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How to Avoid Having an Overtired Baby

Mother with her newborn baby girl crying.

by Hailee Schollaardt

Certified Sleep Consultant

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Baby’s sleep is a HUGE TOPIC! Understandably so, as it’s such an important topic. How well (or not) a baby’s sleeping can impact an entire family’s well-being. It can also cause a great divide between parents who believe differently than other parents. But what many parents don’t initially understand about the topic: if you can avoid having an overtired baby, it is a game-changer in the world of baby’s sleep! As a mom, I have had many people ask… Read More

Baby’s sleep is a HUGE TOPIC! Understandably so, as it’s such an important topic. How well (or not) a baby’s sleeping can impact an entire family’s well-being. It can also cause a great divide between parents who believe differently than other parents. But what many parents don’t initially understand about the topic: if you can avoid having an overtired baby, it is a game-changer in the world of baby’s sleep!

As a mom, I have had many people ask me how my babies are sleeping. As a Sleep Consultant, even more, people are curious about my baby’s sleeping patterns. You know, when you become a Sleep Consultant, you get a magic wand so that your babies sleep perfectly every day. NO! I am just a mom, like you, who has good days and bad days. Even I had to learn how to avoid having an overtired baby!

I will say with my job, I have learned a lot about sleep and how different factors impact sleep quality. This allows me to create consistency when we have off days or sleep goes off track. We can work on getting it balanced again without unneeded stress. The information that helps families keep sleep balanced is what I am passionate about discussing because sometimes simple tips can make such a big difference.

How to Avoid Having an Overtired Baby

One key factor when working on sleep is to focus on keeping your baby well-rested and prevent them from becoming overtired. An overtired baby usually suffers from frequent night wakings, early mornings, and short naps. They seem to get stuck in an overtired cycle where they wake up frequently at night. This leads to them waking early in the morning, not rested. This then leads to shorter naps and then finally leads to a pushed bedtime that further encourages more night wakings. It sucks! I want to share some of my top tips to help break the overtired cycle and start to get sleep more balanced.

1. Set Up a Morning Wake-Up Range!

This may seem counterintuitive since we are trying to increase their sleep hours to help your baby feel more rested. But it can help! The morning wake-up sets the pace for the day. This is not always a beautiful thing to hear when you have an early riser!

I like to encourage a morning wake-up between 6:00 and 7:30 a.m. I like this range because it sets up a decent nap schedule and helps keep balance throughout the day. If your baby wakes up before 6 a.m. then treat it like a night waking! Do whatever you can to help them go back to sleep and start the day a little later. If they are still sleeping at 7:30 a.m. then wake them up to start the day so that we are not reinforcing night wakings. If they wake up between this range, then rise and shine!

A consistent morning wake-up range helps lead to consistent naps and nights.

2. Don’t Keep Your Baby Awake Too Long During the Day!

We want there to be a balance of enough daytime sleep hours and enough awake time hours each day. Keeping your baby awake for more extended periods during the day will not always help lead to longer, more restful naps unless their awake times are way too short. Developmentally, babies do best with consistent and short awake spacings between sleep periods. If we keep them awake too long in between sleep periods, their body gets overtired. This leads to Adrenaline being released in the body, which disrupts sleep.

These are recommendations for the Maximum amount of time between sleep periods. Under these is best!

Birth to 3 Months 60-90 Minutes Max
4 Months 2 hours Max on 4 naps, 2.5 hours Max on 3 naps
5 Months 2.5 hour Max
6 Months 2.75 hours Max
7 Months 3 hours Max on 3 naps, 3.5 hours Max on 2 naps
8-9 Months 3.5 hours Max
10-12 Months 4 hours Max on 2 naps
1 nap schedule 6 hours Max

3. Help Your Baby Extend Short Naps

When stuck in an overtired cycle, it can be beneficial to help your baby to get some longer spurts.  In some cases, we need to break the cycle somewhere and set up new patterns for the body to recognize. Short naps can become habitual, meaning the body just gets used to shorter naps, and we reinforce them by getting our baby up after 30-45 minutes.

If your baby wakes up in under 1 hour for the first or second nap of the day, then go in and try and extend it. You can do this by doing whatever works best as the goal is to help teach them what it feels like to have longer stretches of sleep. Try for 10 minutes, and if they are still awake, then no worries, move on to the next awake time. If they do fall back asleep, then great! See if they will get an extra sleep cycle in which will help push the day later and catch up on sleep for them.

I suggest doing this for the first two naps of the day only as the earlier naps are more restorative and have a higher sleep drive. Once your baby is extending some of those naps with your help, you can use strategies to help them do more on their own. It is a great start! In some cases, just breaking the cycle is enough to improve sleep.

** Just do this one time per nap.

4. Don’t Push bedtime!

If you want to avoid having an overtired baby, you have to focus on bedtime. Bedtime is a crucial part of the day. It has a significant impact on night sleep and can influence the next morning. When our baby is stuck in an overtired cycle, we usually end up having to push bedtime just to get them to a more acceptable bedtime, even if this means an awake time that is too long. This usually backfires and causes your baby to go to bed overtired and leads to more night wakings and another early morning.

I do like to keep bedtime between 6:15–8:00 p.m., but I am not afraid to use a 6:15/6:30 p.m. bedtime when needed! Bedtime is a reflection of nap quality. Good naps naturally mean a later bedtime, and bad naps lead to an earlier bedtime. I call this a “swinging bedtime” that allows your baby to go to bed at a time that will enable them to get the most rest. If they didn’t reach good daytime sleep hours, we just add those lost hours to the beginning of the night. If they slept great during the day, then we can put them to bed later as they got a good chunk during the day.

Using these tips in an overall system is really what works best. Setting up a consistent morning routine, using appropriate spacings between sleep periods, helping your baby extend naps, and not pushing bedtime too late will allow your baby’s body to be balanced and therefore break the overtired cycle. The restful bedtime can lead to a more restorative night and skipping that early morning waking, and this will help push the day back. Then we can extend naps to catch up on sleep, which will naturally push bedtime back, and you will be back on schedule!

Getting your baby to sleep soundly and restoratively can be a tough job. But breaking bad sleep habits to avoid an overtired baby is a great place to begin.  You can do this, mama! One day at a time!