Remember that manual we talked about? The one that should have come with your baby? Well, chapter 1 should definitely be: The Overtired Baby For Dummies. Overtired babies are akin to the thanksgiving turkey that you left in the oven too long. It’s past the point of no return, emotions are running high, and you’re left feeling like you’ve failed. But just know that we’ve all been there. And the good news is that it’s totally preventable! So grab a coffee and join me to find out:
What happens when your baby is overtired?
When babies start to get tired, their body produces sleepy chemicals. If they are tired but don’t get to sleep, then they start to power through and their bodies produce more chemicals to override the sleepy ones. This leads them to becoming “wired and tired.” Once they are in this “wired and tired” state, it makes them MUCH harder to settle.
If they keep pushing through this, they will eventually become exhausted and pass out, but one wants to go through that. The key is to catch your baby right when the first wave of sleepy chemicals starts to flow, as that is when getting them to sleep can be effortless. That’s right. The words “effortless” and “baby sleep” can be in the same sentence. Just read on, my friend…
What are the signs of an overtired baby?
Here is the part where most parents make their biggest mistake (in preventing overtiredness…not in life). The stereotypical signs of being tired are actually overtired signs. I’m talking about:
- rubbing their eyes
- tugging on their ears
- arching their backs
- flailing about
Yes, these are the ‘it’s too late, the Titanic has already hit the iceberg’ signs. Meaning, your baby is overtired. Since putting an overtired baby to sleep is significantly more difficult, what you want to watch for are the ‘first alert’ signs. These are what I call “sleepy cues” and as soon as you see them, it’s time to get baby to bed. Continue on to “how to prevent overtiredness” for all the details on sleepy cues!
How to prevent overtiredness
The obvious way to prevent overtiredness is to get your baby to sleep BEFORE they become overtired. The not so obvious part is, how exactly do you do this.
The key is to catch your baby in the act of showing sleepy cues before they turn into tired cues. And parents often mistake these sleepy cues for signs that their baby is bored. Don’t be fooled! When your baby shows signs of being sleepy, don’t crank up the music or pull out more toys! Instead, drop everything and get them to bed!
Sleepy cues are:
- Staring off into the distance
- Calm, still demeanor
- Subtle yawn
- Reddish hue on their eyelids and eyebrows
Following age appropriate wake windows (see chart below) can also be helpful, as they can give you an idea of when you should be starting to look for those sleepy cues. However, wake windows are just averages, so paying close attention to YOUR baby’s sleepy cues is your best tool.
Sleep begets sleep:
Remember, sleep begets sleep. Parents often make the mistake of underestimating how much sleep their baby actually needs and when they need it.
You can use this chart to help you have an idea of what your baby’s age appropriate wake window is, as well as how much sleep (on average) they should be getting. This includes naps and nighttime sleep. Again, this is just an average, so use it as a starting point and tweak it based on YOUR baby.
|Age||Number of naps per day||Ideal length of naps||Awake time between naps||Awake time before bed||Average amount of daytime sleep||Average amount of nighttime sleep||Average amount of TOTAL sleep|
|0-3 months||4-7||45-60 min||60-90 min||1-2 hours||5-8 hours||9-10 hours*||16-18 hours|
|4 months||4||60+ min||90 min||2 hours||3.5-5 hours||10-11 hours*||15-16 hours|
|5 months||3||60+ min||2 hours||2.5 hours||3.5-4.5 hours||11-12 hours*||14-16 hours|
|7 months||2||60-90 min||2-3 hours||4 hours||3-4 hours||11-12 hours||14-15 hours|
|14 months||1||2 hours||5 hours||5 hours||2-3 hours||11-12 hours||13-14 hours|
*Broken for feedings
It’s also important to note that a few naps on the go are ok, however good restorative sleep is going to happen when your baby is in a consistent sleep space with an optimal sleep environment. This means in a room that is dark, quiet, sound machine on, swaddled if they are not rolling yet and in a safe sleep space like a bassinet or crib.
If you are out and about with your newborn, here are some tips for avoiding overstimulation:
How to get an overtired baby to sleep
Getting your baby to sleep before they become overtired is like giving candy to a toddler…effortless! But getting an overtired baby to sleep is like taking candy away from a toddler. May the force be with you!
Once you have an overtired baby, there’s really only two courses of action here.
- Pull out all the stops
- Don’t let it happen again
Pull out all the stops:
This is where you’re going to want to implement my Six S’s. And stat. My Six S’s are calming tricks that work to get your overtired and fussy baby to sleep. (Note that these calming tricks are also great for any time you have a fussy or cranky baby, not just an overtired baby).
The Six S’s:
If your baby is still young and not yet rolling, a swaddle will help them feel calm and relaxed, which will help put them to sleep. Even if your baby protests it at first, I recommend sticking with it and adding on the other S’s before throwing in the towel. Here are some more tips on using a swaddle with your newborn:
Babies find a good loud whooshing sound distracting and calming. Once they stop crying, you can use a quieter whooshing sound.
Hold your baby snug to your body to avoid Moro reflex.
Babies love motion! You can gently jiggle baby against the side of your body.
The eyebrow stroke is my magic bullet! It’s soothing and encourages baby to close their eyes. Start at their forehead and run your fingers down the length of their nose, or stroke side to side across their eyebrows.
If you are a visual learner, check out my eyebrow stroke in action!
Once you are doing all six of the S’s, your overtired baby should drift off. Make sure that when you are transferring them to their crib or bassinet, you use this trick so they don’t wake back up!
Don’t let it happen again:
When I mean is to say, try not to stress – finding yourself with an overtired baby that is fighting sleep happens to everyone. The best thing you can do is to learn from this experience. Whatever the wake window was, shorten it for next time. In hindsight, were there any sleepy cues you mighty have missed? Was the wake window too stimulating? Bottom line is, it happens, even when you are trying your best to avoid it, and that’s ok- it’s not the end of the world. I promise!
Recap on an overtired baby:
If you have found yourself with an overtired baby who is fighting sleep, remember to pull out my Six S’s, and that they will eventually fall asleep, and you are now equipped to prevent overtiredness for ALL future sleep endeavors. Ok, maybe it won’t be that simple and easy, but if you know the sleepy cues to watch for, and have a good idea of what your baby’s optimal wake windows are, you will likely be able to prevent a whole lot of future overtiredness.
If you are finding that your baby is not going to sleep effortlessly more often than not, I highly recommend grabbing an individual consultation with one of our amazing sleep consultants! They can help you tweak your schedule and offer tips and tricks that make sense for YOUR baby. Every baby can get great sleep, and putting your baby to sleep CAN be effortless!