There is a feeling associated with having a baby who doesn’t sleep.
It’s a deep, panicky, uncomfortable feeling.
It starts deep down in your gut when you fear baby is going to cry instead of sleep. Then it moves to your heart, which begins to race.
You feel jittery, panicky, and stressed with a baby who just won’t sleep well.
Tired babies are hard.
You feel so sorry for your sweet baby, and probably at a loss of what to do. It’s not easy getting a tired baby to bed, and you can’t sit under a baby rocking them to sleep all day and night.
You may have tried the pacifier, the swing, new scenery, the car, the stroller, and anything else that seems to bring temporary relief. You’re not sure if this is witching hours or what.
But you end up jumping through hoops and baby still doesn’t sleep soundly.
You have an overtired baby.
Signs of a Tired Baby
Here are some common symptoms and signs of having an overtired baby. Remember, babies who are overtired have trouble both going to sleep and staying that way.
Tired babies will sleep.
Overtired babies will struggle.
Wakes after 10 to 45 minutes
If your little one goes down hard and wakes up crying after a short period… this is a textbook sign of a tired baby. Why? Because when they begin the normal cycle from active to passive sleep or back again they wake back up, uncomfortable and needing you.
If your baby is extremely exhausted or unable to go to sleep on their own (because they have a sleep prop) they won’t be able to transition through the cycle well.
Restorative sleep occurs when baby is able to transition from active to passive sleep for naps that are typically one to two or three hours.
If your baby wakes up after short periods of time, disoriented and wanting you, this means that baby isn’t yet able to sleep on their own and need help to get there.
If you need to track baby’s habits well, use our daily logs.
Cries Often and Inconsolably
Babies will cry at times. This is unavoidable. But a tired baby will cry in a way that makes it hard to distinguish their needs.
However, this does not mean that we wait until babies try to figure out their needs. Imagine this scenario with me…
5 week old Baby wakes at 5:00 a.m. for a feed. Baby cries, mom feeds, and starts the day. Between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. mom has rocked, swung, and carried baby around the house and thinks it’s maybe time for a nap.
Mom rocks baby in a rocking chair while nursing baby to sleep. Once baby is asleep she puts him in the crib only to have him wake immediately and cry. She thinks his crying means he’s more hungry so she feeds again, but Baby refuses the breast.
She keeps rocking and attempting to put baby to sleep then transfer him into the crib, but eventually just remains in the rocking chair with baby.
This is how most naps go after that. Mom nursing to sleep and rocking throughout the nap.
There are a few things to note here.
- Baby should be put back down after the 5 a.m. feed. This encourages baby that the day begins later in the morning, not at 5.
- A 5 week old baby shouldn’t be awake longer than an hour and change at a time without a nap.
- Mom nurses to sleep which – though not a problem itself – creates a sleep prop. This means baby learns to depend on mom to sleep and cannot/will not go to sleep without mom. This is sweet with one baby, but is very difficult if you add additional children into the home or have to go to work.
- Mom mistakes the crying and fussiness of overtired-ness with the need to sleep with her. If you want to sleep with your baby, do so! #babiesdontkeep. But doing so repeatedly will mean your baby becomes unable to sleep on their own and you’ll find it hard to distinguish their cues, assuming all cries mean they need you.
Sometimes babies cry because they’re tired, not because they need you.
Wakes Frequently At Night But Doesn’t Take Full Feeds… A Tired Baby
If baby is waking up at night and taking full feeds, this means baby was hungry.
Alternatively, if baby is waking at night, nursing for a few minutes, dozing off, then repeating this all night… they are tired and unable to sleep on their own.
Don’t assume that babies are made to wake up all night long needing you and a bit of milk, they aren’t.
They’re made to be nurtured by you throughout the day, sleep, then drink milk when hungry.
We often get this all mixed up. If baby wakes at night and will take a full feed then you are filling their bellies and meeting their need: hunger.
Or if baby is waking up frequently throughout the night and doesn’t want to nurse or nurses very little, yet cries and struggles to go back down, they have a need that isn’t being met: sleep.
How To Help A Tired Baby Sleep
While you cannot “make” a baby sleep, you can set the atmosphere and promote healthy sleep habits that allow a baby to learn the joy of being well-rested.
