How to Tell if Baby is Overtired vs. Undertired

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How to know if baby is too tired or not tired enough. Do you need to extend baby wake time length or shorten it? Find out here.

Tired baby laying in bed

One of the most important tools to getting baby to sleep well is understanding your baby’s optimal waketime length.

This means that you get baby down for the nap at the right moment. Timing the nap correctly will mean that baby takes a full nap and falls asleep easily.

If you get wake time wrong, you can have a baby who will not fall asleep, takes a short nap, and/or cries.

>>>Read: Optimal Waketime Lengths

So you know that if baby has correct wake time length, she will go to sleep with little to no crying, nap as long as she should, and falls asleep quickly.

You will also find that if you have waketime length down correctly, your baby will wake up from naps happily and be content and happy during playtime.

Is Baby Overly Tired or Not Tired Enough?

The big question comes when the above are not true. If baby is having a hard time falling asleep, taking short naps, and discontent during playtime, does that mean your baby is overtired or undertired?

Should you be extending waketime length or extending it?

You know something is wrong, but you aren’t sure how to fix it.

Signs Baby is Overtired

When your baby is overtired, then what has happened is cortisol has built up in the system. Cortisol acts like a drug to keep you awake.

The problem is, sleep begets sleep. The inverse is true. Lack of sleep leads to more lack of sleep.

Here are some signs baby is overtired:

  • Baby cries a lot
  • Baby is hard to calm down
  • Baby is taking a short nap
  • Baby is waking early in the morning
  • Baby is discontent during playtime
  • Baby cries a lot when going down for a nap
  • Baby does not sleep well in general

>>>Read: How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby

A couple of notes here. Some short naps are normal. They happen. We are looking for consistent short naps, not every once in a while.

Babies are also notoriously fussy in the evenings. You might also have a baby who experiences the witching hour. So not all of these signs mean that baby is absolutely overly tired. There are so many factors to consider.

>>>Read: How To Manage Baby’s Dreaded Witching Hour

Signs Baby is Undertired

Sleep will not go well if baby is not tired enough, also. The question becomes how do you tell if baby needs more or less wake time?

Here are signs baby is undertired:

  • Baby takes a long time to fall asleep
  • Baby starts playing in the crib rather than sleeping
  • Baby takes short naps
  • Baby does not sleep well at night
  • Baby wakes early in the morning

Sooo….you may have noticed that a lot of the signs are the same for the two categories.

Finding optimal waketime length is not easy!

Overtired vs. Undertired

There are clues you can use to help you figure out if baby is too tired or not tired enough.

Look at Disposition

Generally, an overly tired baby will be quite fussy while a baby who just isn’t tired enough will start out pleasant.

Your overly tired baby will be fussy during playtime and just seem like she has had too much. She will likely cry from the beginning of nap and cry quite hard.

The baby who is not tired enough will most likely be pleasant during playtime (unless he is completely bored). The undertired baby will often go down for a nap without protest, but can start crying 20-30 minutes later once he gets bored of the crib (and he won’t have fallen asleep yet).

Some undertired babies might be put down for a nap and start to cry right away. These babies realize they are being put down for a nap and know they aren’t ready. They get upset and offended that it is happening!

Look at History

One of my number one problem solving tips is to look at what has changed.

If your baby was taking great naps and doing well with the wake time length you had, then started having issues, you most likely need to extend that waketime length some.

Often you only need to add five minutes to that waketime to reach the new perfect length. Sometimes up to 10-15 minutes should be added.

>>>Read: Problem Solving Tip: What Has Changed?

If your baby has never taken great naps, you have more of a guessing game ahead of you. Try different wake time lengths, take notes, and see what works.

My Book of Logs will be very helpful to you in getting this right!

The Babywise Mom Book of Logs eBook cover
 

Look at Sleep Patterns

Finally, look closely at sleep patterns.

An overly tired baby will cry hard from the beginning of nap and then fall asleep, but in the end take a short nap. Some overly tired babies will crash and fall asleep immediately, but wake up crying after a short nap.

A baby who isn’t tired enough will play in the crib for a while before getting upset. The baby might cry right away, but not in a “I don’t know what to do with myself” way, but rather a “I can’t believe you just put me in my bed” way.

When wake time length is correct, your baby should fall asleep within 5-20 minutes (the length really varies from baby to baby, so be sure you pay attention and know what is normal for your baby).

Either way, naps and night sleep will be off.

Take note that if your baby hasn’t learned to sleep independently yet, these sleep rules won’t necessarily apply. A baby who can’t fall asleep unassisted will usually cry or play instead of falling asleep.

Wake Time Length Worksheet

Be sure to check out my free Wake Time Length Worksheet to figure out if you should extend wake time or not.


Conclusion

It is not always easy to tell if your baby is overtired or undertired. If you still are not sure after reading these tips, decide which you think is most likely and act on that.

Work in 5 minute increments. Whether you think baby needs more or less wake time, change it by just 5 minutes a time and adjust from there.

You rarely would need to move beyond a 20 minute change at once, so if you find you are at 25 minutes or more, consider adjusting the other direction.

Make sure you take solid notes so you can look at the data all at once. Do not rely on your memory! My Book of Logs is an excellent resource for problem-solving.

Also, note that not all sleep problems are because of waketime length being off. If you have tried all of the above and things still aren’t good, check out my post The Complete Guide to Troubleshooting Short Baby Naps.

Related Posts

overtired vs undertired

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4 thoughts on “How to Tell if Baby is Overtired vs. Undertired”

  1. Hi, I am new mom and I try to follow Babywise from the very beginning. So far so good. But I don’t know what to do when my baby fuss after feeding and won’t settle for nap within 2.5 – 3h from feeding. He is 2 weeks old and sleeps quite well at night. I wake him at 11pm – 3am and 7am to feed, but during the day sometimes I have hard time putting him to nap.

    Reply
  2. I need some help! My baby is 4 weeks old and we have been doing BW since birth. I finally feel like he’s getting a handle on his schedule but we just hit the dreaded 3-4 week growth spurt combined with my parents coming into town to meet him for the first time. So for four days it’s been growth spurt feeding, terrible naps, not sticking to the schedule, grandparents holding him through naps, overstimulation and on and on. I’m so worried about getting him back on track when they leave. Did i just ruin all the work I’ve put in until this point? Any tips? I’m so worried. Help! Where do I even start?

    Reply
    • Hello! I know those times are super, super stressful. I think it is good timing your parents came during the growth spurt. Things get off with a growth spurt anyway, and this way you got the disruptions all at once instead of back to back. You will be able to get back to where you were. Some babies will bounce right back and others will need some time (even 1-2 weeks) to get back on track. Just go back to being consistent once you can. This post can give you some insight: https://www.babywisemom.com/starting-babywise-late-guide/

      Reply

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