Overtired vs. Undertired

yawning baby who overtired vs undertired

Everyone knows babies need a lot of sleep. What sometimes confounds parents is the question of how long infants should sleep at each stretch. And since babies can’t exactly tell you how they feel, how do you know if they are overtired vs. undertired?

Although it’s an imperfect science at best, you can actually discern if your baby is overtired and needs to be soothed and settled to sleep or if they’re undertired and will fight Mr. Sandman (and frustrate you).

In this article, we’ll help you understand the differences between an overtired baby and an undertired baby. Then we’ll talk about how to know when your little one is ready for bed and how to help them snooze soundly.

Overtired Vs. Undertired

Signs That Your Baby Is Overtired

toddler that is overtired

It can be tougher to spot in an infant, but if you have a toddler, you know what being overtired looks like: crankiness, unreasonableness, and sometimes physical clumsiness.

Is your toddler tossing toys in frustration or literally walking into walls? Yup, tired.

It’s helpful to know that, in fact, younger babies exhibit the same signs of being overtired (minus walking into walls). They can become unreasonable, too.

Something that interested them just five minutes ago, like a toy or music, now brings frowns, batting away, and crying. That’s a clear cue your little one needs sleep.

The issue is that not all babies give you much of a warning, going from zero to overtired in no time flat. If you’re lucky, though, you have a baby who short-circuits the whole overtired scenario by just…falling asleep wherever he or she is at the time.

But since most babies don’t put themselves to sleep at exactly the right moment, here’s how to tell if your little one is overtired:

  • Fussiness or crying unrelated to hunger or a dirty diaper
  • A “second wind,” when your baby seems a bit too active
  • Easily becoming frustrated

Signs That Your Baby Is Undertired

Mom with happy baby

The hardest part of identifying if your baby is undertired — not quite tired enough to go down for a nap — is that its signs can mimic being overtired.

You try to settle them to sleep in what is normally a nap or nighttime sleep window, and they resist.

The problem with trying to compel an undertired baby to go to sleep is that you may well succeed…and then end up with a baby who takes a much shorter nap than usual.

You know you have a classic undertired-baby situation when you confidently whisk your baby off for a nap when you’re sure they’re ready for it, and then spend 45 minutes trying to convince Bright Eyes that, no, it’s actually not playtime anymore.

What a waste of time for you both! You may also end up with a child who associates naptime with struggle.

If you find this happening regularly, it means you have an undertired baby. The best thing you can do is not force sleep but, instead, wait a bit longer before trying again.

Mom holding overtired baby vs undertired baby

Think about it this way: if you tried over several days or weeks to get your baby to sleep at noon and it took until 1 p.m. to finally get them to settle, why not just wait until 1 p.m. next time?

It could just be that, as your little one gets a bit older, they’re better able to remain alert, interested, and engaged and can go longer between naps.

A final point about undertired babies: pay attention to how much activity and stimulation your baby gets while awake. Perhaps more activity — daily walks in the fresh air, for example — is warranted to be sure your baby is sufficiently tired.

Just watch that they’re not getting — you guessed it! — overtired.

How To Know Your Baby Is Ready For Bed

Hopefully, now you have an idea of how to tell if your little one is overtired vs. undertired. But since you don’t want either extreme, the real question is this:

How can you know when your baby is ready for bed — just tired enough to sleep like, well, a baby, but not cranky and overtired?

The answer? Figure out your little one’s sleep schedule and watch for their sleep cues.

Mom holding overtired baby

Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule

Babies thrive on routine, and that goes for nighttime and naps as well! Pay attention and try to learn your baby’s natural sleep patterns.

Keep in mind that this is usually not based on a certain time (which will also change during daylight savings time) but, rather, a certain number of hours since they woke up.

Also, remember that your baby’s schedule can change as they grow, go through a sleep regression, or move from two naps a day to one.

Your Baby’s Sleep Cues

To put your baby down at the right time, you’ll need to learn and look for their sleep cues. What are sleep cues? Little signs that your baby is ready for bed.

