Overtired. If you’re a parent, it’s no doubt a word you’ve come to fear! An overtired baby is too tired to sleep, and who will fuss and cry. And then, when sleep finally does come, an overtired baby will likely wake too soon and have a hard time falling back to sleep.
Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?
That’s why it’s so important to understand what overtiredness is, to recognize the signs of it, and to be proactive about preventing your baby from becoming overtired.
What Is Overtiredness, and Why Does Your Baby Get Overtired?
When your baby is overtired, it simply means that her body is past the point of being ready to sleep. When your baby is overtired, she is so physically fatigued that her body’s stress-response system is activated. Once your baby is overtired, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline flood your baby’s bloodstream, making it even harder for your baby to relax and calm down. And this tends to be a cyclical pattern. The more overtired your baby becomes, the harder it is for your baby to relax and fall asleep, which makes overtiredness even worse, etc. etc.
Your baby gets overtired when she stays up longer than she should between naps, or before bedtime. Older children can handle long periods of wakefulness, but newborns can’t handle much awake time at all, Many newborns cannot go more than 45 minutes without needing another nap. (This is one reason why it’s easy to let your newborn or young infant become overtired!)
Signs of An Overtired Baby
Generally, babies who are overtired show some of the following signs.
- Your baby will rub her eyes or face.
- Baby will move his face away from stimulation.
- Baby will yawn, hiccup, or sneeze often.
- She will fuss and whimper. Eventually, the fussing may spiral into full-blown inconsolable crying.
- Baby will become clingy with mom or dad, or with a caregiver, making it impossible to put her down for sleep.
- Baby will grow increasingly physically active and “wound up” as the awake period wears on.
Your baby’s overtired signals will be as unique as he is, so it’s best just to watch your baby closely and “learn” his overtiredness signs.
How To Get Your Overtired Baby To Sleep
The main thing to remember is that, when your baby or toddler is overtired, you want to calm her down first. Once your child is calm, you can begin to work on drowsiness, which will (hopefully!) lead to sleep.
Use these strategies to calm your baby or toddler and help induce drowsiness:
- Swaddle your baby.
- Hold your baby.
- Feed your baby until she is calm and drowsy.
- Rock your baby.
- Play white noise while you soothe your baby.
- Make your baby’s room dark.
- Sing a lullaby while rocking your baby.
- For older babies and toddlers: read a few bedtime story books in your child’s dim room.
- For toddlers and preschoolers: offer a quiet time during which your child can read books and play with toys in his sleeping area.
How To Prevent Your Baby From Becoming Overtired
Even better than dealing with overtiredness when it crops up is preventing your baby from becoming overtired in the first place. Simply put, you prevent overtiredness by laying your baby down for sleep slightly before her window of awake time closes. Use the following as guidelines:
- A newborn can handle no more than 45 minutes to an hour of awake time.
- A 6 month old can handle about 2 hours of awake time.
- A toddler can handle 4-5 hours of awake time.
Basically, you ward off overtiredness when you watch your baby’s sleep and feeding schedule carefully. Make sure that naps and feedings are happening at the right times to ensure your baby or toddler doesn’t stay awake too long. Use these scheduling resources to help:
Baby Nap Chart (includes awake time recommendations by age)
Baby Bedtime Chart (includes recommended bedtimes by age)
Sample Schedules By Age
Mastering Naps and Schedules e-book (VIP Members have unlimited access to this e-book and many others)
How To Put Your Baby or Toddler On A Schedule audio course (VIP Members-only access)