Breaking the Overtired CycleNov 05, 2023
If you are reading this... You're wondering if your little one is overtired. I’m sure you are just sick of hearing that word from friends, or reading it during online searches.
When my newborn baby cried and cried for hours I KNEW she was overtired… I just didn’t know why, or how to fix it. I thought my baby was just a super “awake and alert” baby!!
Oh, how wrong I was. She seemingly would “happily” stay awake for a few hours at 5 weeks old (when they typically can only tolerate up to 1 hour at a time). Then one day… 5 hours later I was holding the most intense screaming tiny baby.
I was devastated. Nothing seemed to help her. She was hysterical! I knew she needed to nap but getting her to sleep felt totally impossible. She just kept crying no matter how much I cuddled, nursed and rocked her. She was crying tired, and I had NO IDEA what to do.
After an hour of crying (both of us), I put her in the baby wrap (magical for newborn naps by the way!) and went into my dark closet rocking and shushing. FINALLY she fell asleep.
Even though my 5 week old baby was up for 5 hours (for reference….she barely makes it to 5 hours now at 2 years old), she took a good hour to get to sleep…. At which point she literally crashed out from extreme exhaustion…
WELL HERE IS WHAT I DIDN'T KNOW BACK THEN...
When your baby is overtired, their little body releases 2 hormones: cortisol and adrenaline.
These hormones increase:
Their heart rate
Blood pressure, and blood sugar.
This makes it SO HARD for them to fall asleep! Hence, fighting sleep, bedtime meltdowns, or overly hyperactive babies and toddlers.
Unfortunately this can lead to a vicious overtired baby cycle:FIGHTING SLEEP ⮕
SHORT NAPS ⮕
FIGHTING BEDTIME ⮕
BROKEN SLEEP OVERNIGHT ⮕
EARLY MORNING RISING ⮕
AND BACK TO THE BEGINNING AGAIN.
THIS IS EXHAUSTING for both parent and child! But there are things you can do to break that cycle. Start here:
1. FIRST AND FOREMOST: CATCH THOSE EARLY TIRED SIGNS.
I know you’ve heard it before, you’ve probably seen all the cute little infographics on Instagram… but it really is SO important to catch those tired signs early… and tune into your baby’s unique tired signs as they grow and you get to know each other more. Here is my cute little infographic showing some classic sleepy cues:
Other tired cues include:
BUT WHAT IF MY BABY IS JUST CONSTANTLY SHOWING SLEEPY CUES ALL DAY LONG?
I get asked this often. Parents will say… “but my baby yawns after 30 minutes and they are 8 months old!!” So this is a valid question.
This is actually very common if your baby isn't sleeping well, as they are in a state of sleep debt.
When this is the case, it’s important to work closely on stretching wake times gently (age appropriate), ensuring nice long naps (even if that means you holding them to nap temporarily), and getting them caught up on their sleep. Here are some average awake windows:
2. UNDERSTAND WHEN YOU’VE MISSED THE BOAT…
Lots of people will see a baby burrowing into their mum or dad’s chest fussing and say “Awwwww… he’s getting tired.” This is only partly true. He is FOR SURE tired….but to be honest, he should probably be asleep already. These actions are actually LATE signs of tiredness, and may indicate over-tiredness.
How long should it take for my baby/toddler to fall asleep?
This is another widely misunderstood question! Many parents will get their child down for a nap and notice they fell asleep immediately. They think “Great! That was perfect timing!” Although it may seem that way, this isn’t accurate. Falling asleep very quickly is actually a sign of extreme fatigue.
Here is a little information about sleep onset latency (time it takes to fall asleep) and what it means. If they are falling asleep in ⬇
Less than 5 minutes ⮕ They are extremely tired
5-10 minutes ⮕ Pretty darn tired
10-20 minutes ⮕ Ahh, you’ve got the sweet spot!
30 minutes + ⮕ Indication something *may* need to change (e.g. daily schedule, naps, bedtime etc.) Annoyingly, it could be a sign of over tiredness OR under tiredness, or something else. For more info on over vs under tired, read this blog.
3. MAKE A PLAN AND STICK WITH IT!
This is more important than you might think. Going back and forth between wake times, schedules, routines, or sleep teaching/training methods will be extremely stressful for your baby or toddler. It is SO important to do your research, reach out to a sleep consultant if you feel you would like some extra guidance, and then stick with the plan for 2-6 weeks.
If you’re not wanting to do any sleep teaching, but just wanting to break the cycle of over-tiredness… focus on the following:
- BE AWARE OF SLEEPY CUES
- UNDERSTAND TYPICAL AWAKE WINDOWS (DON’T OVERLY STRESS ABOUT THEM)
- ENCOURAGE GREAT NAPS HOWEVER YOU CAN (IN THE SAFEST WAY POSSIBLE). THIS CAN BE USING A BABY CARRIER, CONTACT NAPS, A DARK ROOM ETC.
- ONCE THEY ARE GETTING THE APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF SLEEP FOR THEIR AGE (SEE THIS INSTAGRAM POST) THEN YOU CAN START FOCUSING ON IMPROVING NIGHTS AND HAVING NAPS IN THE CRIB!
WANT TO START NOW?
I have a lot of resources for you! I work with families who are up every 2 hours, every 4 hours, replacing the pacifier, nursing, whatever it is, I can help you go from surviving to thriving! I can help you get your baby/toddler sleeping 11-12 hours straight (with age appropriate feedings if needed).
DEPENDING ON YOUR INDIVIDUAL FAMILY NEEDS, I HAVE SOMETHING TO HELP YOU GET YOUR LITTLE ONE (AND YOU) SLEEPING ALL NIGHT LONG!
Hookway, Lindsay. Holistic Sleep Coaching - Gentle Alternatives to Sleep Training: For Health & Childcare ... Professionals. PRAECLARUS Press, 2018.
Kiel, Elizabeth J., et al. “Cortisol Secretion and Change in Sleep Problems in Early Childhood: Moderation by Maternal Overcontrol.” Biological Psychology, Elsevier, 9 Mar. 2015, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0301051115000526.
McGraw, K., Hoffmann, R., Harker, C., & Herman, J. H. (1999). The development of circadian rhythms in a human infant. Sleep, 22(3), 303–310. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/22.3.303
Weissbluth, Marc. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep. Ballantine Group, 2021.
Stay connected with news and updates!
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.