Overtiredness – What is it and how do I deal with it?

by | May 12, 2021 | Baby Sleep

Naps are the foundation for a good night sleep, and a positive age appropriate nap routine will ensure that your baby sleeps well throughout the night. 

Babies have a biological sleep clock in the first 1 – 2 years; 

9.00 -10.00am

12.00 – 2.00pm 

6.00-7.00pm 

These routines have been developed with natural sleep windows in mind and are periods of time during the day when the body naturally adjusts its internal temperature and hormone levels to prepare for sleep, and generally babies who go to sleep within these times have a better quality and more restorative sleep.

When a baby is on an incorrect age appropriate routine they can often become overtired. 

Overtiredness increases cortisol levels and this hormonal state is not conducive to sleep, as it causes your baby to be ‘wired’. 

When a baby is overtired, settling can take a while and there needs to be lots more hands-on help or motion/assistance to sleep. 

Overtiredness is one of the major factors that cause night wakings; this wired hormonal state means sleep is lighter and when your baby naturally enters the lightest stage of sleep in the middle or at the end of sleep cycles they are unable to settle themselves back to sleep and then requires assistance from you. 

Overtiredness also causes waking soon after bedtime and early wake ups in the morning. 

It’s easy to confuse tiredness with overtiredness but there is a difference. When a baby starts to become tired you still have their biological sleep window to work with. It’s when you miss this window overtiredness starts setting in. The signs also differ between the two. 

How to spot when your baby is overtired

Babies often seem alert, energetic and playful when ‘wired’ and these overtired signs are often misleading; parents believe their child is not yet sleepy when in fact the opposite is true.

Signs your baby is overtired include:

  • Wimpering
  • Tantrums/meltdown 
  • Resistance to bedtime 
  • Screaming at bedtime/arching back 
  • Can sound like your baby is in pain
  • The crying shows little sign of lessening and parents find they need to be more hands on when settling an overtiredness baby 
  • Being clingier than usual
  • Becoming disinterested or less engaged
  • Difficulty settling down for sleep
  • Scratching at ears 

How to prevent your baby becoming overtired

Prevention is better than cure! This is certainly the case in overtired babies. If you can prevent your baby from becoming overtired, you’ve won half the battle.

1. Give your baby plenty of opportunity to get enough sleep. As a guide, babies need:

  • 0 to 3 – 4 months old: nap on demand / 4 naps a day
  • 4 to 7 – 8 months old: 3 naps a day
  • 8 to 16 – 18 months old: 2 naps a day 
  • 18 months old to 3yrs old: 1 nap a day 

Look out for these signs that your baby is tired and get them down for a nap, or bedtime as soon as you notice them:

  • Yawning
  • Touching their face 
  • Becoming cranky
  • Distance look in the eyes 
  • Staring blankly 
  • Loss of appetite 

2. Stick to a consistent routine at bedtime wherever possible

3. Create a calm bedtime environment with no stimulation before baby is due to sleep

What if the baby has already reached the stage of overtiredness?

Please don’t beat yourself up for missing signs of tiredness, or for not being able to get your baby to sleep in time. Although it is trickier to settle an overtired baby, it can still be done!

If your baby has become overtired, give these strategies a go:

  • Swaddling – swaddle the baby in a dark room with no noise. It is recommended that you stop swaddling by 6 months. If your baby learns to roll before 6 months you must stop swaddling her immediately.
  • Early bedtime – really try to understand your baby’s sleep patterns and try to get the baby down around a half hour before the usual bedtime. 
  • Stick to the normal routine – follow your bedtime routine as you normally would to signal to the baby that it is time for sleep.
  • Rocking and holding – you can try rocking your baby very gently so as not to stop them from actually falling asleep. Holding your baby close to your chest so they can hear your heartbeat can be very soothing and help with settling.
  • Sleep training – work with a sleep consultant to identify any underlying issues and put together a plan to help your little one to settle and sleep.

      This is not to say that you have to stick to this routine every single day and be bound to your home! 

      Far from it. Through sleep training, I can teach you how to settle your baby at home and when out and about for social activities/classes, etc. For more information, get in touch with me to arrange a free consultation.

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