Basics Sleep

How To Tell If Your Baby Is Tired

It goes without saying that every parent wants their baby to sleep well and independently, both for your baby’s sake and also for your own sanity.

It’s important to know when your baby is tired and ready for sleep, because an overtired baby finds it harder to fall asleep and doesn’t sleep as well as a well rested baby.

Some of the signs of an overtired baby include yawning, pulling at the ears, neediness, being fussy with food, fighting sleep and sleeping for shorter periods than usual.

But is there a way to prevent overtiredness?

And how do you know if your baby is over or under tired?

Let’s take a look.

Signs Of An Overtired Baby

Let’s take a look at some of the main signs to look out for in assessing whether your baby is tired or even chronically overtired.


If your baby is aged between newborn and 6 months, the tell-tale signs include:

  • Yawning
  • Clenched fists
  • Pulling their ears
  • Having a worried look on their face or frowning
  • Sucking on their fingers

newborn baby yawning

Babies Over 6 Months & Toddlers

For babies over 6 months of age and for toddlers the signs are a little different, so look out for the following:

  • Demanding attention / neediness
  • Boredom and impatience
  • Fussy with food
  • Clinginess
  • More prone to tantrums and meltdowns
  • Falling asleep outside the normal nap time windows
  • Taking a long time to settle down to sleep in their bassinet or crib.
  • Sleeping for a shorter amount of time than usual at night

baby sleeping on black surface

How To Prevent Your Baby From Getting Overtired

Have A Range For Morning Start Times

Many sleep experts recommend setting a range when your baby should wake up, for example from 6am to 7am.

If your baby is awake before 6am, unless something is obviously wrong, don’t rush into their room but instead treat it like it’s the middle of the night and let them try and get back to sleep.

Similarly, if your baby is still asleep at 7am or 7:15am, you should wake them up because sleeping for longer may throw off their routine.

Don’t Stretch Wake Windows

Depending on your baby’s age there is an approximate maximum amount of time they should be awake during the day.

It’s important not to keep your baby awake for longer than these maximum amounts, as this will lead to overtiredness.

Below are the maximum recommended wake windows by sleep experts:

Newborn to 3 Months: 1 hour to 90 minutes

4  to 6 Months: 2.5 to 2.75 hours

7 to 9 Months: 3 to 3.5 hours

10 to 12 Months: 4 hours

When On One Daily Nap: 6 hours

Keep Bed Time Within A Set Range

In your bid to avoid an overtired baby it’s important to have some flexibility on bedtime.

Let’s say you baby has a normal bedtime of 6:30pm to 7:30pm.

If your baby has slept well during the day, you may want to put them to bed at 7:30pm that evening.

However, on days when your little one didn’t nap well, don’t be afraid to put them down at 6:30pm, rather than trying to keep them up and stretch bedtime to 7:30pm.

Doing the latter will lead to an overtired baby that doesn’t sleep well and most likely end up in an early than usual start the next morning.

How Do Babies Cry When Overtired?

Babies make quite a distinctive sound when they are overtired.

Listen our for a cry that is nasal, whiny and consistent – if you hear a cry like this while they are sleeping or while awake there’s a good chance your baby is overtired.

What Happens If A Baby Is Too Tired?

Although it may sound counterintuitive, an overtired baby is likely to fight the urge to fall sleep, and once they do settle, they are more likely to sleep for a shorter period compared to a well rested baby.

This cycle leads to your baby sleeping for fewer hours than they should, which in turn leads to more overtiredness and so on.

How Do You Settle An Overtired Baby?

  • If you are still breastfeeding, try offering them your breast, even if it’s just for comfort rather than for the milk.
  • If your baby is a newborn, try swaddling them, which will help your little one feel safe and comfortable in their bassinet.
  • Gently rock or bounce them on your shoulder in a quiet, dark room.
  • Play white noise near their bed as silence can be unusual and disconcerting to a baby.
  • Try continuous movement, such as a long walk in the stroller, car ride or a walk in a baby carrier.

woman in white shirt carrying baby

How Do You Know If A Baby Is Overtired or Undertired?

Unfortunately many of the signs of an overtiredness and under tiredness are similar.

So one of the best ways to tell if your baby is over or under tired is to assess their sleep over a 24 hour period.

For example, if your baby had a particularly short nap, by the time evening comes they may be overtired if you try to keep them awake until their usual bedtime.

On the other hand if your baby had an excellent overnight and daytime nap, and you try to put them to bed too early, the reason they may be fighting sleep is because they are not tired.

So as you can see, there’s some intuition and feel to determining what’s going on with your baby, and as always you will know your child and their schedule better than anyone else.

Why Do Overtired Babies Not Sleep Well?

Overtired babies can easily become stressed and overstimulated.

Their body’s produce cortisol (known as the stress hormone) and adrenaline, and both of these chemicals make it much harder for your baby to fall asleep.

That’s why it’s important to avoid your baby becoming too tired if possible, because once they reach this stage it will be harder to put them to sleep.

Must Read: The Ultimate Guide To Baby & Toddler Sleep

Tori is mama to 3 year old Isabella and co-founder of Rockinbaby. She has a BSc in Psychology, is a certified yoga teacher and is a working mom. In her free time Tori loves cooking delicious foods and baked treats, entertaining and working out. Learn more about Tori here.

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