If there’s anything that can send your child’s sleep off the rails, if there’s an arch-enemy for sleep training, it is, without a doubt, the dreaded condition of overtiredness. An overtired baby is one who has passed the point of fatigue and with overtiredness comes a whole host of struggles included inconsolableness, difficulty falling asleep, and frequent night wakes.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
That’s why it’s important to both understand what overtiredness is, why it’s happening, and how to prevent it.
What is Overtiredness?
Your baby will get overtired when they stay up longer than they should between naps or before bedtime. While older children can handle longer periods of wakefulness, newborns and young babies can only tolerate short amounts of time before they need to sleep again.
Why is Overtiredness So Problematic?
Everyone has a natural rhythm when it comes to sleep. Our bodies secrete hormones to keep us up and running during the day (like adrenaline and cortisol) and different ones to help us rest at night (like melatonin). When your baby stays awake longer than they can tolerate, the body assumed that there is a reason it must stay alert. As a protective mechanism, the body fires up those daytime hormones again. Once those signals to stay awake get activated, they’re tough to shut down, and baby’s already tired. So, less sleep leads to more stimulating hormones, and the cycle perpetuates itself.
How Can I Prevent Overtiredness?
The best way to prevent this situation is to get your little one to sleep before they pass that window of opportunity. You can look for
- Ear tugging
- Eye/nose rubbing
- Back arching
- Turning away/becoming less engaged
- Staring off/avoiding gaze
- Clinging to parents
- Becoming “wound up” (often seen in overtired toddlers)
However babies, especially newborns, are a little bit cryptic when it comes to signaling when they’re ready for bed. This is why it’s helpful to balance the above sleepy cues with age appropriate wake times.
How Can I Get My Overtired Baby to Sleep?
If despite your best efforts your baby gets overtired, you might need to do a little “extra” to help them settle down enough to fall asleep. Bring your little one into a dark or dimly-lit room with low stimulation and help them get calm. For newborns and young babies, this might consist of swaddling, shushing, and slowly rocking. For older babies and toddlers, reading rhythmic books or softly singing lullabies can help them relax. Once your child is calm, it will be easier for them to settle into sleep and you can focus on getting them to sleep earlier next time.
Overtiredness can be a tough cycle to escape from and preventing it can feel like an impossible task. If your baby is chronically overtired, I’d love to help you get a plan in place to get everyone in your family the sleep you deserve.