Having an overtired baby is the absolute pits, as any tired Mum will quickly attest.  They are cranky, irritable and generally out of sorts. But worst of all, an overtired baby can be extremely difficult to get to sleep. Overtiredness is not only the arch enemy of sleep training but sleep in general.

Babies, as with all people, have a natural rhythm when it comes to sleep. Our bodies secrete different hormones to keep us up and running during the day, and different ones to help us rest at night. Cortisol to get us up and going during the day and melatonin to help us sleep at night. The secretion of these hormones is dependant on a variety of factors, but timing is one of the most prevalent.

Why do babies become overtired?

What happens when your little one stays awake past the time when these natural cues to sleep are activated? Their body assumes there’s a reason that it hasn’t been allowed to get to sleep. Thinking that there is a reason to stay awake, it fires up those daytime hormones again.

This is when the trouble starts.

Once those signals to stay awake get fired up, they’re tough to shut down, even though baby’s already tired. Less sleep leads to more daytime hormones, and the cycle perpetuates itself. The result, a cranky overtired baby!

How to prevent an overtired baby

The best way to prevent baby becoming overtired is to get them to sleep before they get past that window of opportunity when melatonin is high. But babies, especially newborns, are a little bit cryptic when it comes to signalling when they’re ready for bed. However, if you know what to look for, it can work wonders in assessing the right time to put baby down.

Some good signs to watch for include:

  • Tugging at their ears
  • Rubbing their eyes and nose
  • Arching their back
  • Turning their face into your chest.

These are all strong signs that your baby’s ready for bed. Unfortunately, they’re also easily mistaken for signs that your baby’s hungry! It is incredibly easy to resort to feeding and end up with an overtired baby. It is best to combine your keen eye for signals with a keen eye on the clock.

Watch your baby’s wake windows

Newborns can usually only handle about an hour of awake time in a stretch. Make a note of the time when they wake up. Set a reminder or make a mental note that they need to be headed down for a nap around 60 short minutes after that.

As they get older, your baby’s wake windows will get longer. But even when they are toddlers, they will still need regular day naps to avoid becoming overtired.

Toddlers, they have their own quirky little habit when they get overtired. The sudden influx of those daytime hormones can actually make them quite manic. They might seem to be super happy and giggly for a while. Just the opposite of what you would expect from a child who needs to get to bed. But before long that their mood will shift rapidly to irritated and cranky! Then you’ve probably got a bedtime battle on your hands.

These are the wake windows I would recommend for your baby as they grow.

AgeAwake Window
3-4 months1.5-2hrs
5-6 months2.5-3hrs
7-10 months3-3.5hrs
 10-12 months4hrs
12 months – 3 years4-6hrs


For parents of newborns, having a wake window of only 1 hour can sound very small. After all, an hour at a time is barely enough time for a nappy change, feed, and a little bit of playtime before baby’s got to get back down for another nap. But I can assure you, no client I’ve ever worked with has ever come back to me after implementing it and said, “I have a feeling that baby’s getting too much sleep.”

So give it a try for a couple of weeks and see how it works. I can almost guarantee you’ll be seeing a happier baby. As always, if you would like some help with your baby’s sleep, please don’t heistate to contact me.

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