Getting a baby to sleep is a challenging task. It can be tricky, but doable. Now, getting an overtired baby to sleep is even more difficult. Your baby will go into a magic cycle of crying because it is tired, and irritated, but cannot sleep. What you need to know is to pay attention to the signs of a chronically overtired baby and try to fix things.
Overtired babies tend to sleep less and less well. This will make them even more tired, and more irritable, and then the tired-overtired cycle continues.
Is Overtiredness Such A Big Deal?
We use the term overtired to explain any sleep problem you may be having. The same applies to your baby.
The term has become the scapegoat for lots of baby sleep issues. Some of them are normal behavior, but some are not. Is overtiredness such a big deal?
Well, it causes children to release cortisol, a hormone that can have negative effects on your baby. It means your baby is harder to calm down.
The release of cortisol also has negative effects on the slow-wave NREM, or restorative sleep once we finally do fall asleep.
The big problem is that overtiredness can build throughout the day. So, if the first nap is late, it can lead to sleep deprivation problems for the rest of the day.
Some experts call it a sleep debt. That means your child can sink further into the hole as the day goes on.
How Much Sleep Your Baby Needs
This is a tricky question to answer. There is no right answer since it can vary from one baby to another. It may not seem like it, but a newborn baby can sleep up to 16 hours per day. But the challenge is that these hours come in stretches of a few hours at a time.
The good news for new parents is that by the time babies reach 6 months, they will settle into a regular sleep cycle. With that in mind, here is a general rule of thumb:
- Babies between 0 and 3 months need 16 to 17 hours of healthy sleep in a 24-hour period
- Babies between 4 and 6 months of age need between 14 and 15 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period
- Babies between 6 and 12 months of age need between 13 and 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period
- Toddlers, who are between 12 and 24 months of age need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period
You can track one week of your baby’s sleep. Note the time they fall asleep for naps and bedtime, and how long each nap is. It will give you a good idea of their average sleep time in 24 hours.
And if your little one is on the lower end of the average, you can safely assume it is overtired.
How To Recognize An Overtired Baby?
Now let’s talk about some of the signs of a chronically overtired baby. Unlike adults who become lethargic when overtired, babies and young children can become hyperactive. And you do not want that. Some of the signs include:
- Receives well below the average amount of sleep for its age
- Appears to fight going to sleep
- Your baby can be easily woken up by even the slightest noise, like doors opening
- A baby that sleeps very little during the day most days, with day-time short naps between 20 and 30 minutes
- Appears uncomfortable during feeds or periodically refuses to feed during the day
- Wakes excessively or sleeps unusually long periods during the night without waking for feeds
- Your overtired baby is difficult to get to smile or engage in eye contact
- Is generally more content in the mornings than in the afternoon
- Has a short attention span
- Cries often, with cries ranging from whining to vigorous, and even inconsolable cries
- Requires constant attention from parents when it is awake
- Yawning, and more yawning
- Touching its face, a tired infant will rub its eyes and face or tug at its ears
- Becomes clingy, your baby may hold on to you determinedly
- Insists that you take care of them
- Tired babies may whimper and then move on to full-blown crying
- Overtired babies show a lack of interest, they withdraw and lose interest
- It is difficult to soothe
- A tired baby has a lower frustration or pain threshold
- Sleeping at the wrong times, your baby falls asleep while you are preparing their bottle or preparing food
- Displays a worried expression
- Wants to be held continuously, and cries whenever you put it down
- Startles often
- Experiences extreme separation anxiety
How To Get Out Of The Cycle?
You might be wondering that in these extreme situations, it is a challenge to help an overtired baby to sleep properly. It is possible to get out of the cycle.
Do you wonder how to break the cycle and start paying back that sleep debt we talked about before? Here are some ideas.
- Protect the first nap, try to give your baby a predictable wake-up time and first nap time
- Be sure your baby gets adequate wind-down time before naps and has wake windows that are not too much for them. Try tracking for a few days to see if you notice any patterns. But be careful not to pay attention to wake window averages, because every baby is unique
- Learn your baby’s sleepy cues like loss of interest in play, glazed-over look, and reddening eyebrows
- Establish a simple and calming sleep routine. Remember, songs and books are great, but they can be too stimulating depending on your baby. Find something that works for your baby. What calms your baby? Then practice those things before bedtime
- Allow sleep wherever and however, even during a car ride. Do whatever you need to do and whatever is possible for you to do and get your baby the rest they need
- Make sure to calm yourself first, and then pay attention to your baby. Tired parents need to pay attention to themselves as well as their newborn baby
Tricks For Helping Your Overtired Baby
So, your baby is overtired. It happened. But what can you do to settle them? Here are some tricks that you can use.
Swaddling helps babies sleep. How and why? Well, swaddling stops them from startling themselves awake when their legs and arms jerk involuntarily. Some experts say that swaddling reminds them of the safe and cozy womb of their mother. Either way, it is a trick you can use to get your baby to sleep until it shows the first signs of rolling. When your baby starts to roll, you cannot use swaddling anymore.
You can also try using the help of sounds. Some babies are soothed by white noise, soft music, or yourself singing.
And make sure to darken the baby’s room to reduce stimulation.
Can You Prevent Your Baby From Becoming Overtired?
We talked about the signs of a chronically overtired baby. But can you prevent it? Can you solve the problem before it arises?
The best way to avoid tiredness is to ease into a sleep pattern around your baby’s natural patterns. You can do it by observing your baby’s natural sleep patterns. Keep track of when your little one falls asleep, including naps and nighttime sleep.
Remember, before 6 months of age, you cannot expect a strict sleep routine. But after 6 months, you can stick to baby sleep training that will make your life and your baby’s life easier.
You can try putting your baby down for naps and nighttime sleep at similar times each day. Do this consistently even if your baby doesn’t seem tired at the usual time. You can adjust the schedule as needed. That depends on whether your baby doesn’t settle and sleeps or wakes up sooner than expected.
As you master your baby’s sleep and natural schedule, you can easily spot sleep cues and settle them before it gets overtired.
What About Highly Sensitive Babies?
We have to note that highly sensitive babies do tend to become overtired and overstimulated easily. Sensitive babies often crave motion and are calmed by repetitive movements like swinging and bouncing.
The problem is highly sensitive, sometimes called sparkler babies, and orchid babies can trick parents to provide even more stimulation. They communicate things like “bounce me harder”, “show me more things”, “sing louder”, and more.
So, be careful not to fall into the trap of offering way too much stimulation.
These babies will resist schedule and might be awakened by the slightest sound. And if you do not work with your baby, it will take forever to calm it down. Be sure to talk with a pediatrician if you have a problem like this.