Signs Of An Overtired Baby And How To Help Them Sleep


As an adult, you will have had plenty of experience of becoming “overtired”. These are the times when we desperately need sleep, but just can’t help but keep awake.

When this happens, it is easy for us to become very moody, as well as overly clumsy and absent-minded.

However, if you have a baby then you might have noticed that they will regularly find themselves in the same sleepless situation – tired, frustrated, and fighting sleep.

But what other signs of overtiredness are there? And how can you help them sleep?

We’ve got the answers for you! In our helpful guide below, you’ll find out all about the various signs that a baby might be overtired, as well as plenty of useful tips to properly get them past it – you’ll have them sleeping again in no time!

What Does “Overtired” Mean?

Just as with adults, a baby becomes “overtired” when they have been awake for too long – far longer than their body can manage.

Signs Of An Overtired Baby And How To Help Them Sleep

This may be because they have napped at the wrong times during the day, or they have been overly stimulated for longer periods than they can manage.

What do we mean by the former? Newborns need to nap every 45 minutes. If they miss that, they could later become overtired at the next nap time or bedtime.

The irony, though, is that they begin to fight sleep when they’re in this overtired state.

This is because their body becomes stressed and releases hormones that make them restless, stopping them from getting the sleep that they so desperately need. 

Signs That Your Baby Is Tired

Before overtiredness, there is simply regular tiredness. You can recognize this in your baby through a number of different signs that they might be giving off.

For example, they might rub their eyes, just as some of us do even now. Similarly, they might pinch at their ears, acting restless.

If you’ve got them close to you, they might start to become clingier, grabbing at you and snuggling. 

They might become noticeably quiet too because a tired baby will disengage and become unsociable and distant.

When this happens, they’re zoning out, their little minds wanting to wander away to the world of dreams. 

Signs That Your Baby Is Overtired

However, different signs emerge when your baby has crossed the threshold and become overtired.

These are much more noticeable because they’re the opposite of the signs that they display when they are simply tired.

While tiredness can make your baby disengaged and quiet, being overtired will make them loud and fussy. 

Signs That Your Baby Is Overtired

This could mean that they start crying, getting loud, and being overactive. They might start moving a lot in extreme restlessness, and it can be tough to calm them down when they get like this.

Additionally, you might see them begin to yawn. This is a sign you would normally associate with the topic of tiredness, not overtiredness.

How Can You Avoid Your Baby Growing Overtired?

If you want to avoid your baby getting to this noisy and cry-heavy stage, then there are a few things that you can do.

However, you will need to know your baby well in order to get the best outcomes. Take the time to study how they behave when it comes to sleepiness, and work with that in mind. 

On top of that, make sure that you don’t overstimulate your baby before it’s time for sleep. This means no loud noises or erratic movement.

Try and keep them in an environment that is laidback, quiet, and still. If they begin to get less engaged, don’t try to recapture their attention – leave them to it and the drowsiness will take them. 

It is also a good idea to start putting your baby down when they are sleepy, yet still awake. You can tell this from the signs of regular tiredness that we spoke about earlier.

If they are displaying those signs, but their eyes are still open, then it looks like they’re becoming the kind of tired that you want. 

How Long Should Your Baby Be Awake? 

In order to avoid reaching overtiredness, your baby will need to not be awake for too long each day, at any one time.

If they are between 0 and 4 months old, then they should only ever be awake between 45 and 60 minutes between their periods of sleep. Our newborn sleep schedule by week provides a recommended sleep schedule for the first 8 weeks of your newborn's life.

If they’re older, between 4 months and 6 months of age, then they can be awake for up to 2 hours between their naps. 

If your baby is between 6 and 12 months, then they can stay awake for 2-3 hours between their sleeping.

And for babies that are between 12 and 18 months old? They can be awake for 3 to 4 hours.

Finally, if your baby is between 18 months and 2 years of age, then they can manage a big 4 to 6 hours of being awake between periods of sleep. 

You should consistently make sure that they get the right balance of sleep and wake time because it should prevent them from becoming overtired and irritable. If your baby is in the process of dropping a nap, here are some strategies how to deal with nap transitions.

Getting An Overtired Baby To Sleep

However, if your baby does become overtired, there are steps you can take. In addition to making your room dark and playing relaxing white noise, you can swaddle the baby gently.

However, your baby should not be swaddled if they can roll – this can happen from 2 months old already. 

If they can’t roll, swaddle them, hold them to your chest and breastfeed them. Alternatively, you can bottle-feed them.

After some gentle rocking, put your drowsy baby down while they are still awake. A pacifier may help to calm them even more. 

Final Thoughts

An overtired baby is not likely to fall asleep independently or without the help of a caregiver. Place your baby down for their nap when they are drowsy before they become tired. If you follow the right sleep and wake patterns, your baby should avoid becoming overtired.

If you want to teach your baby to fall asleep independently and save yourself time and frustration each nap or bedtime, then our article on How to get your baby sleeping through the night is a must-read.

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