When an infant gets overly tired he often won’t fall asleep. It is frustrating for both the parents and the baby. The baby starts to fuss and cry. It feels like nothing will soothe or comfort him. The more tired the baby gets, the more he cries. Even if he does drift off to sleep for a few minutes, the chances are good that he will wake back up again because he’s reached a threshold where falling into a sound sleep is extremely difficult.
When a baby becomes overtired his tiny body’s stress hormones are activated. Cortisol and adrenaline rush into his system in direct response to his fussiness. Unfortunately, the barrage of hormones makes it even more difficult for him to relax and fall asleep.
What Causes a Baby to Become Overtired
There are several reasons why a baby can become overtired.
1. Lacks a Set Bedtime
If your infant doesn’t have a set bedtime and stays up too late he can become overtired. A baby should also receive appropriate and timely naps throughout the day.
2. Insufficient Naps
A newborn often requires a nap every 45 minutes to rejuvenate their young system. Young babies need about 16 hours of sleep per day and will nap for approximately one to two hours each time. Unlike adults, babies experience rapid sleep cycles that last every 50 to 60 minutes, according to the University of Michigan. Their rapid sleep cycles make frequent napping even more imperative.
3. Missing a Routine
Babies are creatures of habit. They enjoy a set routine throughout the day. Any break in the routine can cause the baby to become overtired because he misses valuable naptime or fails to nap soundly enough.
How to Get an Overtired Baby to Sleep
Don’t despair if your baby is overtired and won’t fall asleep. There are ways to get an overtired baby to fall asleep
Bedtime Routine: If your baby is overtired then there is no reason not to implement a soothing bedtime routine that you can follow every night to soothe your infant into a sound sleep. Many babies enjoy a warm bedtime bath. You can use a soothing infant formulated soap that boasts lavender or chamomile fragrances to lull your baby into relaxation. After the bath, it is time to give your baby one last feeding. During the feeding, many parents dim the lights, sing a soft lullaby, or read quietly to their baby. The sound of a parent’s voice is exceptionally soothing to an infant.
Keep the Room Cool: According to the Lullaby Trust, the safest room temperature for an infant’s nursery to be is between 16 to 20 degrees Celsius. A hot room temperature can increase the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In general, an infant sleeps better in a cooler room.
Swaddle Your Baby: Swaddling helps recreate the feel and security of the womb and is highly beneficial in soothing a fussy infant into a state of relaxation. Swaddling consists of wrapping the infant in a receiving blanket like a small burrito. At bedtime, swaddling a newborn is often the optimum trick to helping the baby fall asleep quickly.
Soothing Your Baby With Audio and Visuals: Crib mobiles or soft music give your baby something to focus on which is soothing. This distracts the infant for his fussy behavior and helps lower the stress hormones circulating throughout his system.
Walk Your Baby: We have all seen the movies of the mom or dad walking back and forth holding a crying infant. Well, the walking trick actually works to console an overtired infant. A baby enjoys the movement of a person as he walks versus a parent who sits and holds the infant in one place. Researchers have found that walking your baby around slows his heart rate, reduces his fussy movements, and stops his crying according to Parenting Science. The movement can also be achieved in an old-fashioned rocking chair.
Relax Yourself: A baby is amazingly in tune to his parents. He knows when you are stressed out and this can actually cause him to become overly fussy. Prior to being able to hold and calm your baby into a restful slumber, you need to relax your own mind and remain placid. If you are relaxed and at peace then your emotions will flow to your baby and help him also calm down.
Signs of Overtiredness in a Baby
There are signs that your baby might be becoming overtired. Watching your baby closely for impending overtiredness is a pivotal way to prevent your baby from becoming upset and keep his stress hormones from escalating.
Facial Signals: Your baby’s tiny face reveals a lot about his moods. If his expression goes from happy to grumpy then it’s time to encourage a nap before he crosses the threshold to overtiredness.
We all yawn when we become tired and babies are no different. If your baby starts to yawn it is a sign he is getting sleepy.
Rubbing Eyes, Ears, or Hair
Babies often start to rub their eyes, ears, or hair when they are tired in an attempt to soothe themselves. Some babies even pull their hair when they start to get fatigued.
Avoids Eye Contact
Many babies avoid eye contact when they start to become sleepy. Sometimes the baby will just stare off blankly and appear to be focusing on nothing in particular.
Babies often start sucking their thumb or on a pacifier when they get tired.
Loss of Interest
If your baby has been happily playing with a toy and all of a sudden loses interest in the item he might be growing weary.
As a baby grows tired, it often stiffens its body and clenches it fists.
Small things like hiccups, sneezing, or sweaty palms can indicate that your baby is becoming exhausted and it is time for a nap.
What the Experts Say
“As soon as you see eye rubbing, yawning, fussiness, those are signs that you should start preparing your baby for a nap,”
Judy Owens, M.D., director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorder Clinic at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital
“Dim the lights 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime to help bring your baby’s cortisol levels down. Then give your baby a bath and her last feed of the day, followed by a bedtime story and a song. Do this consistently every night, and it will be easier for you to sleep train your baby when the time comes.”
Ingrid Prueher, a sleep coach known as “The Baby Sleep Whisperer”
“Pat him or pick him up and rock him for a bit to calm him down. You must meet his emotional needs and comfort him till he’s calm, no matter how long it takes. Then place him gently back into bed with some reassuring words.Then leave him for a minute or two. If he cries when you’ve left, go back in after a few more minutes. It’s vital to comfort him when you return so that he doesn’t feel abandoned. Then leave him for a little while – each time leaving him a tiny bit longer (and so on) until he falls asleep.”
Ann Richards, Sleep Sense
Getting an overtired newborn to sleep ultimately takes patience and understanding. One of the best things any parent can do is remain consistent while they take steps to prevent their baby from reaching the overtired point. A regular schedule and daily routine are of utmost importance in ensuring that your little one enjoys adequate naps to meet his growing needs so his wakeful hours are spent happy and relaxed.