Consoling an overtired baby: what you need to know
Parents’ guide to getting an overtired baby to sleep
Overtiredness is that miserable place between tiredness and exhaustion - basically a baby is too tired to fall asleep. Even if they manage to nod off, they wake soon after and struggle to get off again. The more tired the baby is, the harder it is to get them to sleep. It’s basically a response to stress hormones and a real catch-22 situation.
When overtired, a newborn will cry for no apparent reason and arch their back and maybe pull up their legs in pain and even sneeze or hiccup. An older child will play up, refuse food, grizzle cry or even scream!
Whilst older children can handle the odd late night, young babies are not able to cope with too much wakefulness between naps or at bedtime - and cannot communicate these feelings so they cry inconsolably.
Signs of overtiredness
1. Rubbing eyes, ears, hair or face.
3. Moving away from stimulation or losing interest in a toy or food.
4. Starting off as a whinge but progressing to full-scale crying.
5. Becoming clingy and difficult to put down to sleep.
6. Becoming increasingly difficult to console.
7. Automatic signs beyond their control like sneezing and hiccuping.
Prevention is often better than cure so try to read the signs before the overtiredness kicks in. A newborn can only handle around 45 minutes of wakefulness, while a 6-month-old can manage a couple of hours or so. Watch their nap times, particularly if you are out and about.
When overtiredness does occur, the most important thing you need to do is to calm your baby. Hold, swaddle and feed your baby if it is feed time, sing a lullaby or read a book in a dim lit room. Be prepared for when your baby does go to sleep that they may wake again soon after and need further comfort as the stress hormones created by their overtiredness may still be running high.
For an overtired older child, remove all stimulants including TVs and other screens. Encourage some quiet time and offer comfort like a bedtime story and a cuddle. Keep your voice calm and soothing, no matter how grizzly or woeful they become.