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Overtiredness in Babies: Everything You Should Know

You’re a new mom, and you spend a good deal of time looking after your baby. You’ve finally got a minute to yourself from your busy schedule. After you have just put your baby down in her bed, you decide to take some time to yourself, to sit down and relax a little, when your baby wakes up and cries all over again. Relatable? 

This is a common mom experience that all moms have had, and will remember for a lifetime. But just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it’s always okay. When this behaviour becomes too frequent, you need to consider whether your baby is overtired.

What is Overtiredness?

As you know, newborns and infants spend a major part of their day sleeping. Their quickly growing bodies need enough sleep to repair their cells and tissues and allow for growth. So your baby is likely to get tired easily and fall asleep often.

But what makes an overtired baby different from a tired baby?

An overtired baby is beyond the point of tiredness, so they are too exhausted to stay awake or even fall asleep. So the body’s stress-system tries to keep your baby awake, making it difficult for her to stay calm, relax or sleep. It only makes your baby more tired.

Why Do Babies Get Overtired?

After spending a lot of time in the protected environment of your womb, a baby has to learn a lot everyday from the world around her. This can be very tiring, and that is why babies need a number of naps everyday to cope. Moreover, they can only stay awake for small periods between their naps, so when their feeding and nap schedule is altered, they can be aroused and may stay awake longer than they should, making them overtired.

A newborn can only stay awake for around 45 minutes between naps, whereas an infant over six months old can stay awake for around 2 hours, and a toddler for 4-5 hours. So when your baby is not put to sleep once she starts to get tired, her body tries to keep her awake, and this keeps her awake even if you try to put her to bed, making her overtired.

How Do You Know If Your Baby Is Overtired?

Although every baby shows that they are tired in their own unique way, there are some common signs you can look out for to check if your baby is overtired. Pay attention to your baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule as well. These are the signs you should ideally watch out for:

- When your baby is overtired, she will try to keep herself awake. She may rub her eyes and ears, and avoid stimulation like noise or light due to the irritation it causes.

- Due to the stress it creates, babies may try to soothe themselves by actions like thumbsucking, and this may go unnoticed because it’s a common thing for babies to do. But watch out for accompanying actions like rubbing eyes or yawning.

- Watch your baby’s facial expressions - they may be grumpy when they are overtired, and are unable to sleep despite their fatigue.

- Automatic signals like sneezing, coughing, hiccups, sweaty palms or quick breaths are also signs that your baby is beyond the tiredness stage.

- They may lose interest in playing or eating, and may also struggle to latch on to your breasts during feeding sessions. They may reject food or toys too.

- They may cry uncontrollably or clench their arms and legs, with tight fists or arched legs to display irritation.

- They nap for lesser time than they are supposed to and wake up easily on the smallest of sounds. They sleep at night, and may feed well at night, but their naps and daytime feeding schedules are out of place.

- They may also become overly attached to a parent or caregiver, and cry when put down to sleep, making it impossible to keep them asleep for enough time.

Babies don’t know how to tell you they’re tired, so they try to do so in their own different ways. Watch your baby’s behaviour, feeding and sleeping schedules so that you can identify these things in time.

How To Put An Overtired Baby To Sleep

To put an overtired baby to sleep, you need to keep in mind that they are stressed out and need to be calmed down before their body allows them to sleep. Here are some ways you can calm your baby and put her to sleep:

- Swaddle your baby - wrapping them in a nice warm hold can be quite soothing for them, helping them feel safe and fall asleep.

- Gently rock your baby in your arms to calm them and make them doze lightly.

- Feeding your baby can send a message to their bodies that it is time for a nap, so if your baby is hungry, try making the breastfeeding an opportunity for a nap as well.

- Dim the lights or make the room dark by shutting light out as much as possible while trying to put your baby to sleep. Bright lights can irritate a baby and keep her awake.

- For older babies and toddlers who are overtired, a bedtime story or lullaby in their dimly lit room, with a nice bedtime atmosphere, can make a difference.

Remember that your baby is stressed, so before trying to put them to sleep, you have to try to calm them.

How To Prevent Overtiredness

If your baby is not already overtired, it’s a good idea to work on keeping your baby safe from it. These are some things you can do to keep their sleep schedules healthy:

- Watch your baby’s feeding and sleeping habits, and make sure that naps and feedings happen at the right time to avoid the stress your baby feels when they are delayed.

- Watch out for the awake times we talked about earlier and make sure your baby or toddler doesn’t stay awake for longer than their awake time without naps in between!

- Take your baby away from brightly lit or noisy environments. Make a nice bedtime atmosphere for your baby so that she can relax and fall asleep easily.

- During nap time, avoid playing with your baby. Make sure to speak softly and just focus on calming her down, getting her ready for bed.

Your baby’s growing body is learning so much everyday. She needs enough rest so she can grow up strong and healthy.

Is your baby cranky? This could be why. In case you’ve dealt with an overtired baby before, what did you do that worked for you?

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