Baby sleep problems are one of the hottest topics among moms of small children. You’re a tired mom, and when you don’t get enough sleep you’re an angry mom. Not to mention how your poor baby is suffering.
Little babies are born doing nothing but sleeping, eating, and needing diaper changes.
After the initial postpartum recovery, it’s no big deal to go out and about since the baby will probably fall asleep in the stroller or car seat anyway. And so, you carry on as is.
And so you run errands.
Go to the park.
Go to the mall.
Keep appointments during naptime.
Bring the baby to the cafe.
And bible studies.
And soon you realize, the baby only sleeps in the stroller. Baby screams when you try to put her down to sleep in her crib.
Baby is tired, fussy, and whiny and you aren’t sure why. You thought that the more exercise or activity a baby gets, the more tired they will be, and, therefore, the better they will sleep.
➡️ The idea that wearing a baby out will help them sleep better is one of the biggest baby sleep myths.
Read: Tips For Swaddling Baby At Night
Learn how to space naps, how many a day per age, best times, etc. and get your nap game ON!
Wearing baby out doesn’t work…
In fact, wearing a baby out will make them sleep worse. The more tired babies are, the worse they sleep. The more tired they are, the harder it is to fall asleep.
Then, the more tired they get, the more they fight sleep. An overtired baby wakes up frequently through the night as they transition sleep cycle because they are uncomfortable.
On the contrary, a well-rested baby sleeps more. A well-rested baby goes down easier. A well-rested baby wakes less during the night.
So how do you know if your baby is sort of… worn out and overtired all the time?
Read: Why You’ve Got An Angry Baby – And What To Do
Common symptoms of an overtired baby:
- Frequent fussiness
- Sleeps very little during the day and has short naps
- Fights going to sleep
- Gets progressively fussier as the day goes on
- Gets startled easily by things in its environment that bring it to tears
- Frequently falls asleep at the breast, in the stroller or the car seat (after the first few months in which case this is very normal)
- Finds getting to sleep difficult and wakes easily
- Acts ready for bed at 5:30 or 6:00 pm
- Wakes near midnight crying in an inconsolable manner
While you’re working on keeping baby from being overtired, you can use our daily baby logs to track what’s happening.
Read: Is Sleep Training a Baby Bad or Dangerous? Let’s Talk Facts!
Create sustainable sleep habits for your little lamb so the whole family can sleep peacefully without the stress, drama, and tears.Learn More
How to help an overtired baby to sleep (and avoid over stimulation)
While you can’t avoid stimulating environments or tiredness completely, here’s how you can help prevent overtiredness.
Even if your environment is calming, babies will become overstimulated if they are overtired. So the key is to keep them well-rested.
Read: The Nap Trap- How to Deal with It and Not Resist It
Keeping a good routine prevents a baby from being overtired
When baby has regular naps and consistent bedtimes, they will not get overtired. Barring sickness or occasional routine deviations, keep a consistent routine.
Well-rested babies can cope with a late bedtime, a missed nap, or an overstimulating morning without becoming super fussy or irritable. After vacations or major routine deviations, babies are more fussy.
Avoid screens and chaos right before bed
Avoid screentime for babies and early toddlers.
However, if you do allow screentime, don’t do it immediately before bedtime. This overstimulates baby and the wind-down process is longer and more difficult.
If they are watching something, 20 to 30 minutes before bed, either turn off the screen or remove them from the area so they can begin releasing the happy sleep hormone.
Have a good wind down routine in place
An essential part of the bedtime routine is the wind-down time. This is where you incorporate time into your routine that is just for getting calm.
This can include singing, rocking until drowsy (not until asleep if you want them to fall asleep on their own), reading a book, and sitting and cuddling in a dimmed room.
You’ll want to do a good part of the wind-down routine in your baby’s room, away from loud siblings or other disturbances. Turn on the white noise so they aren’t disturbed by toddler squeals, and then put the baby to bed.
