Need to know how to get an overtired newborn to sleep? Here’s how to break the cycle and get your baby back to sleep, without crying it out.
The 10-20 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. I knew he was clean and fed, and couldn’t think of what else might be causing him to keep waking up.
It didn’t help that he’d calm down and fall asleep as soon as I picked him up. But clearly, I couldn’t lay around all day with him in my arms for hours.
I could tell he was overtired since he resisted asleep, but I couldn’t figure out how to “treat” it. How do you get a baby fighting sleep to, well… go to sleep so that he’s less cranky overall? With cat naps all day long and me constantly trying to get him to sleep, our days were nothing short of exhausting.
How to get an overtired newborn to sleep
For any mom who can relate all too well, I hear you.
Maybe your overtired newborn is only getting 12-13 hours of sleep in a day when he should be getting much more. Or he’s going down for a mere 30 minutes at a time and wakes up screaming. Perhaps he insists on staying awake for two hours, only to be inconsolable when it’s time to sleep.
Helping an overtired newborn stop fighting and actually go to sleep is one of parenthood’s biggest ironies. You’d think that the need for sleep would prompt just about anyone to knock out and fall asleep, 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.
But how then do you stop the cycle—to reset your baby, if you will—so he sleeps in longer stretches and stops fighting sleep?
After three babies, including twins at that, I’ve learned many of these lessons along the way. I’ve seen what works for this newborn stage as well as the worries and frustration you might feel. And rest assured friend, this won’t last forever, nor will you have to simply wait for this phase to pass.
These are simple hacks you can turn to when all seems lost and you don’t know what else to do. By cycling through these ideas, you won’t find yourself stuck doing the same techniques and feeling helpless when they don’t work.
So take a look at how to get an overtired newborn to sleep:
1. 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 then 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 do many things and move around the house. Plus, he gets the warm, cozy feeling of being near your body.
Be warned: getting used to a baby wrap can be awkward the first few times, but you’ll get the hang of wrapping with practice. Here are a few popular baby wraps to check out:
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2. Warm bath
If adults can relax with a warm bath, so too can newborn babies.
Try giving your baby a warm bath—even if it’s not usually part of your routine—before he gets too angry. Make sure the water is warm and the bathroom is also heated so he’s comfortable even before he gets in the water. You might even want to finish the bath with a warm towel from the dryer.
In short, a bath can provide the warmth and calm he needs to reset his mood and get ready for sleep.
3. Baby pillow and 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 set him down on a baby pillow. This allows him to feel like he’s in someone’s arms, without actually having to be carried and held to sleep.
You can even combine the comfort of a baby pillow with wrapping your baby in a swaddle. The swaddle keeps him snug and prevents his arms from flailing and hitting his face (a product of the Moro reflex that all babies are born with).
Simply swaddle your baby (I like ready-made swaddles like these), and then set him down on a baby pillow. Take a look at these infant cushions for ideas:
4. Swing and a 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 newborn 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. The sucking motion further helps him relax and fall asleep. Tip: when you notice that he’s starting to fidget (even when nap time isn’t over just yet), give the pacifier a slight “tug.” This will trigger him to suck harder and sleep another cycle.
And for swings, get one with an AC plug adapter and not just one that relies on batteries. That way, you’ll never fear of the moment the batteries run out.
5. Dark room with white noise
I kept hearing advice that babies should nap in a bright, well-lit room to help him adjust to daytime vs nighttime sleep. Bright rooms would send the message that daytime naps should be short while nighttime sleep should be long.
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 exactly that: quick.
Instead, make sure your baby’s room is dark, going so far as to hanging darkening curtains. This will encourage him to sleep when the room is dark, instead of fighting against the sunlight that’s trying to 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 get the room as dark as it gets when the moon is out 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.
Bonus add-on: besides darkening curtains, add white noise to the room. Shushing sounds—from a fan, an app, or a white noise machine—will lull him to sleep much better than stark silence can. Plus, white noise will prevent startling noises in the rest of the house from waking him up prematurely.
6. Try anything and everything
Sometimes we forget that no solution is ever 100% guaranteed, including helping an overtired newborn who won’t go to sleep. And so we stay stuck bouncing the baby on a yoga ball over and over because that’s “what you do” to get him to sleep.
But doing it over and over when it isn’t working isn’t going to make it finally work. Instead, you’ll end up frustrated that you’ve been nursing him for an hour, or when he wakes up the instant you put him down.
Instead, try anything and everything. Maybe that means rocking him standing up, going for a car ride, putting him 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 for this time.
One idea might work for one nap and not the next—simply move on and try the next idea.
Best practices for helping your overtired newborn
- Be relaxed and compassionate. You won’t help either you or your baby when you’re anxious and frustrated. Instead, show compassion and empathy for his struggles, realizing that this is likely harder on him than it is on you.
- Don’t worry about creating bad habits at this age. If your biggest fear keeping you from using baby gear is that he’ll get used to it, don’t worry. You can undo all these habits just as easily as he took to them. Down the line, when he’s old enough, you can teach him how to put himself to sleep. But during this “survival mode” stage, use whatever you can to help him stop feeling overtired.
- Create a routine. As you undo the cycle of sleep deprivation, start creating a routine for your day. It’s not about starting at certain times of the day (“The first nap is exactly at 9am”). Instead, it’s more about following a rhythm and flow. For instance, after waking up, change and feed your baby, followed by play and wake time, before settling back to sleep and repeating the cycle. That way, your baby can begin to notice patterns and predictability, even at this stage.
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 sleep during the day or night.
Hopefully, this article has given you new insights, not just on strategies, but on the mindset you can adopt to make these challenges less difficult. A baby wrap is a fantastic way to “hold” him while still freeing your arms. Running a warm bath before he gets too worked up is another method to relax and calm him down.
You can lay him on an infant lounger pillow, combined with swaddling him nice and snug, for a relaxing way to fall asleep. Likewise, the soothing motion of a swing and sucking on a pacifier can finally get him calm enough to sleep.
Keeping his room dark—even during the day—and playing white noise are surefire ways to get him to sleep instead of being startled awake. And finally, try anything and everything to see if it’ll work, even if it’s not what you’d normally do. You’re better off trying new things than feeling stuck doing the same old ones.
No more 10-20 minute sleep cycles, friend! You can break the cycle of an overtired newborn once and for all.
Get more tips:
- Newborn Not Sleeping? 9 Tricks to Help Your Baby (Finally!) Sleep
- What to Do When Your Overtired Baby Keeps Waking Up
- How to Get Your Baby to Adjust Using a Newborn Schedule
- 7 Secrets to Get an Overtired Baby to Finally Sleep
- Clever Solutions to the Newborn Witching Hour
Does your baby only sleep in your arms? Join my newsletter and download a free chapter of my ebook, How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Being Held. You’ll learn effective tips and strategies to finally ease her out of your arms: