What does an overtired baby look like and does it really impact sleep?

Ahhhh, mamas… You know what I’m talking about. Your baby is screaming, inconsolable, and you’re frantically jumping around with your babe in your arms (maybe going up and down the stairs continuously) trying to settle him or her. You’ve just changed their diaper and fed them. What is going on?!

Think about how long your baby has been awake for. Many times, the culprit is an overtired baby. When you start paying closer attention to what your baby is telling you, you’ll become more accustomed to their needs!


A newborn’s sleep pattern is very different compared to a six month old, for example. A newborn can only tolerate about 30-45 minutes of being awake! They need a lot of sleep for their growth and development and this is completely normal. But, their sleep is all over the place! When they do sleep, they only go through 2 stages: active and inactive. They can actually make a lot of noise, grunt, move, and softly whine when they are in their active stage of sleep! As your baby (quickly) grows, they’ll be able to tolerate much more awake time.

Between 3-5 months you’ll notice a definite shift as they go through sleep cycles more like ours. They have melatonin levels now – the hormone responsible for getting to sleep and staying asleep – which is a big change for your baby. Plus, they are more aware of their surroundings at this stage and become much more alert and in tune with the world. Around this time, they can tolerate anywhere from 1.5-3 hours of being awake.

The time slightly increases as the day progresses (ie a shorter awake window in the morning). It’s an incredible time filled with many changes and adjustments, which makes it a great time to get down to business with some routine and consistency in a gentler way. When you understand the science of sleep, it’s easier for you as a mama to help your baby get the rest that’s so very needed for a healthy family.


So, what does a tired baby look like? Every baby is different when it comes to this, but these are the most common signs:

  • Yawning
  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Pushing their face into your chest
  • Pulling on their ears
  • Glazed over look in their eyes and staring
  • Kicking, and almost acting like they are “wired”
  • Arching their back
  • Irritability

For an older baby (6 months and up) I find a great way to tell if it’s ready for sleep is when it becomes very hard to distract them with a new toy or object. No matter what you show them, they are getting increasingly annoyed with you (haha!) and it seems as though everything starts to bother them. Maybe you can relate with this feeling, too ☺ It’s often a great indicator that it’s time to start the bedtime routine.


Once your baby has passed all these earlier signs of sleepiness, your baby will most likely get more frantic and start crying. Similar to a hungry baby, crying is a late sign of tiredness. This is not an easy or fun place to be, because an overtired baby is a challenge to get down to sleep and it becomes SO hard to soothe them.

Finallllyyyyyy, you’ve managed to get your baby down to sleep and the nap only lasts about 30 minutes. UGH! Your baby was overtired, causing them to remain in a lighter REM-like sleep and their little body is compensating. They aren’t completely rested, and they need more sleep, but it’s difficult to get there and connect the next sleep cycle. This is a common reason for chronic short naps, and it’s important to look at awake times to get your baby happier and more rested.

When your baby is overtired, this affects nighttime sleep as well. Similarly to short naps, your baby will spend more time in lighter sleep, causing more wake ups and a more restless sleep. Think about it – I’m sure you’ve felt that way some nights!! Lots of wake ups and tossing and turning. A more rested day with better and longer naps will lead to a deeper sleep in the night!

This is why I always say it’s more than just sleep. It’s important to look at the entire picture – feeds, lifestyle, awake times, routine, structure, environment – to get healthy and deep sleep for the entire family. It takes patience, learning, and lots of love and guidance. I’ve been there, and it’s not fun at all feeling like you’re in a fog. One thing’s for sure; you’ll get there and so will your baby! You don’t need to figure this out alone and I’m here for you when you’re ready! Book a free call with me to see how I can help!

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