Are you wondering how to get an overtired newborn to sleep? In this article, I’ll share how to finally break the cycle and get your baby back to sleep.
The 10- to 20-minute sleep cycles were killing me. My newborn was having a hard time falling and staying asleep, squirming and crying within minutes of putting him down in the crib. I knew he was beyond tired but couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t sleep for that reason.
Helping a newborn stop fighting sleep is one of parenthood’s biggest ironies. You’d think that being sleepy would prompt just about anyone to snooze, except that’s not exactly what happens.
You see, being overtired actually prevents your baby from getting a good rest. And the opposite is true: good sleep begets good sleep.
After three babies, I’ve learned many of these lessons along the way. Rest assured friend, this won’t last forever, nor will you have to simply wait for this phase to pass. Take a look at these simple tools to help your overtired newborn sleep. As one parent said about the article:
“Hi Nina, I have a daughter that is 1 month old and she just couldn’t sleep during her naps. I knew she was overtired from not being able to go to sleep. So I tried your method by clearing my mind and thinking positive which helped me a lot and also my baby by keeping myself calm and her. I tried comforting her physically by putting her on my chest and talking to her soothingly which finally she slept which was very amazing just want to say thank you for the tips!!!” -Lexy
Table of Contents
Carry your newborn in a baby wrap
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With an overtired newborn, the first goal is to get him to simply sleep in any way you can. That way, once he’s at least rested, you can start over and get him to sleep better for the next nap. And one of the best ways to get him to sleep is by carrying him in a baby wrap.
Think of it as a “compromise” between being able to put him down and having to hold him to sleep. Yes, he’s still being carried, but at least you have your arms free to move around the house. Plus, he gets the warm, cozy feeling of being near your body.
Be warned: trying on a baby wrap can be awkward the first few times, but you’ll get the hang of wrapping it around your body with practice.
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Give your newborn a warm bath
If adults can relax with a warm bath, so too can babies. Try giving your baby a warm bath—even if it’s not usually part of your sleep routine—before he gets too angry.
Make sure the water is warm and the bathroom is also heated so he’s comfortable before he gets in the water. Dim the room so that he’s not looking straight into the bright lights on the ceiling. You might even want to finish the bath with a warm towel fresh from the dryer.
A bath can provide the warmth and calm he needs to reset his mood and get ready for sleep.
Use a swaddle
Babies love the feeling of being held, but it’s clearly not realistic to hold them all day long. One option is to wrap him in a swaddle and set him down.
This allows him to feel like he’s in someone’s arms, without actually being carried and held to sleep. It keeps him snug the way he was in the womb and prevents his arms from flailing and hitting his face (a product of the Moro reflex that babies are born with).
I like ready-made swaddles because they’re easier to use and are less likely to come undone than a regular baby blanket.
Combine the swing and the pacifier
I almost didn’t buy a swing, thinking I wouldn’t need one for my eldest. Now after three babies, I don’t know how I could’ve gotten away without one. Not only does a swing offer your baby a snug place to relax, but the swaying motion also lulls him to sleep.
Take it up a notch by offering a pacifier while he’s in the swing. When you notice that he’s starting to fidget (even when the nap isn’t over yet), give the pacifier a slight “tug.” This will trigger him to suck harder and sleep another cycle.
And get a swing with a plug adapter, not one that relies only on batteries. That way, you’ll never fear the moment the batteries run out (trust me, I know this feeling!).
Create a conducive sleep environment
I kept hearing advice that babies should nap in a bright, well-lit room to help them learn that the daytime is for short naps while the nighttime is for longer sleep.
Except, I don’t know about you, but my baby never took to sleeping in a brightly-lit room, and all his naps ended up being short.
Instead, make sure your baby’s room is dark, going so far as hanging darkening curtains. The darkness can encourage him to take long naps and block the stimulation that can interrupt his sleep.
If you’re worried that he’ll think it’s nighttime and end up sleeping five hours straight, I say two things:
First, even darkening curtains will never make the room as dark as it gets at night. It’ll get dark, but not dark.
And second, use those five-hour stretches to relax during the day! They’re as rare as can be, so the few times they happen should be cause for celebration, not worry that he won’t sleep well at night. And if I had to guess, he just might sleep even better at night because of that long stretch during the day.
Then, besides darkening curtains, add white noise to the room. Shushing sounds—from a fan, an app, or a sound machine—can lull him to sleep much better than stark silence can. Plus, white noise can prevent startling, loud noises that might wake him up prematurely.
Create a calm environment
An overtired baby can struggle with going to sleep when her environment isn’t exactly conducive to rest and relax.
