how do you get an overtired baby to sleep

How Do You Get An Overtired Baby To Sleep?

Most people think that a baby will automatically sleep when they are tired. However, pediatric counselling specialists reveal that even an overtired baby may not fall asleep quickly. When your child shows the common signs of tiredness, including lidded eyes and a slumped head, you may be confused about why they still do not fall asleep.

In some instances, parents notice their overtired baby will sleep anytime. But other parents will notice their babies find it quite difficult to sleep when overtired.

‏There are many different opinions and recommendations, but it is essential to stick to the expert’s advice. For example, some people will tell you to keep your tired baby awake during the day so they can go straight to sleep and never wake up during the night. However, even though this might work for adults, it usually backfires when dealing with kids. 

The method leads to more struggles falling and staying asleep. Always remember that “sleep begets sleep.” When your baby sleeps more during the day, they will also sleep better during the night.‏

‏Most experienced parents have figured out that it is best to put their child to sleep before getting too tired. This same technique is listed in the book Healthy Sleep Habits. The renowned author, Dr Marc Weissbluth, advises parents that “sleep begets sleep.” 

‏If it so happens that your baby doesn’t sleep enough or stays awake for too long, they will get stressed. Newborns fighting sleep can’t handle staying up for too long. If that happens, there will be an increase in adrenaline and cortisol levels, making it a lot more difficult for newborns fighting sleep to wind down and go to sleep. ‏

‏Sometimes it may be easy to see that you are dealing with an overtired baby. However, in some instances, it can be not easy to notice that your baby is overtired. 

The signs of tired babies can be so subtle that you won’t even tell you are dealing with an overtired baby until it’s too late. Here are some of the things to look out for when dealing with newborns fighting sleep: ‏

  • ‏The baby is having a difficult time settling down to sleep.‏
  • ‏They are only taking short naps instead of complete naps.‏
  • ‏The baby is not getting enough sleep at night.‏
  • ‏The baby is quite cranky or fussy.‏
  • ‏The baby is less able to deal with frustration or pain,‏
  • ‏The baby is prone to meltdowns.‏

‏If you notice that your baby sleeps randomly during the day, even when playing or eating, it might be another sign that you are dealing with a case of an overtired baby. 

Sometimes the baby will start sleeping outside of their normal nap time. Our pediatric counselling may be for you if you can’t figure out how to get your baby down on a better schedule. 

FAQs About Baby Sleep

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

The time it takes for an overtired baby to fall asleep will vary from several minutes to even an hour. According to the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America Poll, overtired babies take up to 20% longer to fall asleep.

When your baby becomes overtired, their stress response system goes into high gear, triggering cortisol and adrenaline to flood into their little bodies. Cortisol helps to regulate the body's sleep-wake cycle; adrenaline is the fight-or-flight agent.

So how do you break the cycle of overtiredness and start to pay back that “sleep debt?” Unfortunately, overtiredness can build throughout the day and can set into motion a vicious cycle of early bedtimes and early wakings.

The best way to break the cycle and get those hormones under control is a few nights of early bedtimes. Only 30 to 60 minutes earlier for 3 to 5 days should do the trick. Once the sleep issues are resolved, inch their bedtime back to the normal time by 10 minutes every two nights.

Understand Your Baby’s Sleep Needs

how do you get an overtired baby to sleep (3)

‏Understanding your baby’s sleeping needs can help you avoid a tired baby. Sleeping needs can vary from child to child, but age is one of the most general guidelines we can look towards. 

When your baby is only two months old, their need to eat usually surpasses their sleep needs. The baby will generally want to feed every two hours during this period. This is especially true if you are breastfeeding. If your baby is bottle-fed, they may want to feed less frequently.‏

‏The baby will sleep for about eight to ten hours a day during this time. However, this period of sleep will not occur all at once. You must divide the time into three to four hours so that the baby can eat. 

Unfortunately, babies cannot tell the difference between day and night. Your baby may spend the day sleeping and want to be awake from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.‏ 

‏By the time they get to three months, the baby can sleep for six hours. However, just as soon as things start looking normal, other development parts can throw off the baby’s sleep pattern at nine months. 

For instance, when the baby begins associating bedtime with being left alone, they might start crying so that you don’t leave them.‏ In this case, distress is affecting their sleep.

‏Rocking and Lullabies Can Help Your Overtired Baby Fall Asleep‏

‏Putting an overtired baby to sleep requires lowering their level of cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for keeping people awake and revved up. To reduce the levels of cortisol, you need to calm the senses. 

