Is your baby stuck in an endless loop of being overtired? Learn how to break the cycle of an overtired baby and reset their sleep.
It always started with the naps.
My newborn baby had been taking terrible naps, only to spend his time awake feeling and looking tired. He’d rub his eyes all day long, fussing and shrieking because he was exhausted.
Then, because he was overtired, he didn’t sleep well at night. His short naps meant it would take hours to get him to sleep. And by that point, it was already time to eat again. This, of course, cycled right back into the naps. Because he didn’t sleep well at night, he was even more overtired come the next morning.
I felt like I spent the whole day (and night) trying to get him to sleep.
How to break the cycle of an overtired baby
If you’re here, you might relate all too well to these erratic sleep cycles. Maybe your baby cries for 20-30 minutes before finally falling asleep, only to wake up crying and miserable yet again. She’s cranky all day, wakes up within 10 minutes into a nap, and doesn’t actually fall back asleep.
Some evenings, she’s up four to five hours before the bedtime routine. Never mind that frequent night wakings still happen. This wouldn’t worry you so much if for the fact that each day seems to be getting worse.
How exactly do you help an overtired baby catch up on sleep, when getting less sleep continues to contribute even more exhaustion? Thankfully, babies can catch up on missed sleep, breaking the vicious cycle of overtiredness once and for all.
Take a look at what worked for me and other moms, and see if these recommendations can help you, too:
1. Limit wake times
You might already have a max of how long your baby stays awake, which was great when he slept well. But with him being overtired nearly all the time, you might have to be even more aggressive with limiting his wake times.
For instance, pay attention to his sleepy cues. Even if he had only been awake a mere 30 minutes, it’s okay to put him down for his next nap if he displays those sleepy signs.
Even if he doesn’t show baby tired signs when he’s awake, limit his wake time anyway, even if temporarily. Let’s say his wake windows are normally 90 minutes at most. Given his overtired cycle, cut it down to 60 minutes for the next few days.
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2. Have a really early bedtime
Many parents would balk at the idea of an early bedtime. “We can’t end the day that early!” you might say. Or, “My spouse barely comes home from work by that time.”
No worries, friend. An early bedtime doesn’t have to be forever—just a temporary “reset” to help your baby catch up on sleep and break the cycle of being overtired. Once he’s back on track, you can adjust to a more reasonable bedtime down the line.
So, how early is “early”? We’re talking anywhere as early as 5pm.
Again, this isn’t so much to establish a new pattern as it is to help him stop feeling chronically tired. By putting him down to bed at a ridiculously early hour, he can use that night’s sleep to better adjust his sleep needs.
3. Hold your baby (or use baby gear)
Holding your baby for every nap may not be a sustainable way for her to sleep (she might not learn to nap otherwise). But given the circumstances, hold and comfort her if that’s the only surefire way she can sleep.
Right now, it’s all about resetting her sleep pattern and catching up on rest. Doing whatever it takes to get her to sleep long stretches can get her back to sleeping well.
Yes, it’s inconvenient at times, but consider it a temporary fix to break the cycle. If anything, make the most of it and see it as a time to snuggle and bond while ensuring that she stops feeling overtired.
Can’t hold her all the time? Use baby gear that can do the trick. Swings, swaddling, a baby wrap or carrier, and even stroller rides can help her sleep longer than putting her down in the crib.
Down the line, you can go back to your healthy sleep habits, but for now, focus on catching up on lost sleep.
4. Create a soothing environment
How does your baby’s sleep environment feel?
Sometimes, a simple change in your surroundings is all it takes to invite more, not less, of the sleep she needs.
Make sure that any activities before sleep is calm and soothing. Draw blackout curtains and turn on a white noise machine to prevent sounds and bright lights from startling her. Before bedtime, turn bath time into a relaxing activity.
A soothing environment extends to how we behave as well. I would feel frustrated as I rocked my baby because he wouldn’t go to sleep already. I later realized how silly it was for me to expect him to fall asleep when I was so upset—not exactly a calm experience for him.
Instead, reset your own mood and stay calm, even when things don’t go according to plan. This can help your baby remain calm and secure and readier to fall asleep.
5. Check your baby’s wake up time in the morning
Many of us base our babies’ first nap time on how long they’ve been awake. If they typically stay awake for 90 minutes and woke up at seven in the morning, then we know they’re ready to sleep come 8:30am.
But what if your baby had been awake much earlier than 7am? He might have been awake since 6am but didn’t cry or make a noise. Putting him down at 8:30am would mean he was already overtired.
Check and make sure what time he actually wakes up for the day, and base his next nap on that time. Use a baby monitor or peek into his crib to see if he’s awake. That way, you can avoid him being overtired for the rest of the day.
For any frustrated parent who can’t seem to break the cycle of an overtired baby… you’re not alone. It’s not easy when your baby almost falls asleep, then cries from being so overtired. Thankfully, you now have a few tricks to break free from the sleep deprivation.
Start by implementing a really early bedtime sleep routine, if only to reset your baby’s sleep patterns. Limit his wake time even shorter so that he catches up on lost sleep. Hold him if need be, or use baby gear like swings and wraps to get him to nap longer.
Create a soothing environment, both physically in his room as well as emotionally with how you feel. And lastly, check the time he wakes up to make sure he’s not awake too long first thing in the morning.
No more fussy sleep, friend! Now your baby can get the sleep he needs.
Get more tips:
- How to Get an Overtired Newborn to Sleep
- What to Do When Your Overtired Baby Keeps Waking Up
- 7 Secrets to Get an Overtired Baby to Finally Sleep
- Clever Solutions to the Newborn Witching Hour
- What to Do When Your Newborn Only Sleeps When Held
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