleep

Putting your baby to sleep in a dimly lit room without distractions will help to establish a healthy sleep routine. You can invest in a white noise machine and soft nightlight to keep baby calm and make night feedings much easier too.

4. Swaddle young babies

Swaddling helps your baby feel safe and secure and stops them from jerking awake from the Moro Reflex.

5. Avoid overstimulation

An overstimulated baby will struggle to fall asleep, so keep stimulation and playtimes age-appropriate and not too energetic near sleep times. 

Young babies will not be able to manage long periods of stimulation.

6. Differentiate between night and daytime interactions

It is important that your nighttime interactions are kept low key to help your baby to resettle after feeding.

7. Make sure your baby has had enough to eat before sleep

Try and make sure your baby has had a full feed before sleep to prevent them waking from hunger. Dream feeds are a great hack to help babies sleep for as long as possible at night. To learn more about dream feeding, check out this post What Is A Dream Feed? The Magical Trick To More Sleep!

8. Ensure your baby has plenty of physical exercise and tummy time

Physical activity even for a baby is very important and will help them to sleep better. 

Make sure your baby has plenty of opportunities to kick their legs and offer regular tummy time sessions.

If your baby is struggling with tummy time, read this post: Baby Hates Tummy Time to learn how to navigate this tricky situation.

9. Get outside every day 

Fresh air and natural light will help establish your baby’s circadian rhythm which in turn will help them to sleep better so make sure you get outside at least once a day.

It will also do you the world of good too!

TOP TIP: If you are out and about when baby would normally nap, let your baby sleep wherever they are and DO NOT try and keep them to stay awake until you get home. 

The occasional nap in the stroller or car seat is absolutely fine and certainly preferable to an overtired baby!

Age-Appropriate Sleep Guidelines

As promised, here’s a handy guide for age-appropriate sleep to help avoid an overtired baby crisis!

Overtired Baby Age-Appropriate Sleep Guildines

0-6 Weeks:

6-12 Weeks:

3-6 Months:

6-9 Months:

9-12 Months: 

How do you get an overtired baby to sleep?

It will take patience and calm to get an overtired baby to settle. 

The aim is to calm them down to the point that they can fall asleep. 

However, it is very common for overtired babies to wake frequently after settling… 

So, be prepared to go back and repeat these steps as often as it takes.

1. Try Swaddling

Swaddling is a very effective way to calm an overtired newborn. It prevents them from startling themselves with jerky arm and leg movements and makes them feel safe and secure.

2. Hold Them Close

An overtired baby is a distressed baby.

They need you to hold them close and comfort them until they are calm enough to fall asleep.

So offer lots of love, soothing noises and cuddles.

3. Move About

Rocking or walking around the room will often calm an overtired baby so they are able to fall asleep.

4. Feed Them

Quite often, feeding an overtired baby can calm them down and help them nod off. A full tummy may help them stay asleep for longer too.

5. Utilise A White Noise Machine

I am a great fan of the white noise machine. 

White noise machines are very calming and will help your baby settle… they also eliminate noises that may easily wake an overtired baby.

6. Offer A Pacifier

Although you may have to pop in to replace the pacifier when it falls out, using one on an overtired baby can work miracles.

7. Keep Baby in A Dimly Lit Room

A dimly lit room that eliminates distractions is best when trying to settle an overtired baby.

How to break the cycle of an overtired baby

Once your baby is overtired, you can find yourself in a cycle of less sleep, which leads to more overtiredness, which means your baby struggles to stay asleep and on it goes…

So, what can you do to break the cycle on an overtired baby?

Well, the first thing to do is to recognise that you have an overtired baby and to act swiftly before the cycle becomes too ingrained.

Next, use the techniques for settling your baby to sleep I mentioned above ALONGSIDE the following…

Step 1 – Have shorter awake times

Your overtired baby needs to consolidate their sleep to get back on track, so shorten the amount of time that they stay awake for a few days. 

This avoids overstimulation and will help them to reestablish their healthy daytime nap schedule.  

Don’t worry about them sleeping too much at this stage. 

As long as they are waking for feeds, let them sleep and keep awake time in manageable doses.

Step 2 – Have an earlier bedtime

For a while, you may need to bring bedtime a little earlier. 

This may mean they wake earlier in the morning, but treat this as a nighttime waking and keep things low key and hopefully, they will go back to sleep for a short while. 

It is important that you don’t try to ‘keep baby up’ in the hope that they will sleep longer at night as this rarely works in your favour.

Remember what I said about sleep breeding sleep?

Step 3 – Have calmer days

You may need to take things down a notch and have a couple of quiet days at home where your baby can get all the sleep they need easily. 

The best way to do this is just to stay close to home and concentrate on getting your little one out of that overtired cycle.

Their health and sleep is your priority now, so family visits and outings should wait.

Step 4 – Create a healthy sleep routine

Once you have broken the cycle then make sure that you establish a healthy age-appropriate sleep schedule to avoid overtiredness kicking in again. Click here to jump up to my age-appropriate sleep guidelines to refresh your mind.

Step 5 – Teach your baby to fall asleep independently

Teaching your baby to self-settle and fall asleep independently can also help with avoiding overtiredness. 

This is an essential skill that will benefit both you and your baby as they grow.

And there you have it! Everything you need to know about preventing, having and solving an overtired baby crisis!

If you found this article helpful and know of any other parents who would benefit from it, be sure to share it around! We’re here to help everyone!

And as always, thank you for reading and until next time, Happy Parenting!

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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