Read: Foolproof Baby Sleep Tips — Routines, Habits & Strategies
These lovely cards and checklists will help you create and keep healthy wind down and sleep routines for your little ones.Learn More
Move up bed or naptime
Since we realize it’s a myth that wearing your baby out allows them to sleep better, the best way to help an overtired baby is to put them to sleep earlier.
If bedtime is normally at 8:00 pm but they are always Past the Point then, move bedtime up earlier. We wrongly assume putting them down earlier means they’ll wake earlier, but if they’re overtired the opposite is true.
Sleep begets sleep.
The more restorative sleep they have the more they will sleep.
Here’s a handy dandy list of 28 things to try so baby will stop fighting sleep and sleep longer and later.
Guard babies’ sleep to prevent overtiredness
This is a big one. I often see mothers out and about with their babies who are fussy. Now, babies get fussy and this is life.
But, if you’re having to pull out all the tricks to get them to sleep every day, and are standing around with blankets over your baby rocking them just so they get some shut-eye, they are overtired or have a sleep prop.
Read: Nightmares, Night Terrors, & Sleep Walking In Kids: Strategies For Relief
Your baby needs, at least, one consistent nap a day, preferably more if they are still very small. It’s a very short season and teaching them to sleep early on will benefit them throughout their early years.
Guard their naps by staying home when they are tired, putting them to bed early even if it means taking a few minutes out of family time, or by declining an invitation that comes on the heels of two or three more that week.
Avoiding Overtiredness Recap
- If baby is overtired, move nap time up so that baby will get get a chance to go to sleep before becoming more overtired.
- When baby hasn’t napped well during the day, do a good wind down routine, then move your baby’s bedtime up 30 minutes or even an hour.
- If you know baby doesn’t nap well in the stroller when you are out doing errands, time the outing so that when you get back to the house baby will be able to take a good nap.
- Babies will fight sleep a lot more if they are super tired. They’ll even wake up around 11 or 11:30 p.m. at night (happened with all my babies!) if they’re exhausted. They may not want to feed, they are simply over-stimulated and having trouble getting back to sleep.
- If your baby wakes at night and is over-stimulated, but not wanting food, you can do the Outdoor Trick. My husband would often take the babies outside and the cool night air would often soothe them. This would allow them to fall back asleep.
- If you notice baby is in an overtired pattern, try staying home for a few days if you can to help baby settle.
Ready for everyone to start sleeping better? Use this checklist to help you get there.
You can do it, mama!
What age are you talking about here when you say that wearing a baby out doesn’t help them sleep? Because I would argue that in the first 3-4 months, babywearing was absolutely crucial to my own mental and physical health, was convenient and enjoyable for my son, and that, yes, it did help his sleep! It was the only place he would nap. We tried everything to get him to nap in his bassinet but nothing worked. He wanted to be held and bounced. He was born in the spring so I got out for lots of walks and didn’t mind it at all. It really helped me get back in shape and avoid PPD and PPA. And he slept 5-6 hour stretches at night, in his bassinet, from about 10 weeks.
I get really bothered when I see posts like this that think there is a one-size-fits-all approach for all babies. Does nothing except make moms feel guilty.
Rachel Norman says
Caitlin, I’m not talking about “wearing a baby out of the house in a baby sling” but “wearing the baby out” as in trying to keep them awake to keep them exhausted! And I agree, babies 3 to 4 months sleep all the time.
Yes! The number of times I have said ‘sleep begets sleep’ to people is amazing, but SO TRUE. I think that the myth springs maybe from children around 3+ years who don’t have the same daytime sleep needs, and people either forget or don’t realise that babies work quite differently.
Rachel Norman says
That’s it, Anna. 3+ they really do need that physical exercise to be tired enough to sleep. Not like an overtired, tired, but a good physical tired!
