Help! I Have An Overtired Baby Who Won’t Sleep. What Do I Do?

Sleep begets sleep – that’s the most essential baby sleeping mantra that parents need to know. Once you have an overtired baby, getting that baby to sleep feels impossible.

When you have a long, stressful day, crawling into bed feels like heaven. As soon as your head hits the pillow, you’re sound asleep, but this doesn’t apply to babies. Whatever you do, never listen to the advice-givers who tell you to keep your baby up longer so that they’ll sleep.

Trust me, as a mother of four, that advice is 100% of the time wrong. A tired baby won’t sleep, and chances are your overtired baby won’t go to sleep without some serious convincing.

It might not seem logical from an adult’s standpoint – sleeping when you’re tired makes sense. Babies aren’t adults, and their sleep cycles are different than ours. Let’s take a look at why your overtired baby won’t sleep and how you can stop this vicious cycle before everyone in your house is perpetually overtired. 

Why Do Babies Fight Sleep When Overtired?

Overtiredness is a severe problem for babies, particularly newborn babies and infants younger than six months old. However, overtiredness can be problematic for all younger children. 

The sleep fight rarely starts from one day if you fix the problem immediately. Perhaps you had a day off of their schedule while out visiting grandma and shopping – that’s not a big deal if you get back on schedule the following day and ensure your baby gets the right amount of sleep.

baby not sleeping

Here is what happens:

Overtired is a cycle that takes a few days to happen. Your baby didn’t sleep enough on Saturday because you had a busy day with friends and shopping. He was awake longer than usual, which led to his body’s stress response. His body increased his adrenaline and cortisol levels to help your baby stay away. 

Saturday night, your baby struggles to fall asleep for bedtime and woke up several more times at night than usual. That means on Sunday, he’s overtired once again. He spends all day Sunday fussing, whining, and taking horrible naps, so the problem progresses until Monday. 

You entered the realm of overtiredness with increased adrenaline and cortisol levels for your child. When his cortisol levels are higher than his melatonin levels, which is the sleep hormone, it makes it harder for your child to fall asleep. 

Note that:

Sleep begets more sleep when it comes to babies. An overtired baby will sleep less, and the rest he gets won’t be of good quality, leading to them feeling more tired. 

Signs of an Overtired Baby 

Most signs of an overtired baby are quite obvious; your child lets you know that something is wrong. Some babies are different and hide their sleep problems behind adorable smiles, so check out the common signs.

  • Your baby has a hard time settling down for sleep.
  • Her names are brief catnaps rather than long naps. 
  • She doesn’t sleep well at night or long stretches appropriate for her age and feeding style. An overtired baby keeps waking up at night, fussing and crying. 
  • You notice that your baby is cranky and fussy more often.
  • Older babies are more prone to meltdowns.
  • Your child falls asleep at random times during the day that isn’t a naptime. 

Will My Overtired Baby Eventually Sleep?

Yes, at some point, all babies eventually sleep, even if you feel as if it’s been ages. However, just because your baby goes to sleep doesn’t mean your problems end there.

Overtired babies fall asleep and wake up shortly later. It’s crucial to get him back to sleep as quickly as possible to get as much sleep as possible at night. This sleep is often not restful, so he might wake up still tired in the morning from poor quality sleep.

How to Soothe an Overtired Baby

how to calm a baby down

Figuring out how to calm an overtired baby is no small feat. Chances are your overtired baby won’t stop crying and acting as if you’re harming them when all you want is to put your child to sleep, which is what they need. 

It takes work to soothe an overtired baby. Here are some suggestions to work towards soothing and getting your child to sleep.

Make Bedtime Earlier

Babies all have wake window times, and understanding your baby’s sleep patterns is essential. Try moving your baby’s regular bedtime 30 minutes earlier. It stops you from accidentally missing sleep cues and making your baby even sleepier. 

Stick to Your Bedtime Routine

Don’t try to change your bedtime routine at this point. Stick to what you’ve always used or want to use for a bedtime routine. 

Breastfeed or Give a Bottle

Some experts recommend that you don’t feed your child to sleep, but dealing with overtiredness is a different situation. Feel free to breastfeed or use a bottle if it helps your child sleep.