The best way to decrease your baby’s cortisol levels is to rock them or sing lullabies. These two methods are some of the best-known calming techniques. Apart from singing and swaying, you can try any sensory soothing method, including the following: ‏

  • ‏Swaddling‏
  • ‏Massage‏
  • ‏Light repetitive movements like swaying or swinging‏
  • ‏Feeding the baby to induce drowsiness‏
  • ‏Dimming the lights‏
  • ‏Playing soft music
  • ‏Using a white noise app on your mobile phone

The general idea behind the calming techniques is to remove stimulation and signal to the body that it’s time to sleep. If calming methods are not working or you want more detailed intel on your child’s sleep, you can take your baby for pediatric counselling. 

Keep the Baby Cool‏

‏Like us, babies sleep better when the temperature is consistent and cool. The ideal temperature to put a baby to sleep is between 69 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit. Regulating temperature also means that you shouldn’t over-bundle your baby. 

Instead of dressing your baby in heavy clothes, you can dress them in layers. Layers can help you regulate the baby’s temperature. If you are unsure how to dress your baby, make sure they have whatever you have on, plus one extra layer. ‏

‏If you start noticing that your baby is sweating, they may be over-bundled. Apart from the dressing, it would help if you also put your crib in the right spot. It should not be in the direct pathway of your A/C or heating vents. 

You don’t want to expose your child to sudden temperature changes. Temperature changes will startle and disturb your baby, making it difficult for them to sleep. You must also ensure that the baby’s crib is far away from the windows to protect them from drafts and noise.‏

‏Clear the Clutter‏

‏Make sure the nursery room is a designated sleep area. We recommend keeping the area around the crib free of toys and other play items. Crib distractions can confuse your baby and make it difficult for them to fall asleep‏. They will not understand whether the room is a playpen or a place to sleep.‏

Signs of an overtired baby

Babies who don’t sleep enough and stay awake for longer than they can handle end up having a stress response — an increase in adrenaline and cortisol — making it trickier for them to wind down for bed.

Sometimes it’s obvious your baby is overtired … and other times, the signs are subtle. Here’s what to look for in your little one:

  • She has a hard time settling down for sleep.
  • She only takes brief catnaps instead of full-blown naps.
  • She doesn’t get a lot of sleep at night.
  • She’s very cranky or fussy.
  • She’s less able to handle frustration or pain.
  • She’s more prone to meltdowns (in an older baby).
  • She falls asleep at random times during the day (in the high chair when eating, for instance, or as soon as she hits the stroller, even if it’s not naptime).

Other Signs of an overtired baby include:

  • Rubbing eyes and tugging ears. Your baby may attempt to soothe herself by bringing her hands toward her face.
  • Yawning. Yawning signals the onset of drowsiness and change in her physiological state. 
  • Crossing of the eyes. Focusing becomes a struggle.
  • Avoiding eye contact. Your baby may disengage with you and stare off into the distance.
  • Clinginess. Babies tend to become clingy between three and 12 months old when overtired. 
  • Fussiness. Your baby may appear irritable.
  • Arching the back and squirming. She may also appear uncomfortable.
  • Being demanding. Your baby is unhappy whether you pick her up or put her down.
  • Clumsiness. Older babies tend to become especially clumsy and unable to focus.
  • Hyperactivity. She may seem playful even though she’s exhausted. 
  • Taking shorter naps than usual. You can blame those hormones again for interrupting your baby’s nap time.

Help Your Overtired Baby Fall Asleep

how do you get an overtired baby to sleep (2)

  • Babies need all the sleep they can get to keep up with their rapid physical, emotional, and mental development. 
  • An overtired baby is an exhausted baby. Frequent overtiredness may affect your baby’s overall health. 
  • It becomes challenging for babies to fall asleep the moment they become overtired. 
  • Your baby needs a solid sleep schedule to avoid overtiredness. 
  • Overtiredness sets your baby’s body into overdrive and becomes a cycle that is difficult to break. It’s a miserable experience for your baby and family to endure. 

Your baby looks so tranquil when she sleeps, doesn’t she? She may have drifted off to Dreamland, but her body is hard at work. With each rise and fall of the belly, her muscles and tissues are building and repairing themselves. Your little one’s brain is processing the constant flow of sensations and encounters from when she was awake. 

Sleep is crucial to your baby’s development, but even the most well-meaning parents keep their babies awake past their limit. Skipping naps will not promote better sleep at night; it will create poor sleep habits and an overtired baby. You can get ahead of overtiredness by learning your baby’s cues and knowing her age-specific wake windows. 

