Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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September 14, 2020

Overtired Newborn Baby: What You Need To Know [Complete Guide]

Newborn babies can get overtired very easily but parents often don’t recognize the signs and think they are hungry.

Signs of an Overtired Newborn Baby

  1. Eye rubbing
  2. Arching back
  3. Inconsolable crying that you can’t seem to cure
  4. Not able to soothe with feeding 

Why Does it Happen? 

Babies get overtired very easily.  15 minutes for a newborn can be the timing that can set you up for success or derail your entire evening. 

Most newborns 0-3 months can’t comfortably stay awake more than 1-1.5 hours.  In the first month most kids wake up, eat, burp and are ready to be asleep within 45 minutes of waking. 

When we surpass these “awake times” it becomes harder for a little person to fall asleep, and then stay asleep.

Case Study #1

I remember rocking my 3 month old son for 40 minutes only to have him wake up 20 minutes into sleep!  I was so frustrated.  In hind sight I was putting him down much too late and he was overtired by the time he fell asleep.  That’s why it took him so long to fall asleep, and he couldn't stay asleep. 

Once I started following the awake times and trying to get him to be asleep by 1.5 hours at the very most, it took less effort and he slept longer. 

What Can Parents do To Help an Overtired Newborn Baby to Sleep? 

The key really is PREVENTION.  Once you’re in the “overtired zone” it can be really hard to calm your little one down.  So you want to watch the timing of sleep to prevent surpassing awake times. 


Get my Sleep Summary By Age Chart for Sleep Timing and Quantity by Monthly Age


Many parents rely on sleepy cues to help know when it’s sleeping time.  Personally I found using the signs alone to be really Hard.  Some babies are harder to read than others and it’s very easy to mistake the signs of fatigue for hunger.  That’s what I did.  When my little guy fussed I thought he was hungry and ended up feeding him every 2 hours until 4 months of age!  He weighed 20 lbs by 4 months!  I ended up teaching him that the boob was a soother and so he wanted to nurse all the time because he was so overtired.  I wasn’t using the timing chart to help me. 

How to Differentiate Between I’m Getting Ready for a Nap and I’m Getting Overtired

Getting Ready for a Nap Signs:

  • No longer engaging with parent
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Looking “glazed” over

When you see these signs get your short naptime routine started! 

Signs I’m Getting Overtired

  • Rubbing eyes
  • Yawning
  • Inconsolable Crying

Sometimes these signs can mimic colic

Run, don’t want to go to the nursery for a naptime routine. 

3 Simple Things You Can Do to Help Your Overtired Baby Once You’re In the Overtired Zone

Really the key is to avoid getting to this stage, but if you’re in it, some of these can help. 

  1. Swaddle
  2. Give them a warm headwash once swaddled.  The sound and temperature of the water can help distract and soothe your baby.  (Takes practice.)
  3. Use white noise and motion to help soothe

Case Study #2

Susie was enrolled in my Newborn sleep class because as she put it “I don’t want to make the same mistakes with my second, as I did with my first.”  When she started the class she was struggling with her 7 week old waking up every 2 hours at night.  After implementing the sleep timing strategies and the sleep detective skills of the newborn class she was getting 6-8 hour stretches repeatedly in the night.  But more importantly she was feeling confident and not doubting herself.  Most parents don’t realize that your days and nights are closely linked.  If your nights aren’t working out, we have to consider what’s happening with your naps too, and vice versa. 
If you’ve found these to be useful you should consider taking my online class Helping Newborns Sleep where I teach you how to be a sleep detective, avoid being overtired and work with a flexible schedule that helps you feel empowered and keep your baby well-rested. This is a no tears approach to growing your parenting toolbox and getting great sleep.

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