Carolyn Weir says
For the first 6 months, my son wouldn’t sleep more than half an hour if he wasn’t lying on me. My husband made meals and I ate, lying on the couch, with my baby on me, nursing. It’s just the way it was. Even at night, he didn’t sleep longer than 2 hours in a row before he was 1-1/2. By the time he was 3, though, he was sleeping wonderfully all through the night. I didn’t ever put him through the torture of letting him cry (learned helplessness)… if I did, I’m sure he’d still be having sleeping problems now (at age 13). My son has now been diagnosed with mild Aspergers. I’ve learned sleeping problems are common with these guys.
Rachel Norman says
Good on you for doing what needs to be done with your baby! That’s the best thing a mother can do :)
This is one of the few sensible things I’ve read about the topic of sleep. I have an 18-year-old who was unable to settle and sleep throughout babyhood and childhood, and still struggles with it today due to high anxiety levels. We did find that maintaining a routine, early bedtimes and not getting overwrought helped a lot, although it never really solved things completely. The screen time before bed thing is true as well – not that mine has screen time as a little one, but it definitely helps now not to do phones & tablets right before going to sleep.
Rachel Norman says
Vic, thanks for sharing your story here. I can totally see a child with anxiety finding it difficult to actually fall asleep… even when I’m feeling anxious at times I can’t seem to get my mind to stop either!
Thank goodness for your website!
I have a question about what you said here: “Frequently falls asleep at the breast, in the stroller or the car seat (after the first few months in which case this is very normal)”
Does this mean that after the first few months this behavior is normal? Or in the first few months the behavior is normal?
Thanks so much!
Rachel Norman says
Loren, sorry I was unclear. The first few months the baby will fall asleep anytime, anywhere, anyplace. I’ve found with my 4 (of course there’s no hard set rule) that after 4 months they are not quite as “sleepy” but if they frequently fall asleep when put in teh car or stroller it means they were tired and reayd to conk out immediately. When my kids are well slept and napped, even at 4 months, they’ll stay awake past naptime if they’re in those scenarios. Hope that helps!
Zane Tamane says
Any suggestions on how to “work” with 3 weeks old to not screw everything up? :)
We have no schedule yet – i try to extend nursing during daytime to 2,5-3 hour gaps and she has wake times around 30min if nothing troubles her. Some naps can be even 3 hours, most are 1-2 hours.
But then, there are periods with gas, tummy pains, reflux, burps stuck somewhere in throat, and these can last for 1.5h with a partly awake/napping baby but in need of comforting, pacifier, etc.
Having made a terrible mistake with my first son, who was waking frequently and nursing all through the night until 2 years, i really want to do it all differently this time :)
Rachel Norman says
Zane, here are two pages tat will help.
Ok so my 12 week old is waking up from the sleepy phase now and after her short morning nap she chases that second nap all day until she finally falls asleep around dinner. I have 4 other children so it’s hard to constantly be working on getting her to sleep. She will typically fall asleep nursing….I put her down and 45 seconds later….she’s awake. I’ve tried white noise, rocking to sleep without nursing, sleeping in her favorite (the car seat)….etc. So what are your thoughts? She is a super calm baby so even when she is fighting the nap she wakes up after 45 seconds happy and will sit in her bouncer smiling..::.thanks for your advice!
Rachel Norman says
Marianne, have you taken the free sleep course I offer? You’re going to have to get her to learn to sleep on her own. Search ‘a mother far from home 28 things to do if your baby won’t sleep’ and tat’ll give you ideas :)
I have a beautiful 6 week old (born 4 weeks early, if the “preemie” status makes a difference…) and I’m trying to figure out the best way to work in stroller walks with him – once I’m not still exhausted myself! I also would like to wear him/have as much cuddle time as I can while it’s still ok and not going to effect his sleep. Any suggestions for when to take him in the stroller (time of day/for one of his naps – stop at a certain age?) and the same for wearing him/cuddle time?
Rachel Norman says
Hi Bronwyn, I think choosing a time of day for a walk is a GREAT addition to the routine. If it were me, I’d feed baby first thing in the morning then let baby sleep in the carrier!