How to Break the Cycle of an Overtired Baby

Are you a tired new parent that is learning how to break the cycle of an overtired baby?

Experiencing the cycle of an overtired baby can be tiring and overwhelming for both the mom, dad, and baby.

When both of my kids were young, they sometimes get overtired.  I was exhausted and overwhelmed all at the same time. It felt like I could not function properly both day and night.

That’s when I started to read up and learn about how to break the cycle of an overtired baby.

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How do you know your baby is overtired?

how to break the cycle of an overtired baby
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The signs of an overtired baby can be subtle.

You might mistakenly think that they are just tired.

However, here are some subtle signs that your baby is overtired:

  • Your baby only takes brief naps instead of full solid naps
  • Your baby has a difficult time falling to sleep
  • Wakes up very frequently at night and does not sleep well
  • Very fussy
  • Inconsolable
  • Easily has tantrums

Depending on the age of your baby, you would need to ensure that your baby needs to have enough sleep during the day and night. Sounds odd right? But yes, a baby that does not have enough sleep can be overtired and make it harder for them to sleep.

Signs that the baby is already tired – before he gets overtired

Pay attention to the following cues as it tells you that they are tired and might need a nap or some time to sleep:

  • Your baby rubs her eyes
  • Pulls her hair
  • Cranky
  • Stares into space
  • Yawning

If you see these signals, try putting the baby down for a nap to prevent her from being overtired. Acknowledging these signs and putting her down for a nap can prevent the her from having a meltdown, tantrums and being overtired.

However, sometimes babies do get overtired and that’s okay. This could happen because their schedules may have been disrupted or they are excited about being in a new environment. It has happened to me on several occasions and thankfully, I have survived.

Here are some suggestions on how to break the cycle of an overtired baby:

how to break the cycle of an overtired baby

Limit her sleep time during the day – encourage play to get her stimulated enough

Depending on how old your baby is, you can encourage her to stay awake for certain periods of time during the day.

However, you would still need to look at the situation based on your baby’s cues.

For my second baby, I realized he stayed awake often during the day. This happened when he was two to three months old.

So instead of stressing out about it, I would play or interact with him. “Playing” can include:

  • Singing to the baby
  • Talking
  • Letting her explore the movement of her hands and feet
  • Letting her observe her environment

I noticed that once I started to “entertain” my baby when he was awake during the day, he would fall asleep during his nap time much easier.

At 5 pm when his sister and his cousins would come back home, that would also force him to stay awake (without crying). It was an exciting moment for him.

So, by the time I put him to bed around 730 pm, he would fall asleep easier. He would also wake up every 2-3 hours for a feed and sleep back again right after.

Related article:

8 Super Easy Sensory Play Ideas for Toddlers

Have a relaxing but consistent routine with the baby

Babies and kids thrive on having a good schedule.

Having a routine for babies and kids makes them feel safe and creates a sense of calm. You can prevent your baby from being overstimulated by having a relaxing routine with the baby in the evenings. It also signals to them that it’s going to be nighttime and that they will have long stretches of sleep.

how to break the cycle of an overtired baby
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Read a book to your baby

Reading a book to your baby is one of the easiest relaxing routines that can help to break an overtired baby.

It not only gives the opportunity for babies to “learn” but it also allows them to recognize your voice better. It is a good form of bonding between the parent and the baby. Moreover, research has shown that reading to babies has also promoted language development and social communication skills.

Bathe the baby before bedtime

If there was one time in a day that you needed to choose to bathe your baby, it’s before bedtime.

Bathing the baby before bedtime is one of the ways how to break the cycle of an overtired baby because it’s relaxing and it signals that it’s time to sleep at night.

Massage the baby

You can also do a relaxing massage after she is bathed as it is a routine that can help calm the baby.

There are many benefits of massaging a baby such as:

  • It strengthens the interaction between you and the baby
  • Helps the baby relax and sleep
  • It minimizes crying
  • Positively affects infants’ hormones that reduce stress

However, make sure to wait at least an hour after your baby is fed before you begin to massage her. If you want, you can also massage her before you feed her.

Feed the baby – make sure the baby is well fed!

If your baby is exclusively being breastfed, it would be great to encourage your baby to feed longer until she is full before she falls asleep. I know this can be tricky because sometimes breastfed babies tend to fall asleep at the breast. Or if your baby has a small stomach, they will often need to feed more frequently.

If that’s the case, you can try to encourage your baby to feed before you fall asleep. Say, for instance, if you plan to sleep at 10 pm then you can feed her a few times before going to bed. I did this with my son and on good days, he would wake up only every 3 hours to feed again.

Create a calming night environment

If your baby is slightly older like about 6 months old and you may find it challenging to put her to sleep around 7 pm, create a relaxing night environment.

You can do this by doing the following:

  • NOT switching on all the lights and only switching on the lamp
  • Speaking in a softer voice
  • Putting on lullabies in the background

I had to do this for my second baby as I had to also take care of my firstborn while trying to get the baby ready to sleep. If you have more than one child to take care of, it can be challenging. You will eventually get used to it once you have a routine that works for you.

Put the baby to sleep early

how to break the cycle of an overtired baby
Photo by Laura Garcia on

This might sound like a no-brainer, but I think many parents might make this mistake. I know I did when I first had my firstborn.

Sometimes you think that by putting your baby to sleep later, he or she would sleep through the night.

This is actually not true, especially for young babies.

One of the golden rules on how to break the cycle of an overtired baby is by putting her to sleep early.

A good time to put the baby to sleep would be around 7 pm but if you’re juggling between a few kids, you can put down the baby for the night by 9 pm. 9 pm is slightly more realistic for a mom with two small children. If you want to put them to sleep before 9 pm, you may need to put them to sleep together at the same time.

Swaddle the baby

Depending on how young your baby is, you can swaddle her at night so she (and you) can have better sleep.

This is especially important for parents who have not been having good sleep at night and during the day.

I think I may have swaddled my second baby for 2-3 months at night so that I could have some decent sleep and function better the next day.

White noise

Using a white noise app to make makes it better for your baby to sleep. I used this for both my babies especially when I find that they are having a hard time sleeping. I also tend to fall asleep better when I put on the sound of rain or beach waves.


If you are reading this, you are probably trying to figure out how to break the cycle of an overtired baby—and I feel you because I have been there.

Try these different steps and let me know how it works out.

It must be challenging and tiring for you, especially if you have a newborn. If you are too tired and feel overwhelmed, please reach out to your family or friends to give you a helping hand.

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About Me

Sofiya Wan Mohd Nor

A full time mom, a freelance proofreader and a PhD student specializing in Educational Psychology.

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