If you are wondering How to Break the Cycle of an Overtired Baby, you are not alone! They say sleep begets sleep. But what do you do when your baby takes terrible naps and won’t sleep at night either?
I’ve been there. I was overjoyed when my beautiful baby arrived. But nothing could prepare me for the constant crying and sleepless nights in the weeks that followed. No matter how long I rocked my baby; she couldn’t settle for a nap for more than 20 minutes. To make matters worse, she would wake up 6 – 7 times a night, so I didn’t get any sleep. Every sign showed I was dealing with an overtired baby.
The cycle of an overtired baby can be hard to break. When your baby spends her days awake and looking tired, she won’t sleep well at night either. With short naps, it’s seemingly impossible to put her down for naps, and soon it’s time to feed her, and the cycle continues.
Well, I’ll let you in on everything you need to know about an overtired baby and how to break the cycle of an overtired baby. Take a look at what worked for my baby and other mothers, and see if my recommendations will work for you.
How to Break the Cycle of An Overtired Baby – Understand tiredness
The dreaded overtired cycle is when a new-born is too hungry to sleep long and too tired to eat well.
Here’s what happens when your baby is overtired.
Your baby produces cortisol and adrenaline hormones. What do these hormones do?
They increase your baby’s heart rate, blood sugar, stress, and blood pressure. Hence, your baby snacks, fights sleep, naps for a few minutes, snacks again, fights sleep, catnaps again, and leads to night-time meltdowns. The result is an overtired, cranky baby and a desperate, exhausted mom.
Signs of a Chronically Overtired Baby
When your baby is overtired, there are a few hints.
- She stays awake past her wake time: Babies who stay awake longer than their appropriate wake window usually have a stress response that causes them to fight sleep. Babies can only stay awake for short periods depending on their age. For example, if your baby’s awake window is 2.5 hours, but she’s been up for 3.5 hours, she is likely exhausted and overtired.
- Baby has a hard time going down for sleep: Your baby may relax in your arms and even close her eyes but always awakes once you put her down to sleep.
- She takes brief catnaps instead of full naps: If your baby is older than 6 months, naps should generally be longer than one sleep cycle (about 20 to 30 minutes). A baby that can’t connect sleep cycles is generally overtired.
- She yawns frequently: A baby that yawns constantly shows late signs of sleep and is tired. She may also rub her eyes and tug on her ears.
- She likes to be rocked endlessly: Some babies like spending time in your arms being rocked and becoming cranky once you put them down.
- Easily wakes by the slightest noises like a door opening: When the slightest movements awaken a baby, it means she’s having a hard time staying asleep and transitioning to the next sleep cycle.
- Seems to feed many times but not enough: Overtired babies tend to feed often but not enough to nap well.
- Crying goes from whining to hysterical, inconsolable cries: An overtired baby won’t stop crying and could go on for hours.
- May feed briefly and fall asleep before she has a full feed: This often happens with new-borns since they have a hard time staying awake. Most new-borns don’t stay awake long enough for a full feed before they need to fall back to sleep. This is a problem because it results in snacking and catnapping.
How to Break the Cycle of An Overtired Baby – My Top Tips
Let Baby Wake Properly
I know you’ve heard it before, but prevention is the best solution. When your baby wakes up, your aim should be to keep her awake long enough until she is ready to sleep but not too tired.
With this in mind, it’s best to feed your baby upon waking instead of feeding her to sleep. This way, she will have the energy for a full feed. Thus, she will drift off to a long nap and therefore have a positive sleep cycle.
Instead of feeding your baby the moment she stirs, wait until she works a cry and wants to be held. If she’s struggling to stay awake, you can do tummy time, change her diaper, or gently tickle her to get her to wake fully.
If the baby falls asleep when feeding, you can burp her early or change her diaper between breasts if she’s breastfed. I found that feeding the baby for 20 minutes on each breast helped her nap longer. Even when she awoke 20 minutes into a nap, I knew she did not require to be fed, and rubbing her back usually helped her drift back to sleep.
Limit Wake Times
Knowing your baby’s wake time and the maximum time she can stay awake is important. This is great when you have a routine, and she seems to keep to this schedule, although it’s never to the letter. When dealing with an overtired baby, it’s better to cut wake times to an even shorter time.
