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Overtiredness: why is it the enemy?

When my son was about one month old I can remember vividly being told “he’s sleeping too much during the day, keep him up for 4 hours at a time”.


This was long before I became a sleep consultant, so I was taking any advice I received. Sometimes all at once. It a was a true mess.


This particular piece of advice was one of the worst that I could have gotten though! It was not because the person giving it was aiming for harm. It was because the true science behind sleep just did not line up with this logic. At the time, I had no idea.


What is overtiredness and why is it such an issue?!


Overtiredness happens when your baby stays up longer than the time they can typically handle between sleeps. All children are different, but there is an average range of time per age group. Check out my chart below to see where your baby falls:





If your child is not going to sleep during their optimal sleep time, they go into overtired mode which includes a whole package deal of sleep struggles such as hysterical crying, impossible to console, difficulty falling asleep, frequent night wakings and early morning risings; to name a few.


Our bodies are designed in a way to send us a defense mechanism when we don’t go to sleep at the expected time. The amount of time to be awake is much shorter for younger babies and gradually increases as they get older. Which would explain why adults do not experience the same struggles with overtiredness as a baby would. When your baby stays awake longer than they can handle, the body assumes that it is in danger and that it must send out a way to assist to ward off this danger. Hormones that trigger the body to be alert and aware are secreted. Once these hormones are released, they stick around for a while and make it exceedingly difficult for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep.


Avoiding Overtiredness

To help avoid your baby becoming overtired, it’s important to pay attention to their ideal wake window mixed with sleepy cues. Once they start showing the beginning stages of sleepy cues, take a look at the clock. Is it close to their wake window? It most likely is. Therefore, it’s time to get the nap or bedtime routine started. Did time get awake from you and now it’s a bit past the desired wake window? Get them to sleep right away!


Here are the stages of sleepy cues that your baby may show. Keep in mind that all babies show different cues so it’s important to pay close attention to what your baby does.


Stage 1: “I’m getting tired. We should consider sleep soon.”

· Blank stares

· Red eyebrows

· Moving head side to side like they’re searching for something

· Decreased activity

· Appears disinterested

Stage 2: “I really need you to take me seriously and get me to sleep!”

· Yawning

· Rubbing ears

· Pulling ears

· Getting fussy

Stage 3: “You missed the window! I’m overtired and hating every minute of it!”

· Arching their back

· Hysterically crying

· Clenching fists

· Rooting


What do I do if I know my baby is overtired?

The first steps you can take are to get good naps in at the correct times for your baby. You should do this however you can *safely* get them to sleep. This may mean a car ride, a walk in the stroller or going in the wrap to have a contact nap. Especially for younger babies, focus on getting the sleep in. You may need to do more than usual to get your baby to sleep once overtiredness has set in.


As your Sleep Consultant, I can help you schedule out your days and decide how and when to offer naps. Our goal is to diminish overtiredness while teaching your baby how to sleep peacefully. Click here to learn more!

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