Getting your newborn baby to sleep is a challenging task, but when your little one is overtired, it can be even more difficult. Unlike adults who can drift off into a peaceful slumber when they’re overtired, babies have a much more difficult time settling down for sleep and are likely to wake up much more frequently throughout the night.
In this post, we take a look at the signs that show your baby is overtired, how you can get your overtired baby to sleep, and, most importantly how to prevent your baby from getting overtired in the first place.
How do you know when a baby is overtired?
Are you curious to know the difference between a tired baby and an overtired baby? If your little one has been awake beyond their normal wake times, there's a high chance that you have an overtired baby on your hands.
Overtired babies tend often struggle falling asleep and staying asleep, which can be a nightmare for new parents. When your baby becomes overtired, a stress response is triggered in their body resulting in an increase of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones flow through your baby's bloodstream and make it difficult for them to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, this can result in a cycle of over-tiredness, but knowing the signs of an overtired baby can help you to break the cycle and get your little one back into a routine.
Here's what to look out for:
Signs of an overtired baby include:
- Rubbing eyes and tugging ears
- Yawning excessively
- Arching the back and squirming
- Short naps
- Zoning out
- Avoiding eye contact
- Becoming clingier
- Becoming difficult to console
How does an overtired baby's cry sound?
As babies can't talk to you to tell you what's wrong, they communicate through different types of cries. When they're hungry, their cry will sound different to when they're tired.
A tired cry starts out at a low intensity, gradually building up over time. It's likely your baby will display signs of over-tiredness such as rubbing their eyes, arching their back and being incredibly fussy.
Watching out for these signs and responding to them quickly is important, as this can help prevent your baby from getting overtired in the first place.
What causes an overtired baby?
Babies get overtired easily. The most common reason for an overtired baby is lack of sleep, disruption to their regular sleep routine & simply being awake too long between naps. However, there are a few additional factors that can cause it.
Overstimulation can cause disruption to your baby's sleep by causing their nervous system to go into overdrive. Just like adults can become overwhelmed in new situations, babies can too. For example, you might notice your baby struggling to get settled after a birthday party as they are still trying to process the happenings from the day.
Babies who are overtired can end up not feeding properly which results in a disrupted sleep pattern due to hunger. It's a vicious cycle, often resulting in your little one getting too much or too little sleep.
A baby that wakes more frequently from sleep often has its disruption linked to hunger. If we believe the baby is hungry, we will try and feed them. Newborn babies (up to 3 months) cannot regulate their food intake because of their sucking reflex, so can often over-eat, causing stomach discomfort and a disrupted sleep pattern.
How do you get an overtired baby to fall asleep?
Use early bedtimes or shorter wake windows
Allow your exhausted baby to make up for all that missed sleep by going to sleep earlier than normal. This can help promote healthy sleep habits and prevent your baby from becoming overtired again.
Swaddling has been proven to significantly help to calm overtired babies. Swaddling keeps your baby's arms and legs tucked in close to their bodies which helps to decrease cortisol and increase melatonin (the sleep hormone) which helps your baby sleep. This is only suitable for babies that are under 12 weeks however and not showing signs of or rolling.
White noise helps tired babies to relax, especially when they're overtired as it helps to create a comfortable environment for them. It mimics the sound they heard in the womb to encourage them to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Read a bedtime story
Older babies and toddlers love books. The experience of cuddling up in a dimly lit room listening to you reading can help your child to relax. Plus, it's great for bonding.
Rocking to drowsy
You can use gentle movement to get an overtired baby to settle down for the night. A motorised swing works perfectly for this, but holding your baby closely and rocking them in your arms can be just as soothing.
How to stop your baby getting overtired
Watching your baby struggle with sleep is hard. But just like sleep regressions you may have faced, remind yourself that this is a phase and it will pass.
When it comes to getting an overtired baby to sleep, there are a few easy steps you can take to help your little one sleep peacefully again.
Most babies have a natural sleep schedule and it is recommended that babies get the following amounts of sleep each day:
- 0-4 months - 14-17 hours of sleep a day, with up to 120 minutes awake time
- 4-6 months - 10-14 hours of sleep a day with up to 2.5 hours awake time
- 6-12 months - 10-11 hours of sleep each day with up to 3.5 hours awake time
The key to stopping your baby from getting overtired is to prevent it from happening in the first place. These tips can help your baby from getting overtired:
Follow a consistent sleep schedule
When your child is fighting both daytime naps and nighttime sleep, it can be difficult to stick to their usual schedule. As hard as it is for you and your baby, sticking to a regular flexible schedule will help you overcome their overt-tiredness quicker.
Observe their sleep patterns, and, even if your baby is napping less than usual try to stick to the same bedtime each evening. If their routine is disrupted and falling into negative habits while trying to get your baby back to sleep, this may cause additional problems.
Create a sleep routine
A sleep routine will signal to your baby that it's time for bed and help them transition from awake time to sleep time. Consider trying this before naps too. Some ideas you can try are:
- Dimming the lights
- Switch on soft music or white noise
- Reading them a story
- Gently massaging their tummy and legs
Watch for sleep cues
There are a few key signs your baby will start showing you when they get sleepy, and it's during this time that you want to get them ready for their nap or bedtime.
These sleep cues include eye rubbing, ear or hair pulling, and getting a little fussy.
Don't overstimulate your baby before bedtime
Babies can get overstimulated easily, so in the hour before bedtime do your best to begin to settle your baby for bed. Getting them into a simple schedule around their natural patterns can be a great way to prevent your baby from becoming overtired. This routine could consist of:
- Giving your baby a bath
- Changing into night time clothes
- Putting on a fresh nappy
- Reading a bedtime story
- Dimming the lights to create a calm atmosphere