For example, if your baby only stays awake for 1.5 hours, cut that time to an hour. For a chronically tired baby, you could even put her down after 30 minutes if she’s exhibiting sleep cues. Limiting her wake window for a few days will give her the rest she needs to return to her sleep schedule.
Stop your Baby entering the Cycle – Look out for the warning signs
It’s probably the most important thing to avoid an overtired baby. At first, your new-born baby will be sleeping all the time. But she will start showing all these tired cues past the three months. It’s essential to tune in to your baby’s cues so that you can catch the signs early.
Some early tired baby signs are blank stares, loss of engagement, turning her head, and going quiet. When your baby starts to be fussy, pulling her ears, yawning, and rubbing her eyes, she is tired and ready to sleep. If you don’t catch these signs and put your baby to sleep, you enter the overtired zone when your baby starts to cry hysterically, making fists and even arching her back.
Sometimes, you could have caught the signs, and the baby still fights sleep. This could be because you don’t have a consistent sleep schedule, so she doesn’t know what to expect at sleep time.
Stop Guessing your Baby’s Sleep Schedule
Your overtired baby will likely take short naps, and that could be because you’re guessing her sleep schedule. My first was a bad napper, and I couldn’t get him to sleep more than 40 minutes, no matter what I did. It was not until someone pointed out that his sleep schedule was over the place. I had to think about his sleep schedule and plan his day around his sleep.
The first thing I did was monitor how long and how many naps he took. I also noticed that he often slept on the breast. In addition, he was always fussy going down and was always nursing (especially at night). We were on a messy schedule, and it had to stop.
After noting how my baby’s sleep schedule was, I started being intentional. I even found some cute Instagram infographics for sleep schedules. Ultimately, my baby’s sleep schedule was unique, but it worked. I would feed him 20 minutes after waking up, and I wouldn’t feed him to sleep.
Here’s what broke my short naps in my overtired 4-month old.
- followed his wake window;
- noted his sleep cues;
- created a sleep routine;
- put him in his crib, sleepy but awake;
While he was fussy at first, I used to turn on his side and pat his bottom gently until he drifted to sleep. Eventually, my son was napping 2 – 3 hours and sleeping 4 – 6 hours without sleep training.
Break the cycle with an Earlier Bedtime Routine
So, your overtired baby “fakes” sleep and wakes up 30 or 60 minutes after you put her down for the night? As I said, bad naps lead to a bad night’s sleep. Hence, if she’s not sleeping at night after spending her day mostly awake and fussy, get her to bed as early as possible.
This could mean getting her to bed at 5. pm. It’s because she needs to catch up on sleep since she is likely in a state of sleep debt. An earlier bedtime will break the cycle of an overtired baby. And no, you don’t have to create a new sleep schedule. It’s until she stops being fussy throughout the day and starts to nap longer without much rocking and lulling.
Once your baby adjusts her sleep needs, you can return to her previous sleep schedule.
Try Rescue Naps to break the cycle of an Overtired Baby
Given the circumstances with an overtired baby, rescue naps may come in handy here. This is when you help your baby sleep by holding her, letting her sleep on the swing, or holding her close to your body on her side or stomach and swinging her back and forth.
Rescue naps can do wonders when your baby is in sleep debt which could be causing all the fussiness. My friend told me she had to drive around with the baby sleeping in the car seat so she could nap longer and recoup her sleep debt. This is my favourite car seat by the way. The swivel seat means i no longer strain my back or try to contort myself into weird shapes when it’s time to strap-in!
You could swaddle the baby, use a baby wrap, or take stroller rides. However, you don’t want to make rescue naps part of your sleep schedule. Ensure you go back to a feed, play, and sleep schedule to avoid creating a negative sleep association.
Create A Conducive Sleep Environment for your Baby
The point of breaking the cycle of an overtired baby is to get her to nap longer and sleep well. What if her sleep environment is not soothing and supportive of her sleep needs? While babies under three months tend to sleep anywhere, babies above three months start to get picky about how and where they sleep.
Hence, if your new-born used to sleep in the living room with the TV blasting, she could start being fussy and fighting sleep because the living room is no longer conducive. It’s time to move her naps to the nursery, draw out blackout curtains, and put on white noise. These are things that will invite more sleep.
