Overtired babies, why do they struggle to sleep?

By Kate, 11th January 2019

An overtired baby

When a baby is overtired they become too tired to sleep. In addition when the baby finally dozes off they are likely to continue to wake through the night and more than likely wake early the next day.

It sounds conflicting I know. So here is the science bit:

When your baby is overtired, it simply means that their body is past the point of being ready to sleep. When a baby becomes so fatigued their body’s stress-response system is activated. This is when the stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released into their bloodstream, making it even harder for your baby to relax and calm down. This is cyclical pattern, meaning the more overtired your baby becomes, the harder it is for your baby to relax and fall asleep. Which is why it continues to wake your baby through the night and causes early wake ups the next day.

What are the signs?

  • They may rub their eyes or face
  • Baby could become clingy
  • Becoming increasingly physically active and wound up is also a sign of over tiredness
  • Baby will move their face away from any interaction
  • Starting to yawn, hiccup, or sneeze more is also a sign
  • Baby may start to fuss or cry
  • Eventually, the fussing can develop into inconsolable crying


Every baby is different and so learning how your own child reacts to overtiredness is important.

 How to manage your baby’s over tiredness:

Use these strategies to calm your baby or toddler and help induce drowsiness:

  • Play some white noise to soothe and calm your baby down
  • Swaddling can help them feel secure
  • Use a dark and cool room
  • For older babies and toddlers: read a bedtime story in your child’s dim room


Preventing over tiredness:

It’s much better to get your baby down for a nap or bedtime before the overtiredness kicks in.  Simply do this by laying your baby down for sleep slightly before their window of awake time closes. Use the following as guidelines and work with your baby’s own pattern:

  • A newborn baby can usually handle 45 minutes -1 hour of awake time
  • At 3 months 1.5 – 2.5 hours of awake time
  • At 6 months, a baby can handle about 2-3 hours of awake time
  • Toddlers can usually handle 4-5 hours of awake time


I hope this has been helpful. If you are struggling with your little ones sleep and concerned they may be over tired then don’t hesitate to get in touch for a free consultation. 

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