An easy fix? Keep her room dark and serene. Get blackout curtains (we got these curtains) to block sunlight that streams inside. Turn off the television or other flashing lights that could interrupt her sleep. And don’t feel the need to keep eye contact, as that might encourage her to focus and pay attention to you.
Instead, keep her visual environment dark and calm, so that she can quiet her mind and ease into sleep.
Then, turn on white noise. Shushing sounds, whether a white noise machine, an app, or even a fan or heater, can calm your overtired baby. After growing accustomed to the white noise in your womb, it’s no wonder he calms down when he hears the familiar sound.
Besides the continuous sounds of white noise, he can also feel comforted with your own soothing sounds.
Shush into his ears as you hold him in your arms or offer soothing words of comfort. He may not understand what you’re saying, but he knows through tone of voice, body language, and facial expression that you’re here to comfort him.
Feed your baby
Once my kids grew to become toddlers, I relied on snacks to keep them well-sustained between meals and when we were out and about. I didn’t realize how useful snacks can be to prevent sour moods or hungry tummies.
Well, the same can be said for babies and breastmilk or formula. In the beginning, I resented anyone who suggested I should nurse the baby when he’d cry, especially since I was the only one who could. But over time, I realized that babies cry to be fed for a reason—they want milk!
You might think, But my baby feels tired, not hungry. True enough, but have you ever felt extra cranky and tired when you were hungry? When basic needs aren’t met, we’re more likely to be cranky and tired than if we were fed and well-rested.
If anything, feeding your baby provides a chance for her to calm down, since sucking is a soothing motion. Don’t want to actually give her milk? Use a pacifier instead, which can have the same, soothing effect as feeding, especially if she’s not hungry.
Rely on routines
An overtired baby is likely so because of a lack of routine.
You see, a sleep routine helps your baby expect what comes next. She’s more open to sleeping when it always happens after the same activities or flow to her day.
A sleep schedule also provide a consistent, repetitive rhythm in the daytime that allows you to remember what to do next, often automatically. When you know that she sleeps after a set amount of awake time, then you’re more likely to be consistent with putting her down in the crib or bassinet to nap.
In fact, I learned that babies need to sleep after a set amount of time. Many of my baby’s cues I was on the lookout for actually signaled that he was already overtired, and keeping the baby’s wake windows short improved nap times.
Stay home for your baby’s longest stretch of sleep
A common reason for babies to be tired is that they’re out and about, away from their usual sleep environments. Many new parents compensate by timing naps to when they’re driving or out for a stroll. But unfortunately, babies don’t always sleep in those situations.
The result? A cranky, tired baby, even though he “technically” napped.
Instead, figure out when he usually takes his longest nap. Is it the first one after waking up for the day, or the afternoon one after a fun outing?
Then, decide to stay home for that nap. Keep things subdued so that he has a chance to sleep long and deeply at home, rather than in the car or stroller.
Try something different
Sometimes we forget that no solution is ever 100% guaranteed. And so, you stay stuck bouncing the baby on a yoga ball over and over because that’s “what you do” to get her to sleep.
But doing something over and over when it isn’t working isn’t going to make it finally work. Instead, you’ll end up frustrated that she woke up the instant you put her down despite the fact that she’s been nursing for an hour and still hungry.
Instead, try something different. Maybe that means rocking her standing up, going for a car ride, putting her on a blanket on the floor, turning on music, dancing to music… anything else besides the thing that isn’t working.
Try doing it even if it’s not what “usually works” because it just might this time. One idea might work for one nap and not the next—simply move on and try the next idea.
And be relaxed and compassionate. You won’t help either you or your baby when you’re anxious and frustrated. Instead, show empathy for her struggles, realizing that this is likely harder on her than it is on you.
Provide compassion and empathy
Don’t think of your baby’s fussiness as yet another hassle to deal with that’s keeping you sleep-deprived. Instead, show him that you can see why he’s overtired. Maybe he had a long day, is going through developmental milestones, or skipped a nap. Show empathy for what he must be going through, and comfort him through his fussiness.
Instead, be the calm source he needs. Have you ever tried falling asleep with someone frowning above you, upset that you haven’t fallen asleep yet? It’s not exactly easy for him to calm down and sleep when you’re not calm yourself. Don’t let things ruffle you so much that it affects him as well.
The frustration is real, isn’t it? When you feel like you’ve done everything to get your overtired newborn to sleep but he just won’t.
Hopefully, you’ve gained new strategies to make these challenges less difficult. No more 10- to 20-minute sleep cycles, friend! You can break the cycle once and for all.
Get more tips:
- Newborn Not Sleeping? Here Are 9 Tips That Can Help
- What to Do When Your Overtired Baby Keeps Waking Up
- Newborn Awake for 3 Hours? Here’s What to Do
- 9 Clever Solutions for the Newborn Witching Hour
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