Try Swaddling

Swaddling is only appropriate for babies under eight weeks old, but if your baby is in that age range, try swaddling. Many babies find it soothing, reducing stimulation that might keep him awake longer.

But, should you swaddle for naps as well?

Use Gentle Sensory Soothing Methods

Now is the time to use gentle swaying or rocking motions. That might not be your norm, but overtired babies need some sensory motion to settle down into sleep. 

Make the Room Dark

Try putting your baby to sleep in a dark room without other stimulation. An overtired baby prefers to strain and watch the TV across the room than sleep. 

How to Break the Cycle of an Overtired Baby

As the parent, your goal is to make sure your baby has plenty of opportunities to meet all of their sleep needs. You need to learn how to help an overtired baby catch up on sleep and how to prevent overtiredness from happening again. 

Here are the steps that I followed when I have an overtired newborn baby who won’t sleep. 

Know How Long Your Baby Should Be Awake

First, parents must know how long your child can be awake before needing to sleep again. In the beginning, your child will be asleep more than he is awake. Long stretches of awake time are out of the question; you have just enough time for diaper changing, feeding, and preparing him to sleep again.

As your child gets older, his awake times will stretch longer. Don’t try to push that sooner, or you’ll create an overtired problem. 

Here’s a general guideline for recommended awake time based on age.

0-4 Months45 minutes to one hour
4-6 Months1 to 2 hours
6-12 Months2 to 3 hours
12-18 Months3 to 4 hours
18 months4 to 6 hours

Watch for Early Sleep Cues

Waiting for your baby to start to cry to put them to sleep is a problem; crying is a late sleep cue. It’s easier to put your child to sleep when you notice the early sleep cues. Here are signs to watch out for:

  • Eye Rubbing
  • Crankiness
  • Ear or Hair Pulling
  • Yawning 
  • Becoming Clingier
  • Less Social or Engaged
  • Zoning Out 

Fill Up Their “Sleep Cup”

A straightforward analogy that I use is that you need to keep your baby’s “sleep cup” full. That means you need to focus on getting your baby as much sleep as possible. Sleep begets more sleep.

It’s easy to become stuck on a schedule, but if your child is sleepy, put them to bed, even if it’s not your predicted bedtime. A well-rested baby will sleep better at night, so long as there is an appropriate amount of wakeful time between his last nap and bedtime. That length of time varies based on your child’s age. 

Create a Consistent Sleep Routine

Following a consistent bedtime routine helps your child settle down at night. Your child adjusts to this schedule, and when you begin the routine, it sends signals to your baby’s brain that it’s nearing bedtime. Use an abridged version before naptime.

I suggest that you don’t make bathtime part of your sleep routine; most experts recommend that you don’t bathe babies daily due to sensitive skin problems. Keep the routine simple and easily replicated each night.

Here’s what we do each night:

  • Lights dimmed 30 minutes before starting the bedtime routine.
  • Undress, fresh diaper, and lotion before putting on new pajamas.
  • Read a book together.
  • Nurse or give a bottle.
  • Rock to sleep.

We do a simple routine of changing into a fresh diaper for naptime, reading a book in the recline, nursing, and rocking to sleep. 

Avoid Overstimulation Before Sleep Time 

It’s easy to overstimulate your child and cause a second wind or making it harder to settle down. Stop playtime at least a half an hour before bedtime and keep the area quieter or dimmer. Try reducing the amount of light by half wherever you spend most of your time before bed, and turn the TV off. 

Can You Sleep Train an Overtired Baby?

Your thoughts might drift to using cry it out or other sleep training methods when you have an overtired baby. When you have an overtired baby who won’t sleep during the day, desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

Wrong.

Now is not the time to sleep train or use cry it out methods. A perpetually overtired baby will cause problems during sleep training. Remember, no doctor or sleep expert recommends using sleep training methods while your child is a newborn. The earliest any sleep training should take place if you must try it is six months old. 

Instead, you must focus on getting your baby on the right track and sleeping the right amount of hours before attempting any sleep training. 

Avoid Overtiredness at All Costs

You must avoid chronic overtiredness, or your child will enter a vicious cycle that can be hard to end. Don’t expect the cycle to end because of one good day. Continue to soothe your overtired baby to sleep and actively prevent overtiredness for the problem to go away entirely. 

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