Tired or Over-tired? - Your guide to avoiding over-tiredness

Brought to you by Sleep Rocks.

Sleep is one of the most important things that a baby does, second only to feeding, so it’s vitally important that we ensure our babies are getting enough of it. It’s during sleep that their bodies release growth hormones, it’s during naps that everything they’ve seen and experienced during the day is processed into memories and learnings, and it’s during sleep that the brain cleans itself of all the by-products of the day’s neural activity ready and fresh for another day of learning. 

But how much sleep does your baby need? The answer depends on their age, but basically it’s loads. A newborn might sleep for 16-18 hours in every 24 and only manage 30 minutes of awake time before they need another nap. A four month old needs 14-16 hours of sleep and can stay awake for between 1.25 and 2 hours between naps. In fact all the way up to one year old you baby will still need around 14 hours of sleep in every 24 hours, only varying by age in the way that it’s split between the number of naps and night sleep. 

So how can you help your baby get all that fabulous, healthy sleep that they need? Quite simply the easiest way is to watch out for their sleepy signals and get them into their cot when they’re showing the first signs of tiredness before they become over-tired. Each baby has their own set of sleepy signals, some hide it better than others, but here are some common ones:

  1. Ear or hair pulling (theirs not yours!). When I spoke about this the other day, one of the Mums exclaimed….”Yes this! I kept taking my baby to the doctor thinking he had an ear infection when all along he was just telling me he was tired!”.

  2. Head rolling. Some babies roll or rub their heads from side to side to tell you they’re tired.

  3. Slower or jerkier movements. When your baby gets tired they’ll find it more exhausting to control their body and so their movements might slow down or become more jerky. If they’re on the move already you might find they become more clumsy and bump into things or topple over more easily.

  4. Thousand mile stare. Your baby might adopt a vacant expression or appear to stare right through you when he’s feeling tired.

  5. Eye rubbing. Now we’re starting to get to the more obvious signs.

  6. Yawning. This one’s a dead giveaway. If you see a yawn and you know your baby has been awake for roughly his usual awake-time between naps, head straight for bed, he’s telling you he needs to sleep.

  7. Crying. If your baby is crying and there’s no obvious reason, there’s a good chance it’s because he’s tired and wants to sleep but can’t go to sleep because he needs your help, there’s too much stimulation around him or because he’s become over-tired.

Tired or over-tired?

You’ve probably heard the term ‘over-tired’, but how is this different to just plain old tired? Basically the difference is cortisol. When your baby (or you for that matter) becomes tired but can’t go to sleep their body produces the hormone cortisol which acts a little bit like caffeine and helps them to stay alert and awake. All good for a short period but the problem lies in the fact that your baby really just can’t stay awake for long periods and then they find it even harder to get to sleep because they’ve effectively just had the equivalent of a double espresso. Now they’re super tired and grumpy but just can’t get to sleep so they’re frustrated too. In simple terms you missed the sleepy window and now you’re in trouble. But don’t worry, it’s an easy mistake to make, it happens to everyone and it’s not going to damage your baby. But you need to know how to get out of this pickle. 

By now your baby is over-tired and over-stimulated and just not able to fall asleep. The easiest way (although it’s still going to be hard) is to remove all stimulation and help them with the process of falling asleep. This means taking them into a dark room, putting on some LOUD white noise, cuddling them tight or swaddling them if they’re under 4 months (or putting them in a sling) and then rocking or swaying them until they fall asleep. It could take a while but stick with it, they need to work through this. 

So, how do you avoid over-tiredness. Two ways:

  1. Make sure you’re giving your baby the opportunity to get enough sleep during the day. Know their age appropriate awake times, learn to recognise their sleepy signals (I know, some little monkeys try and hide this pretty well) and make sure their sleeping environment is conducive to sleep…..cool, dark and quiet….think cave.

  2. Avoid over-stimulation. Everything is stimulating for a newborn…your smiling face is pretty much all the stimulation they need. A mirror, a rattle or a piece of crinkly paper are mind-blowingly exciting. I know it’s temping, especially with your first baby, to head off to sensory classes as soon as soon as you’re up and mobile, but try and hold off on those, choose instead an age appropriate newborn class or baby massage class that isn’t going to over-stimulate your baby and leave them in an over-tired fretful state. Enjoy each stage as it comes.

Ultimately your baby needs a whole load of sleep, lots of milk, bucket-loads of love and not a lot else when they’re little. Keep them well rested, give them the opportunity to sleep at frequent intervals and do your best to avoid the dreaded over-tiredness. But don’t beat yourself up when you mis-judge things, everybody does it, life gets in the way, and sometimes your little baby will just refuse to sleep and that’s simply a symptom of them being a baby human and not a baby robot. Roll with it, do your best and try and get as much sleep as possible for everyone involved.    

Happy sleeping!

Natalie, Sleep Rocks

Natalie is a Mummas mum of three little boys including a set of twins. She’s passionate about sleep and the importance of everybody getting the sleep they need in a manner that suits the individual baby and Mummy or Daddy. Natalie runs sleep workshops in some of the Mummas regions or can help you on an individual basis with getting your little one’s sleep on track. Check out Sleep Rocks on Facebook or Instagram @sleeprocks

Or for more details you can visit her website www.sleeprocks.co.uk