When tempted to linger in conversation with your friends or make one more round at the grocery store, remember that your baby may not be so supportive. Keep your eye on the clock and the prize: a happy, well-rested baby.

Once you’ve encountered an overtired baby, you’ll know the consequences that sleeplessness can leave in its wake. You’ll want to do everything to avoid this monster—overtiredness. (Certainly not your baby.)

How to prevent your baby from getting overtired

Make sure you give your baby ample opportunity to meet her sleep needs. Here's how much sleep a baby needs by age:

  • A 1-month-old should get about 14 to 17 hours of sleep a day. That’ll usually break down to about eight to nine hours at night (with your baby waking up about every three hours to feed and going right back to sleep) and another seven to nine hours in naps.
  • A 2-month-old should get around 12 to 16 hours of sleep a day. Expect her to get approximately eight to 10 hours at night (waking up every four to six hours to feed) and four to eight in naps.
  • A 3-month-old should get about nine to 10 hours at night (again, with some nighttime feeds) and a few naps of 90 minutes to two hours each day.
  • Your baby should be sleeping between 12 and 15 hours a day, with two or three daytime naps that total around three to four hours, and about 10 to 11 hours of sleep at night (with fewer feeds overnight).
  • When your baby nears six months old, she should be sleeping about nine to 11 hours at night, with two long naps during the day. She’s now capable of "sleeping through the night" — or sleeping for six to eight hours most nights.

You’d stop your baby’s overtiredness before it even starts in a perfect scenario. These tips for preventing your baby from getting overtired can help: 

  • Watch for sleep cues. They include eye rubbing, crankiness, ear or hair pulling, yawning and so on, and respond promptly by getting the baby in for a nap or bedtime at the first sign that she's tired.
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine every night. This helps the baby transition from wake time to sleep time. Use an abridged version before naps. (However, this isn’t appropriate for newborns.)
  • Don’t overstimulate your baby before sleep. That means stopping playtime in the half-hour or so before bed and doing your best to keep your baby in a quieter area, away from the TV or radio. 

Follow these steps to stop the cycle of overtiredness before it begins:

  • Be punctual. When your baby’s wake window comes to a close, drop what you’re doing and put down your baby to sleep. The key is to prepare her for sleep before showing signs of overtiredness. 
  • Create a sleep routine. The asleep routine will signal to your baby that the time for slumber is approaching:
  • Switch on soft music or the white noise machine.
  • Change your baby’s diaper without playing or tickling her.
  • Read a story in a calm tone. 
  • Gently massage his back, arms, and legs. 
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Keep naps and nighttime sleep at similar times. You’ll know that it’s time to adjust the schedule when your content (not overtired) baby isn’t falling asleep.
  • Let your baby settle down. Extra rocking and bouncing can stimulate her rather than calm her down. 
  • Learn your baby’s natural sleep schedule. Her sleepiness cues will become more apparent when you’re familiar with her schedule. According to age, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends these wake times: 0–4 months: less than 45–60 minutes. 

4–6 months: 1 to 2 hours, 6–12 months: 2 to 3 hours, 12–18 months: 3 to 4 hours, 18 months–2 years: 4 to 6 hours

Your overtired baby’s wailing, screaming, and crying can be disheartening. Here are proven ways to calm and soothe your baby: 

  • Use a quiet voice when talking to your baby.
  • Take her to a dark and quiet space. 
  • Maintain a calm expression but avoid eye contact. Meeting eyes may further stimulate your baby. 
  • If your baby resists touch, gently place her down on her back. 


‏These are some ways you can put your overtired baby to sleep. It’s important to understand your baby’s sleep needs so you can avoid a situation where they get too tired and fussy. That’s where Pediatric counselling can help. Give us a call to schedule an appointment. At Pediatrics, we are happy to answer any questions you may have and get to the bottom of your child’s sleep irregularities.

We’ve all been just too tired to sleep at some point in our lives. And the results of being sleep-deprived are disastrous: moodiness, clumsiness, forgetfulness, absolutely no hand-eye coordination. Now, your little ones are already like that on the best of days, so when they’re overtired, life can get a whole lot worse. 

You would think that getting a baby down when they’re overtired would be a cinch, but, as with most baby-related things, it’s not that simple. So, why do babies fight sleep? We got together with the Pediatric Sleep Specialist of Baby Sleep Pro to talk about “overtired baby”, including symptoms, well-meaning mistakes we make when trying to help our exhausted infants, and different routes we can take to get an overtired baby to sleep. 

Scroll to Top