How To Break The Cycle Of An Overtired Baby? (Tips For Parents)

Early bedtime, healthy sleep habits, and shorter awake windows for infants and toddlers may solve bedtime fussing. Irritable and overtired babies are a product of long wakeful hours and overstimulation. Missing their nap or going to bed late at night will mess up with their sleep-wake cycle. It makes it hard for them to settle down and remain asleep through the night that will, of course, affect the parents’ sleep as well. Breaking the cycle of an overtired baby requires a few tricks that may end the dilemma of exhaustion to both parties.

What is overtiredness?

For a long time, we believed that exhaustion helps us crash down to sleep easily.

That is mainly the reason why we, adults, tend to tire ourselves hoping for a good night of rest. And that is also why some parents tend to extend their child’s play hours, believing they will settle down and sleep longer.

But contrary to this belief, it is actually the overtiredness that sends us to uneasy sleep or hardly getting any wink at all. It will only risk us the annoying hypnic jerks just as we head off to slumber.

Missing the window of tiredness without sleeping will make our body assume that we need to be awake. So, it will stimulate our adrenaline and release cortisol to cope up. Similarly, the babies’ little bodies will have trouble managing the surge of energy, which ends up putting them restless.

Let us put it this way: babies want to fall asleep, but their bodies will not allow them. It will end up in much fussing and fight-sleeping that will loop into a cycle.

Do not assume that your baby is stubborn to resist sleep. Concede that he is overtired and needs your help to break the cycle and tame his struggle.

Symptoms of overtiredness

Newborns spend most of the first few weeks of their lives alternating between eating and sleeping. They do not have a sleep schedule and cannot differentiate between night and day.

As they grow older, they begin to spend less time sleeping, and their habits may change. Generally, newborn babies are expected to sleep every 45 minutes a day. When they miss this window, they may become overstimulated and get overtired.

You can tell that the baby is overtired if they are exhibiting the following signs:

  • Irritable and fussy
  • Inconsolable crying
  • Become a fussy eater
  • Listless and uncomfortable
  • Falling asleep then jerking awake (like a hypnic jerk)

Preventing overtiredness in babies

An overtired newborn baby is crying with his eyes closed.

Understanding when your baby is showing signs of being sleepy and putting them to sleep at once is a helpful step. Before they reach the overtired phase, notice the tired signs and do not wait too long to put them to bed.

Babies are fighting sleep when they are:

  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Pulling their hair
  • Yawning
  • Looking away and getting less engaged
  • Fussing

It will also help to recognize their awake window to give you an idea of how long they should stay active. It varies for every baby’s age, but here is the basic window time they should be awake, according to experts:

0 – 4 months:45 to 50 minutes
4 – 6 months:1 to 2 hours
6 – 12 months:2 to 3 hours
12 – 18 months:3 to 4 hours
18 months – 3 years:4 to 6 hours

Breaking the cycle of overtiredness

It is hard not to notice the baby’s overtiredness because it will catch up with everyone in the house.

When you notice the overtired cycle, it is time to break the pattern to give your baby peaceful zzzs and happy mornings.

The following strategies may help you get through the sleep-struggle ordeal that springs from overtiredness.

1. Early to bed

Using early bedtime will eventually solve baby overtiredness. Let them make up for the sleep they missed to reset their body clocks and set their new sleep pattern.

An early bedtime will also encourage restful nighttime slumber. Babies need much sleep since this is the period of their substantial growth where their brain and body develop.

2. Use shorter awake windows

Sometimes, it gets too tempting to tease and engage babies when they seem to be nodding off.

You will get priceless reactions and cute toothless smiles that are meme-worthy. Little do we know that such small interference greatly impacts their sleep cycle.

There is a thin line between tired and overtired that it is so easy for babies to successfully fight off dozing.

If you notice sleeping cues in your baby, even if that means a shorter awake window, do not push it. Put him down for his next nap as soon as sleep cues kick in.

3. Tame the crying

Crying is one surefire way of stimulating your baby to overtiredness.

Some experts suggest the Cry-It-Out method wherein you let the baby cry himself to sleep to teach him self-soothing. But, overdoing it may only end up in overnight fussing. The best way is to always feed the baby before the clock creeps to his nap time.

Feeding before the crying phase of sleep kicks in will reduce its tendency to happen.

4. Track your babys sleep

Thanks to technology, you will now have time to track your baby’s sleep cycle and see if he is doing it well so far.

There are a lot of baby sleep trackers that are sometimes included in breastfeeding apps that you can download. These are handy tools if you want to get a real-time measure of your baby’s growth and progress, including sleep.

5. Design a healthy sleep habit

Comfort is one of the things that can help soothe your baby and encourage a better sleeping pattern.

A quiet room, the ideal room temperature, subdued light, and some white noise may help. There are a lot of strategies that parents can practice for the penchant of their little ones.

And if it works, it will be a good resolution to keeping overtiredness at bay.

Helping babies beyond overtiredness

You can’t help that sometimes. You will miss the awake window and fail to let your baby sleep. If he becomes stimulated and is now at the point of irritability, don’t sweat the stuff.

Mom is swaddling her sleepy newborn to help the baby comfortably sleep and avoid being overtired.

Here are the things that will help babies settle, according to Dr. Rebecca Klempton, a Pediatric Sleep Specialist.

  • Swaddling
  • Breast or bottle feeding
  • Offering pacifier
  • Rocking or bouncing

These strategies may help, but don’t do this frequently so that it becomes a habit. Interfering with your child’s sleep can have a negative sleep association.

They may never learn how to self-soothe themselves and will always rely on you during bedtime. Rocking them to sleep is only applicable to newborns. When they are out of the newborn stage, it will be better to put toddlers to bed while they are half-awake.


How long is it okay to swaddle a baby?

You may swaddle a newborn infant until he reaches two months of age or until he learns to roll over. You can learn more about correct and safe swaddling in this post.

What if we are out of the house for nap time?

It is okay to let your baby sleep wherever you may be to prevent overtiredness—but napping while in motion may not put babies into sound sleep either. You can make up for this time by arranging for an early nap or bedtime on the next sleep period.

I am getting upset that my baby still would not go to sleep. What do I do?

Infants can sense emotions, and they can feel how the people feel around them. If your baby is fussy, it will help if you calm down first. Your mood will also rule out his emotions, and babies tend to sleep well in a calm and peaceful environment.  

Is it okay to give a pacifier for newborns to sleep?

A pacifier is the parent’s personal choice, but for purposes of sending the infant to sleep, these dummies may help. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving babies pacifiers to reduce their risk of SIDS.


Sleep can be a frustrating activity if you have a baby. But knowing how to deal with it right from the start will save you a great deal of energy later on.

Making and sticking to a sleep routine may prevent overtiredness in babies. Recognizing and acting on their sleep cues is also necessary.

Don’t deprive babies of their sleep, and maybe, they also won’t with yours.

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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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