10 Signs Your Baby is Overtired

When a baby is born, he/she becomes an independent being. But while this is true, he/she will still be devoid of many things and will need help from you, the parent, to function properly as well as grow and develop healthy. It is almost natural to know when you are tired (at least for adults it is). Children on the other hand do not have the slightest idea of what is happening to them. They do not have the ability to self soothe or even relax enough to fall asleep. Many, especially those that are really attached to their parents need to be helped – they have to be put to bed to sleep. As babies grow and develop, they view sleep as an obstacle to them having more fun, learning new things and playing – an obstacle that they have to evade by all means possible. And while they do everything in their power to not go to sleep, it is your job as a parent to ensure that they do get the much needed sleep. If your child does not sleep, do not expect to sleep either.

One step many parents have taken to help their babies fall asleep is having a sleep schedule. This schedule details all the baby’s sleeping times and helps to avoid tiredness. The down side to this is that at times your timetable will be stating it’s time for your baby to sleep and the baby ismore active than ever before. Schedule setting is for the most part parent led and does not so much pay attention or even anticipate the needs of a baby. To convert the sleep schedule to a baby-led kind of program, a tiny little adjustment should be made – you have to be able to tell when your baby is overtired. You have to know when to intervene and aid in sleeping. It is an extremely tricky and difficult process as you really have to be in synch with your child but all the same it can be done. There are certain tells that can help you know just when your help is needed but before that, we probably should make a clear distinction between a baby being tired and overtired.

There are different levels of tiredness. There is being tired, overtired and then there is exhaustion. The first level is somewhat intoxicating and for a baby, very easy to fall asleep. However, past this point, a baby becomes overtired, and this is when all hell breaks loose. In this state, your baby is way past the level of being ready to take a nap. When he/she is overtired, his/her body is so fatigued that the body triggers a stress response system which sends them into hyperactivity. The hormones secreted during this period, adrenaline and cortisol flood the bloodstream and enter the baby into a fight or flight response making it all the more for them to calm down enough to fall asleep. To avoid a misdiagnosis of the situation, below are some of the overtired symptoms that a baby might show. Note however that they vary depending on the baby’s age and level of development.

  1. Baby is overtiredFacial expressions

For many adults, yawning is the most obvious symptom of being overtired (of course it may also signify hunger, but if you just ate you know that’s not it). It is a natural reflex action of the body to signal that you could do with some sleep. As a parent, you probably were surprised to learn that babies can yawn too (and they look so cute too) which just like in adults can be a sign of fatigue and the need for sleep. However, yawning is not the only facial expression that babies can make to hint to you that they are sleepy. They can also start to give you the evil eye or frown when they are feeling overtired. If you see this, especially if your baby is a particularly happy and smiley one, know that it is time to retire for about two hours or so (kids do not sleep for too long like adults). As a matter of fact if you get your newborn to sleep for more than two hours, count yourself lucky. It is the one fact about kids that makes life for a new mother and father stressful and hectic and lacking ‘me time’.

  1. Baby moving handsHand movements

At young ages, babies (as naïve and clueless as they are) are able to communicate using their hands. They can express their feelings and even needs by the mere motion of their hands. As a parent, you will need to be very keen and pay attention to the movements that your baby will use. With different personalities, babies also feature different hand movements to pass a message across especially when they are overtired. For babies aged below 12 months, they tend to clench their hands into tiny balled fists, rub their eyes and pull on their ears over and over again.

Note however that a single motion resembling the above mentioned does not signify overtiredness. Babies love to explore and they could just be a way of learning their environment. But if these movements are repeated then take them to indicate overtiredness in your baby.

  1. Crying and crankinessCrying and crankiness

Regardless of the age, crying and crankiness is a sign thatyou can always depend on to tell ifyour child is overtire or not. Think about it. how many times, probably even in the rent past has your sleepiness (either in the day or nighttime) affected your mood and caused you to be alittle bit moody and say even rude to your peers? It should therefore not come as a surprise that the same applies to babies. They are after all human beings, little cute versions of us. For a baby, when the feeling of overtiredness is too overwhelming, the default response is bound to be crying whining and probably even tantrums. Anything that will get your attention and throw you off as well. They probably are thinking, ‘if I cannot get what I want, you won’t either’ (the same thing that goes through our mind when we are sleep deprived and moody.

