How to Break the Cycle of an Overtired Baby

Is your baby stuck in an endless loop of being overtired? Learn how to break the cycle of an overtired baby and reset their sleep.

How to Break the Cycle of an Overtired BabyIt always started with the naps.

My newborn baby had been taking terrible naps, only to spend his time awake feeling and looking tired. He’d rub his eyes all day long, fussing and shrieking because he was exhausted.

Then, because he was overtired, he didn’t sleep well at night. His short naps meant it would take hours to get him to sleep. And by that point, it was already time to eat again. This, of course, cycled right back into the naps. Because he didn’t sleep well at night, he was even more overtired come the next morning.

I felt like I spent the whole day (and night) trying to get him to sleep.

How to break the cycle of an overtired baby

If you’re here, you might relate all too well to these erratic sleep cycles. Maybe your baby cries for 20-30 minutes before finally falling asleep, only to wake up crying and miserable yet again. She’s cranky all day, wakes up within 10 minutes into a nap, and doesn’t actually fall back asleep.

Some evenings, she’s up four to five hours before the bedtime routine. Never mind that frequent night wakings still happen. This wouldn’t worry you so much if for the fact that each day seems to be getting worse.

How exactly do you help an overtired baby catch up on sleep, when getting less sleep continues to contribute even more exhaustion? Thankfully, babies can catch up on missed sleep, breaking the vicious cycle of overtiredness once and for all.

Take a look at what worked for me and other moms, and see if these recommendations can help you, too:

Overtired Baby Won't Stop Crying

1. Limit wake times

You might already have a max of how long your baby stays awake, which was great when he slept well. But with him being overtired nearly all the time, you might have to be even more aggressive with limiting his wake times.

For instance, pay attention to his sleepy cues. Even if he had only been awake a mere 30 minutes, it’s okay to put him down for his next nap if he displays those sleepy signs.

Even if he doesn’t show baby tired signs when he’s awake, limit his wake time anyway, even if temporarily. Let’s say his wake windows are normally 90 minutes at most. Given his overtired cycle, cut it down to 60 minutes for the next few days.

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One Mistake You're Making with Your Baby's Awake Time

2. Have a really early bedtime

Many parents would balk at the idea of an early bedtime. “We can’t end the day that early!” you might say. Or, “My spouse barely comes home from work by that time.”

No worries, friend. An early bedtime doesn’t have to be forever—just a temporary “reset” to help your baby catch up on sleep and break the cycle of being overtired. Once he’s back on track, you can adjust to a more reasonable bedtime down the line.

So, how early is “early”? We’re talking anywhere as early as 5pm.

Again, this isn’t so much to establish a new pattern as it is to help him stop feeling chronically tired. By putting him down to bed at a ridiculously early hour, he can use that night’s sleep to better adjust his sleep needs.

Learn which newborn sleep cues to watch out for.

Newborn Sleep Cues

3. Hold your baby (or use baby gear)

Holding your baby for every nap may not be a sustainable way for her to sleep (she might not learn to nap otherwise). But given the circumstances, hold and comfort her if that’s the only surefire way she can sleep.

Right now, it’s all about resetting her sleep pattern and catching up on rest. Doing whatever it takes to get her to sleep long stretches can get her back to sleeping well.

Yes, it’s inconvenient at times, but consider it a temporary fix to break the cycle. If anything, make the most of it and see it as a time to snuggle and bond while ensuring that she stops feeling overtired.

Can’t hold her all the time? Use baby gear that can do the trick. Swings, swaddling, a baby wrap or carrier, and even stroller rides can help her sleep longer than putting her down in the crib.

Down the line, you can go back to your healthy sleep habits, but for now, focus on catching up on lost sleep.

Baby Won't Nap Unless Held

4. Create a soothing environment

How does your baby’s sleep environment feel?

Sometimes, a simple change in your surroundings is all it takes to invite more, not less, of the sleep she needs.

