Dr. Sarah Mitchell
About Author
October 24, 2019

5 Signs Your Baby is Overtired

Are you seeing any of these 5 Signs Your Baby is Overtired?

  1. She immediately falls asleep in the car seat
    If every time you put your baby in the car she falls asleep immediately. This a sign that she was exhausted before she got into the car, and the motion of the car soothes her into sleep.  A well rested baby will not usually fall asleep in the car right away unless it happens to be her nap time, and her awake time has surpassed. This is true up into the toddler years.
  2. It takes forever to get her to fall asleep
    When my clients tell me that it takes “forever” to get their baby down for a nap or at bedtime. I know that the sleep “timing” is off.  They are too late getting their baby down.   She’s already overtired which makes it harder for her to relax.  Have you every stayed up late 4 nights in a row or been out all weekend partying and then try to go to bed on the Sunday night but you can’t because you are sooo tired – that is overtired.  I know you’ll have to think back a few years
  3. She wakes up 20 minutes into sleep
    A daytime sleep cycle is 45 minutes, and a night time sleep cycle is 3 hours.  When a baby wakes up 20 minutes into a nap, she hasn’t even cycled through one cycle, and this is a sign that she was overtired before she fell asleep.  The timing is off.
  4. Baby wakes up crying from a nap
    If a baby wakes up after a 45 minute nap and is crying, this is a sign that she is still tired.  The only exception is that if she has gone 4 or more hours since a feed, then it could be hunger.  If your baby wakes up crying from a 45 minute. She’s gone through one sleep cycle, and either can’t figure out how to relax herself back into sleep or is so exhausted can’t calm herself to do so.
  5. She wakes up every 3 hours or more at night
    A night time sleep cycle is 3 hours. So it is not uncommon for a child who relies on being held, rocked or nursed to sleep to surface from a sleep cycle and cry out for Mom to help put her back to sleep in the same manner in which she fell asleep.  But if your child wakes up every 3 hours through the night, there is also like over tiredness at play here.  Many babies sleep longer stretches of 4-6 hours, but then start waking up every 3 hours at 4 months.  You can learn more about that on my blog about the The 4 Month Sleep Regression. (It’s legit!)

The first 6 months of life are the hardest for sleep. As there is so much to learn on top of keeping that child fed, gaining weight and alive.

Newborns are fussy right?  6 months old are also fussy, yes?  

While this is true, one of the most common causes of fussy babies is being overtired.

As a new parent we often don’t realize that since we have no point of reference.

When I work with a new client, they always describe their baby’s disposition as happy.

Yet after our sleep training has occurred and their baby is getting more quality and quantity of sleep. The parents always comment how much better their baby’s disposition is.

If there is one thing I can tell all you new parents out there, it is this:

You have to create the conditions for your baby to fall asleep and decide when they should be going to sleep.

So often we are looking to them for the signs – are they rubbing their eyes, or yawning.  In the newborn stage of 0-3 months, yawning and eye rubbing are signs that they are on their way to overtired.  We have more of a role in getting to sleep on time at this age then we realize.

There is a subtle set of signs that come before the yawning that indicate they are getting ready to be put down.

The Helping Babies Sleep Method: The Art and Science of Teaching Your Baby to Sleep


  • Decreased limb activity
  • Decreased interest in their surroundings
  • A “zoned out look”

In the 0-3 newborn stage, feeding that baby is our most important endeavor.  Especially if a Mom is breastfeeding, as that in itself is an all encompassing and often challenging practice.  We’ve always heard the term “sleeps like a baby” so we assume that this is something that will come naturally.  But for most people – that is NOT the case.

Your newborn 0-3 months,  should be back asleep 45 min  to 1.5 hours after waking up.  

So really, we’re talking, eating, burping, being held or play for a very very short time, and then putting her back to sleep on her own, or with a little help from you.   Don’t underestimate the power of a swaddle, a Mom’s “ssssshing”, and a timer to give that scenario 5 minutes to be successful.  As new parents it is very common that we give up on things too soon.

The signs that a baby is overtired become harder to read after 6 months. So it is much easier to go by the clock and “awake times”.

Your baby’s “awake time”, which is the amount of time he/she can comfortably be awake for without becoming fussy, starts to lengthen.

YOU NEED TO DOWNLOAD MY AWAKE TIME CHART. This will tell you your baby’s awake time by age and how much sleep she needs in 24 hours.


By 4 months, the maximum amount of time stretches to 1 hr and 45 minutes, and then 2 hours by 5 months.  Don’t forget though that these are maximum times, based on babies who are sleeping well through the night, and not waking every 3 hours.  Thus, the awake time may be shorter for some babies, which is when the signs can be helpful.   Getting your baby down with the right timing can mean the difference between having that baby asleep in 10 minutes, versus 45 minutes.

If you make it until 1 year without having to visit the emergency room, you have surpassed most people’s expectations!  

If you want to learn more about your 6 month’s old sleep. You can read this blog about  6 months old sleeping requirements.

The other thing about sleep is just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it changes!

In my experience, most parents have “perfect” sleep for about 2 weeks until 1 year of age.  There so much change happening that first year with dropping naps, becoming more mobile and gaining teeth, their sleep patterns are often disrupted.   There’s a major nap drop between 7 and 10 months. Which you can learn more about here:  7-10 month old naps.  


Are you struggling with your baby’s sleep? Come take my free baby sleep quiz. I'll learn more about your baby's sleep habits, what you find challenging and make 1 simple recommendation that you can implement tonight.


What signs do you see if your baby is overtired? Let me know in the comments below.

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