For example, crying is a late sleep cue. It means your baby is overtired. You want to put them to bed before that!

Every baby is different, but here are some sleep cues that typically tell you that your little one is sleepy and it’s the right time to hit the sack:

  • Getting fussy
  • Yawning
  • Moving more slowly
  • Staring off into space
  • Losing interest
  • Rubbing their eyes

overtired yawning baby

How To Help Your Baby Sleep

All of that being said, we know that some days — for no particular reason — it’s just hard to get your little one to doze off.

Here are a few tips and tricks to help your baby fall asleep, stay asleep, and stay safe in their crib every day.

1) Create A Comfortable Atmosphere In The Nursery

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold

Keep the room cool — not hot, but not cold. Somewhere between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit should keep your little one comfortable.

To help your baby regulate their body temperature even more, use a breathable mattress! The Wovenaire core of the Newton Baby Crib Mattress is 90% air, allowing for more air circulation under your baby’s back.

The Darker The Better

Adults and babies alike sleep more soundly in a dark room. Dim the lights for your baby to sleep or hang a blackout curtain over the nursery window.

White Noise For The Win

Since your baby takes naps and goes to bed when the rest of the world is still busy, a white noise machine will help drown out the clamor from the rest of the house and the street.

2) Swaddle Your Little One

If you’ve got a newborn on your hands, they’re probably missing the cozy comfort and security of being inside mommy’s tummy.

Wrapping them snugly in a swaddle makes them feel safe, soothes them, and calms their startle reflex. To learn how to swaddle a baby like a pro, read our article here.

Note: for safety reasons, you should stop swaddling your little one around two months old or once they start experimenting with rolling over.

baby laying down on crib mattress

Opt for cute and comfy swaddles with Newton Baby’s Organic Swaddle Blankets. Our breathable swaddle blankets are made of pre-shrunk, 100% organic muslin cotton and are machine washable for ultra-easy care.

Plus, they’re multipurpose! Your baby’s swaddle can double as a nursing cover, burp cloth, or stroller cover. What are you waiting for?

3) Put Your Baby Down Sleepy

Rocking your sweet one until they doze off feels so good! But, for the best sleep habits, don’t put them in their crib sound asleep.

Instead, lay them in their crib when they’re sleepy and let them fall asleep there. This teaches your baby how to go to sleep by themselves, which helps them learn to put themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night.

4) Stick To A Bedtime Routine

Sticking to a bedtime routine (and a naptime routine!) will help your baby clue into the fact that it’s time to sleep. Choose what activities you want to include in your sleepytime ritual and do them in the same order each night.

Your little one’s bedtime routine should suit your family, but here are a few ideas for what to include:

  • Taking a bath
  • Reading a book
  • Telling a story
  • Cuddling
  • Singing a song
  • A goodnight kiss

Dad reading a book to an undertired child

5) Promote Safe Sleep

While you want sound sleep for your baby, sound sleep that is also safe is the most important! Here are six tips for safe sleep (read the full article here):

When it comes to the mattress your baby rests their head on, go with a breathable one, like Newton Baby’s Crib Mattress.

If your little one rolls onto their stomach during the night, a breathable mattress will help reduce the risk of suffocation. And it’s washable from cover to core for easy clean-up. No more mold, bacteria, or allergens!

newton baby crib mattress

Overtired, Undertired, Or Just-Right Tired?

Once you’re able to read the signs and tell whether your baby is undertired vs. overtired, you’ll have a better idea of when to put them down for a little rest and relaxation. To get there, figure out your baby’s sleep schedule and cues to know when they’re ready for bed.

And, for the inevitable days of sleep woes, follow our tips to help your baby get to sleep and sleep safely all night:

Create a good atmosphere in their nursery, swaddle your newborn, put them in the crib sleepy, stick to a bedtime routine, promote safe sleep, and put them down on a Newton Baby breathable Crib Mattress.

Rest well, little one!

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