I also noticed that babies sense your mood. They stay awake much longer when you’re in a hurry and want them to fall asleep fast. Get yourself in a calm mood, so your baby feels secure. Bath time can also be part of your sleep routine since it can help calm your baby and prepare her for sleep.
In addition to creating a soothing sleep environment, it’s important to follow your sleep routine step by step. For example, you could start with a bath, jammies, reading a book/singing a lullaby, closing the blinds, and turning on the white noise machine. For naps, this could be shorter, like a diaper change, jammies, a song, and white noise. We discuss this in greater detail in our Sleeping Aids article.
Offer a Bottle or Breast
If your baby doesn’t fall asleep for longer than 30 minutes following the feed, play, sleep routine, you can feed to sleep. This can sound counterproductive, but when dealing with an overtired baby, feeding to sleep could save you the frustration of getting your baby to sleep. Again, this is done until she recoups sleep debt to prevent it from being a negative sleep association. You could try these Anti-Colic Feeding Bottles to prevent your baby from swallowing too much gas.
Use a Pacifier
A pacifier can be an invaluable tool during naps and bedtime to break the cycle of an overtired baby. Since babies like to suck naturally, a pacifier can help her self-soothe, fall asleep, and stay asleep. You can help her get into a deeper sleep by holding the pacifier until she falls asleep and then not using it during wake times. I’ve always like these, as the pack comes with plenty of spares – it’s been a life saver with my 9-month old. However, this may not be suitable for all parents, particularly those looking to Stop Baby using Dummy at Night.
Know when Your Baby Wakes Up in The Morning
You could miss the time your baby woke up and unknowingly keep her awake longer than her wake window. This often happens when your baby doesn’t cry as soon as she wakes up. As such, if she wakes up at 7, and cries at 7.30, you may keep her awake 30 minutes longer than she should, leading to an overtired baby.
Check-in on your baby early in the morning by either peeking in the nursery or using a Baby Monitor. This way, you will catch her wake time when she startles.
Should You Use Ferber Method on Overtired Baby?
The Ferber method is a sleep training method that involves laying your baby awake in the crib and then leaving her for a set time, maybe five minutes. Then, you come back, comfort her, and leave for a little longer. You do this, extending the time between each check-in.
The problem with using the Ferber method on an overtired baby is that it drags things long, and your baby gets mad with each check-in. You will likely end up with a baby who wakes up early because she was exhausted at bedtime. This will not serve your baby when trying to break an overtired cycle.
What About Cry It Out?
Again, it’s not a good idea to let the baby cry it out when they are overtired. Crying out will perpetuate exhaustion, and your baby will likely take a short nap and continue the cycle for the rest of the day. The best thing you can do for an overtired baby is assist her to fall asleep. After she’s well rested, you can go back to tracking your sleep goals.
How to Break the Cycle of An Overtired Baby – FAQ
1. Is my baby overtired if she’s constantly yawning all day long?
Your baby may have some sleep deficit if she yawns 30 minutes after waking up and she’s above 6 months old. This is common if your baby is in an overtired cycle. If you notice your baby is always yawning, it will be good if you let her catch up on her sleep. This could be by letting her sleep in your arms or using movement to stretch her naps.
2. How long does it take for an overtired baby to catch up on sleep?
Babies usually take two to three days to catch up on sleep. You’ll notice she’s much happier, feeds better, and sleeps quicker. Furthermore, she is less demanding of your attention.
3. What can I do to avoid baby being overtired?
It’s all about catching baby’s sleep cues early and putting them down when they’re drowsy but awake. It means the baby is tired but exhibiting signs of sleepiness and is not fussy or crying hysterically. If you miss the sleep cues, assist your baby in falling asleep then aim to put them down earlier during their next nap or at bedtime.
If preventing an overtired baby was as easy as it sounds, we would all have sleep warriors. But it’s never simple, and sometimes your baby will be overtired. Let it not be a source of confusion and frustration. I believe the methods I used will work for your tired baby. Keep in mind that babies thrive in a routine. Therefore, strive to keep a predictable schedule, understand your baby’s age, wake times, and put her down using sleep cues.
As a parent, your actions influence your baby’s sleep. You’re in control, and the good thing is that you can get your baby out of an overtired cycle. Good luck!
Have you got any helpful tips for breaking the cycle of an Overtired Baby? Share it with us in the Comments!