If you’re going to dive into your baby sleep issues, I recommend using your baby daily log to dig into what’s happening.
Swaddle Up To 5 Months Or So
Swaddling is a great way to provide comfort and a feeling of physical safety to your child while preventing their startle reflex from waking them.
What we don’t want is a comfortable content baby sleeping… only to be woken up by the startle reflex raising their arms up.
This is an important reason to swaddle.
Swaddling is also a good sleep association. When you’re doing your wind down routine, swaddle baby, sing, and then put to sleep. If you have a very young baby, it’s an important habit to start now. Here are some general swaddling rules of thumb:
- During the day, feed baby un-swaddled.
- Swaddle when it’s time for nap as part of the wind down routine.
- At night, before you feed change diapers from bottom without un-swaddling, if possible, then feed.
- Feed swaddled at night.
Once a baby is well-rested it’s not too hard to keep them well-rested. Regular routine naps and bedtimes will do that.
However, it’s a different ball game getting a tired baby to be well rested.
It’s possible, however, and you’ll be very glad you did it. So if you only take one thing away from this post… put baby to sleep earlier.
If baby hasn’t napped well throughout the day, move up bedtime.
If baby hasn’t napped well in the morning, move up the afternoon nap.
A rule of thumb…
Babies newborn to 2 months or so shouldn’t be up much longer than an hour and a bit before you put them down again for a nap.
Babies 6 months and under shouldn’t be up more than around 2 hours before going back down for a nap unless it’s the late evening and bedtime is coming soon.
Sounds crazy? It’s not. Check out my sample routines here.
- The Baby Sleep Myth That Backfires Every Time
- The Surprising Reason Your Baby Fights Sleep
- The Ultimate Newborn Schedule: Week By Week
Create Routines For A Tired Baby
Routines are universally agreed upon as helpful for families. A routine doesn’t have to be super strict or rigid controlled by the clock, but it does need to be regular.
If you don’t have a routine you keep, you probably need one.
So what makes up a good routine? Well, that’s all dependent upon your family, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to have a well rested and content baby.
- Set nap and bedtimes.
- Regular feeds at regular intervals. You’ll always want to feed baby if baby is truly hungry, but you can attempt to stay on a routine with ease if baby takes full feeds.
- Have mini routines within the routines. Have nap and bedtime routines, this will help baby get ready to sleep when it’s time and creates positive sleep associations.
Replace Sleep Props
A sleep prop is something a baby needs to help him get to sleep he simply cannot get on his own. If baby wakes during a sleep cycle looking for something to get him back to sleep, this is a sleep prop.
Sleep props can include the following:
- nursing to sleep,
- rocking to sleep,
- pacifiers if they can’t re-insert them (which is why I recommend these)
- car rides to settle, or
- swings or vibrating chairs (if they won’t sleep there every time).
A baby who can sleep on their own can be put down in their crib, drowsy but awake, then drift off into sleep on their own.
Then, when they transition from passive to active sleep cycles they simply go back to sleep instead of waking up for their “prop.”
So how to do it?
The way to get rid of sleep props is to replace them with sleep associations.
You want to gently teach your child to go to sleep on their own without needing you to get them back to sleep multiple times day and night.
Sleep associations can include the following:
- elements of nap or bedtime routine,
- white noise,
- pacifiers they can re-insert or that stay put,
- crib/bed, or
- lights out.
You don’t have to spend months or years coming up with inventive ways to get your baby to sleep. Babies are made to sleep and so are you.
Teach your baby to sleep peacefully and reap the benefits for years to come.
If you would like to create a simple and easy wind down routines that anyone putting baby down can follow plus some BONUS baby sleep troubleshooting checklists, click here and get instant access.
I’ve created a free email series just for you! There are truly only a few reasons why babies and toddlers have struggles sleeping… really, I mean it. I am going to teach you the main 3 reasons and how to start making small changes to help your baby go from:
- fighting sleep to embracing it
- night wakings to sleeping through
- needing you to jump through hoops to going to sleep on their own
Click here to sign up for my free email series or simply click on the image below.
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