Most new parents need baby sleep help from professionals like MamaNatal sleep trainers once in a while, whether it’s getting their baby into a healthy sleep schedule or overcoming separation anxiety. However, one of the most challenging and overwhelming (not to mention exhausting!) obstacles you may face is an overtired baby.
An overtired newborn can often be difficult to soothe and will resist sleep at every possible chance. Despite the fact they’re absolutely exhausted, they may struggle to sleep once they do drift off. And because of how tired they are, they may refuse food, too.
All of this can be incredibly distressing for you and your baby.
Thankfully, when it comes to how to break the cycle of an overtired baby, there are some simple steps you can take to help everyone get the sleep they need.
Signs of an Overtired Baby
In some cases, it’s obvious you’ve got an overtired newborn on your hands. But sometimes, the signs may be a little less clear.
The following are signs of a chronically overtired baby:
- Struggling to settle when you put them to bed
- Taking short catnaps
- Being fussy or cranky
- Becoming prone to meltdowns (if an older baby)
- Not getting much sleep at night
- Not coping with pain or frustration well
- Falling asleep at random throughout the day, such as when they’re eating their dinner
Watching for clear sleep cues can help you get to grips with your baby’s sleep patterns, and should help ensure that you put them down for a nap as soon as baby is fighting sleep.
Other sleep cues include:
- Rubbing their eyes or face, perhaps even tugging on their ears
- Avoiding eye contact and staring into space, suggesting they’re tired and don’t want to play anymore
- Getting very clingy or fussy
- Clenching their fists
You should also keep track of their usual wake windows. If they’re generally awake for an hour and a half at a time, once they start to get past two hours, they are likely very tired and ready for bed.
Why Won’t My Baby Sleep?
When your baby doesn’t get enough sleep and they’re awake longer, your overtired baby’s cortisol and adrenaline levels will increase. This is known as a stress response and makes it very difficult to soothe and calm your baby to get them to sleep. This results in them waking up frequently during the night, getting up early in the morning, and taking short naps throughout the day.
A vicious cycle then ensues as they find themselves in this overtired pattern that prevents them from sleeping as well as they should.
How to Break the Cycle of an Overtired Baby
Once your baby enters the dreaded overtired cycle, you may feel like you’ve run out of ideas to help your baby fall asleep and stay asleep.
Thankfully, there are several simple changes you can make which should see your baby (and you) getting the good night’s sleep you both need.
Understand your baby’s sleep pattern
Bedtimes are crucial to any baby’s sleep schedule, and are even more vital when your baby’s overtired.
Get to know when your baby tends to want to go to bed and try to get them to go to sleep half an hour before this time. The time will depend on your baby’s age and their wake windows (which change with age). A newborn might only be alert for three minutes per hour while a three-month-old may stay awake for two hours at a time.
2. Continue with your bedtime routine
Whether you sing a lullaby, rock them gently in your arms, feed them or bathe them, be sure to be consistent with your bedtime routine. These are important signs that it’s bedtime, and your baby will recognize these signals and that they mean it’s time for sleep.
3. Avoid stimulating your baby before bedtime
Half an hour before your baby is due to go to bed, try to ensure your home is quiet and avoid playing with your baby. Keep them away from TVs or music and start introducing a calming, quiet environment that will help calm them.
4. Try swaddling your baby
This can help soothe your baby, creating a calming, safe, and cozy sleeping environment. Your baby may resist being swaddled to start, but should calm down quite quickly after you’ve swaddled them. This also helps to prevent them from startling and waking themselves during the night.
Should I wake an overtired baby to feed?
While every baby is different, you may want to wake them up to stop them from going too long between each feed.
However, if your baby is extremely overtired, letting them catch up on their sleep debt is OK, too.
A Good Night’s Sleep for Baby and All
Unfortunately, having an overtired baby is part and parcel of becoming a parent.
Fortunately, by knowing the signs your baby is entering the overtired “danger zone,” you’ll soon have bedtimes back on track for one and all!