  1. Baby clingy behaviorClingy behavior

Babies without a doubt need to be held and reassured of your love and presence. This does not however translate into wanting to be held all the time. When a child becomes clingy, more than normal, as babies vary as does their personality, then you should know that they are tired and need sleep. This behavior can display itself in several different ways and as a parent you should be able to notice the difference. For instance, when your child cries, wanting no other form of relief apart from being held, being sang to and rocked, then you know without a doubt that your overtired toddler is in need of some proper sleep.

  1. Blank expressionsBlank expressions

Babies, have all sorts of expressions on their faces. Expressions are their way to communicate to us. And given that they cannot yet talk, they have honed this skill. As a parent, you can tell the exact emotion your child is experiencing by the facial expression he/she has. If you are a fan of funny clips, you might have come across several compilations on the internet showing babies’ reaction to the taste of a lemon. The expression they have is priceless. You probably have even tried the same with your baby.

If your child has a blank expression – one that seems unfocused and one that you can detect a tinge of boredom, then you should take that as a sign of tiredness. Also, if you note that your child can barely concentrate on the motion images on the TV, or moving shapes and games, take the hint.

  1. Jerking the bodyJerking the body

From your high school biology, you might be aware of the famous knee jerk reaction; the involuntary reaction that you get when you hit below the knee cup slightly with a small hammer. This serves as an example of bodily muscle movements that are involuntary. And while this particular one is induced, one can lose control of their muscles and consequently limbs when they are overly tired.

For babies, you might notice that they will start to jerk their legs and arms – a sure sign that they are losing consciousness but are fighting to stay around and have another round of play. Movement in your baby is meant to be fluid and voluntary, but if you notice these jerking motions, it probably is time to come to the rescue and put your child to sleep. He/she will thank you later for it (well, they probably might not, but you get the point).

  1. Lesser interest in the immediate environmentLesser interest in the immediate environment

Babies are overly curious in nature. There isn’t anything that will come in their line of sight that they will not notice. Their interest, as a matter of fact, is the basis of their growth and development and learning. But when your baby is tired, regardless of how much they may want to pay attention to everything happening around them, they just will not be able to. They will lay back and be devoid of everything else. They might even go very quiet. This might be harder to detect in generally laid back babies but it is a sign of overtired newborns that is all the same present.

  1. HyperactiveHyperactive

Kids, especially those that have started to crawlwant to be everywhere at the same time. One moment you will have them in sight and the next they are gone (they are surprisingly stealthy). It is in their nature to be playful and very active. There is however a fine line between being active and hyperactive. Hyperactivity is brought about by the hormones that have flooded the blood stream, cortisol and adrenaline. They give the child a lot of energy that is overwhelming and since they do not know how to act or handle this intense energy, they go on a rampage, being playful or at times even naughty.

Be sure to note when your child passes the threshold, some babies and children will however get oversensitive and break down over everything and nothing – a clear sign that there is an underlying issue.

  1. Refuses to eatRefuses to eat

Yet again, think back to the times that you have sleep deprived and are extremely tired. What thoughts are usually cris-crossing your mind? Do you even remember that you are meant to eat even if you had not had anything go down your throat the whole day. The brain is too tired to detect this need. The same thing applies to babies and when they are overly tired and need sleep. They will refuse to eat even when you know they have not had anything to eat for the whole day. Now you might be tempted to force the food on them but to your own detriment.Wait till after you have put your child to sleep and awakes. You will find him/her to have a high appetite.

  1. ClumsinessClumsiness

This is yet another character defining kids. It is in their nature. Even when you are getting your baby toys, you are advised to put into consideration their clumsiness and provide them with products that can accommodate this character.

There is however a threshold that when crossed, you certainly know that something is amiss. If your baby starts hitting everything on his/her path. You can be certain that they need to be put to sleep.


Now that you can tell when your baby is overtired, how do your overtired baby to sleep? This is an entirely different art form altogether. But you can easily pull it off using simple strategies such as holding, swaddling, rocking, singing a song for him/her, playing white noise in the background and for older toddlers, reading them a bedtime story. These simple tips on how to get an overtired baby to sleep ought to do the trick.

Mandy Wright
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