Make sure that any activities before sleep is calm and soothing. Draw blackout curtains and turn on a white noise machine to prevent sounds and bright lights from startling her. Before bedtime, turn bath time into a relaxing activity.

A soothing environment extends to how we behave as well. I would feel frustrated as I rocked my baby because he wouldn’t go to sleep already. I later realized how silly it was for me to expect him to fall asleep when I was so upset—not exactly a calm experience for him.

Instead, reset your own mood and stay calm, even when things don’t go according to plan. This can help your baby remain calm and secure and readier to fall asleep.

Learn 5 things you can do when your newborn wants to be held all night.

Newborn Wants to Be Held All Night

5. Check your baby’s wake up time in the morning

Many of us base our babies’ first nap time on how long they’ve been awake. If they typically stay awake for 90 minutes and woke up at seven in the morning, then we know they’re ready to sleep come 8:30am.

But what if your baby had been awake much earlier than 7am? He might have been awake since 6am but didn’t cry or make a noise. Putting him down at 8:30am would mean he was already overtired.

Check and make sure what time he actually wakes up for the day, and base his next nap on that time. Use a baby monitor or peek into his crib to see if he’s awake. That way, you can avoid him being overtired for the rest of the day.

What to do when your baby is awake for 6 hours straight.

Newborn Awake for 6 Hours Straight


For any frustrated parent who can’t seem to break the cycle of an overtired baby… you’re not alone. It’s not easy when your baby almost falls asleep, then cries from being so overtired. Thankfully, you now have a few tricks to break free from the sleep deprivation.

Start by implementing a really early bedtime sleep routine, if only to reset your baby’s sleep patterns. Limit his wake time even shorter so that he catches up on lost sleep. Hold him if need be, or use baby gear like swings and wraps to get him to nap longer.

Create a soothing environment, both physically in his room as well as emotionally with how you feel. And lastly, check the time he wakes up to make sure he’s not awake too long first thing in the morning.

No more fussy sleep, friend! Now your baby can get the sleep he needs.

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  1. My case is getting worse by the day she woke up this morning showing overtired signs already. I have to wear her in a carrier many hours into the night just for her to have enough sleep drive to co sleep the rest of the night/morning. When she is she is awake and not squealing, blowing raspberries, etc. she has no energy. Doesn’t even want to play with toys or do tummy time (5 months old). I’m practically wearing her all day for naps and she still isn’t getting caught up on sleep. Doesn’t like the swing so that’s not an option. Her and myself are exhausted and I’m getting very irritated and emotional as each day passes. I’m sure I’ve cried everyday this week.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Big hugs, Stella <3 It's not easy dealing with sleep deprivation all these months. Have you considered sleep training her so that she can put herself to sleep on her own? Check with your pediatrician, but at this stage, she's likely unable to fall asleep because she's grown used to these habits, not because she can't put herself to sleep on her own. Hang in there, mama. Know that you're not alone (my eldest was six months before I finally got him to sleep on his own, so I know the feeling all too well!).

  2. We are 2 weeks into Ferber Method (basically just extinction at this point) with our 5 month old. He has had some really good nights and is showing progress! His afternoon naps are 1.5-2.5 hours long which is amazing for him. But today, despite my attempt at getting 3 naps out of him he only took 2 catnaps and was up for 3.5 hours before bed. I KNEW it would be rough but he cried for the longest time yet and it kills me because I didn’t prevent overtiredness from happening and now it caused him stress at bedtime. I try so hard to get atleast 3 naps but when he catnaps it doesn’t do much good. It’s now harder for him to sleep in stroller or swing because he is (for the most part) sleep trained. He will sleep in the car with a paci. Should I try this for last nap if needed? I hate driving around town for 30 minutes.. and no he won’t even sleep longer than that in the car! I just hate when I allow it to happen because that means more crying at bedtime. I have also been tried to give him 1-2 feeds at night and km wondering if this is confusing him because he does typically still wake up even when he isn’t overtired. I will completely stop those feedings if I need to. He is almost 6 months old. Thanks in advance!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Lexi! It’s definitely rough when they don’t nap well during the day, as it affects their nighttime sleep so much. Do you think that he’s ready to drop to 2 naps? Generally at 6 months they sleep about 15 hours total, so if he’s sleeping, say, 12 hours straight, he might need only 3 hours of naps during the day. And if he’s napping 1.5-2.5 hours, dividing that up into 3 might mean either short naps, or taking one long nap but then either skipping a nap or taking a short one.

      And yes, I’d be consistent with feedings, as that can disrupt nighttime sleep, which is something you don’t want to get started lol.e

  3. I’ve learned so much from this article. I’m sure my baby is sleep deprived as all symptoms fit his condition. He’s 5 months old and I plan to start early bedtimes from today. How long till I know he’s caught up on missed sleep? Should I worry much about his feeds because he’s not feeding properly though he is passing stool well. Thanks!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Anam! You’ll know he’s well-rested when he welcomes sleep and doesn’t fuss too much. As far as his feeds, if it seems like he has a lot of wet and soiled diapers, he’s likely fine, though of course you should double check with the pediatrician if you’re concerned about weight gain.

      1. Okay. I understand it varies with babies but reason I asked was because someone said it took her 5 weeks! That scared me a little.

  4. I can’t tell what’s going on with my baby girl. She is almost 5 months old and recently not napping well. Some days she has one long afternoon nap but the morning and evening nap are no more than 25 min. I have to rock her to sleep still. I rock her to bed and she doesn’t fight too much and stays down for maybe 3-4 hours and then feeds. After her 1st or 2nd feed she’s either wide awake talking to herself or wakes up every 20 min needing to be rocked back. Every night she loses almost 3 hours in this cycle. 1st feed we bottle feed her and 2nd feed I nurse her for a short time. She typically sleeps between 7/8 pm and I try to get her to sleep between 7/8 am. I’m so exhausted and frustrated and don’t know what to do.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Sveta! It’s definitely exhausting waking up multiple times by this point. It’s likely she has grown used to feeding or rocking to fall asleep, which is understandable considering that this is all she has ever known. Have you considered sleep training her and teaching her to self soothe? That way, she learns how to fall asleep on her own, so that when she wakes up throughout the night, she can simply put herself to sleep instead of waking up crying for you to do it for her. Big hugs, mama!

  5. My son is 16 month old!
    Yes, he is 1 year old and 4 months.
    He is addicted to breastfeeding, fall asleep only like that, wakes up every hour.
    Is this method works with that age either?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Miri! This article was written with newborn babies in mind. Maybe consider teaching him how to self soothe and sleep through the night, so that he knows to go back to school instead of needing to breastfeed to fall asleep.

  6. A momma who’s been up for the last 2 hrs with a baby who won’t sleep says:

    My baby was pretty overtired a week into sleep traininf, so I put her to bed around 5/6 pm for a few nights in a row and she slept clear from 5pm to 7am for a couple nights. It worked so well! However, on the third night, she was still showing overtired signs so I put her to bed early again but she began sleeping from 5/6pm to 5am…I tried putting her down for bed at a normal time after that, and she became overtired again. Sleeping only from 7-5 and having horrible naps and skipping naps and refusing to sleep, being awake for hours before bed. I tried moving bedtime early again. Now she sleeps 5pm-3am and takes 1-2 hrs to fall back asleep and then for only 30 mins, has horrible naps, and cranky. Cries at every beginning and end of nap. She used to go right to sleep with very little fussing and now she’s so cranky all the time. I can’t put her to bed much earlier, but it seems like she now things nighttime sleep is from 5-3/4. What am I supposed to do??

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi there! I’m not sure what time she naps, but one thing you can try is to put her to bed at her regular time (say, 7pm) but then try not to keep her wake too long between the last nap and bedtime. Then, when she wakes up super early around 3-5am, don’t get her up for the day, but keep checking in on her until the official wake up time. She likely won’t fall back asleep the first few times, but learns that waking up in the early morning doesn’t mean that the day is ready to start, and that instead she can try to sleep again. Hang in there, mama <3

  7. Hi, Nina. For how long do I have to do these steps to get my baby out of overtiredness? If she gets one day of good sleeping, is it enough?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi! There really isn’t a set time or number of days. I would observe and see whether it looks like she’s better rested. For instance, maybe she was sleeping at 8pm but you had an early bedtime of 6pm. You might want to experiment with moving back to 8pm once she’s sleeping well. But let’s say she was sleeping at 10pm and you moved bedtime earlier to 8pm. You might find that an 8pm is better overall and decide to keep that as her new bedtime.

  8. This is my baby right now! So glad I found this article! How long will this typically take to break the cycle? I shouldn’t let my baby get more day sleep than usual to do this right? Thank you!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Laura! Every baby is different, so there really isn’t a set time when he or she will catch up. But as far as daytime sleep, I would actually encourage more sleep during the day to help break the cycle. It seems strange, but good sleep leads to better sleep. So, if you can get them to start sleeping well during the day, that can also help!

  9. Please please help me!
    I am currently sleep training my 4mo. She is the type that easily gets overtired. We are on day 10.

    Her day starts around 7-7:30, goes to sleep every 1h15′, bedtime around 7:30-8pm.
    I think she can kind of put herself to sleep already, because she can sleep long stretches at night, and for the first few naps of the days, she can go down easily.
    Her problem is her nap is only 30′ long, even when i let her fuss for another 30′, she can’t extend it. But she is still sleepy because when i feed her she falls back asleep on my breast. I dont let her fall asleep on my breast, she can only stay awake for 1h15′ then she naps for another 30′. If i keep her awake for longer, she struggles to fall asleep because she is overtired. Sometimes she cries for 1h but can’t fall asleep. However, if i let her “extend” her nap on my breast, she can stay awake for 1.5hrs and go down easily at the next nap.

    So the first 3 days of sleep training, i didn’t let her fall asleep on my breast, she had 5-6x 30′ naps, she struggled at the last 2 naps and bed time ( she cried soooo much ) – but she slept 10-12h straight at night.

    The next 3 days, i let her extend her naps on me, she didn’t struggle at naps and bedtime much ( not screaming- just whining a bit )- but she woke up twice during the night but didn’t eat much ( i think she got into the habit of eating at wake up )

    So i don’t know how to fix this. She has very strong reaction to being overtired. If i dont help her extend her naps, she will cry soooo much at naps and bedtime , not because she doesn’t know how to put herself to sleep, but bc she is being too tired to fall asleep. … but i will set a bad habit if i keep helping her and she will wake multiple times at night.

    Could someone please give me a solution for this ? Thanks so much .

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Naomi! It does sound like she’s too overtired to fully rest at her naps. I can also see your concern with putting her to sleep and undoing your sleep training habits.

      One thing you can try is to put her down for the next nap earlier than an hour and 15 minutes. Let’s say she wakes up from 9-9:30am. Try putting her down again at 10:30am. That way, she’s not overtired by her next nap. I hope that helps!

  10. Caroline Moran says:

    Hi Nina,
    My 5 month old has been suddenly having frequent night wakings and crappy naps. He will even wake up 1-2 hours after putting him down for bed. It’s been like this for a couple weeks now so I have the feeling he is overtired. He is extra fussy ( I thought it was because of teething ) but he’s pretty easy to put down just doesn’t stay asleep. I’ve been so worried about him getting too much day time sleep thinking that was effecting his bedtime but that doesn’t seem to be working. So is it okay to let him sleep as much as possible during the day right now? Also, his bedtime is usually 8:30-9, if we move to an earlier bed time like 6 or 6:30 for him to catch up on sleep, do I need to gradually move it?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Caroline! Usually sleep begets sleep, so if he’s getting good naps, that can actually help him sleep better at night (instead of feeling overtired). And if you’re considering moving his bedtime earlier, then yeah I would suggest doing it gradually, like in 15 minute increments each night, so that he can adjust.