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Overtiredness – A Parent’s Guide

Is My Baby Overtired?

Many parents ask me: “Why is overtiredness a problem? Surely the more tired my baby is, the longer they will sleep, right?”. Wrong! Lots of parents will keep their babies up later and drop or reduce day-time naps in a bid to improve night-time sleeping, when in reality an overtired baby can actually wake up more frequently at night, take shorter naps and wake up earlier in the morning too. 

How does being overtired affect sleep?

Overtiredness is caused by your baby not getting the sleep they need. When a baby is tired, yet not in a position to fall asleep, their body will produce cortisol and adrenalin in a bid to help keep it awake. These hormones fight against melatonin, the sleepy hormone, and make it really hard for your baby to calm down and relax enough to sleep. The less sleep your baby gets, the more these hormones build and act almost like a volcano – with cortisol and adrenalin levels spiking during the night causing your baby to wake up either very upset, or very wide awake and alert.

What are the signs that my baby is overtired?

An overtired baby might:

  • Rub their eyes, and nose and pull their ears whilst seeming upset
  • Cry inconsolably
  • Yawn a lot and take pauses in their crying to yawn
  • Become very clingy
  • Fuss and seem to not be able to find a comfortable position even when held
  • Become more awake and less tired as time goes on
  • Wake up quite upset within the first hour or so of being put to bed at night

How can I prevent my baby from becoming overtired?

The key to preventing overtiredness is to catch your baby’s sleepy cues and put them down for a nap at the right time. When a baby is tired they will often:

  • Be more still and more quiet
  • Lose interest in people or toys
  • Appear glazed or unfocused
  • Fuss or whine
  • Stare with their eyes wide open and not blinking
  • Rub their eyes or ears
  • Yawn

Notice how I haven’t put “cry” on that list. Crying is often the last cue that your baby is tired, and by that point they are veering towards becoming overtired.

Recognising your child’s natural awake period can help prevent overtiredness, and you can start to prepare them for sleep at the right time. Our sleep charts provide a great guide for how long your child is likely to be able to stay awake between naps.  You can also check out our guide to getting the right daytime naps and bedtime routine.

 What do I do if my baby is overtired?

An overtired baby can be difficult to settle. However here is a list of ways to help calm and relax your baby so that they can fall asleep more easily:

  • Turn off the lights and move away from stimulating environments
  • Hold your baby
  • Skin to skin time
  • Gentle movement
  • Play some white noise
  • Feed your baby till calm and drowsy

If you would like any further information please don’t hesitate to contact us. We offer Sleep Workshops, telephone consultations and Sleep Support Plans. Our methods are gentle and we do not believe in a “one size fits all” approach to sleep training.

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