Top Mistakes Families Make Regarding Sleep, Part I: Baby Becomes Overtired
Overtired babies do NOT sleep well- and here’s why!
What is overtiredness?
A baby becomes overtired when he is past the point of being ready for sleep. Your goal is to get your baby down for sleep just as he gets tired, before he becomes overtired. When we begin to get tired, our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin. This is the hormone that makes us sleepy and it helps us fall asleep and stay asleep more easily. This is why your baby must go to sleep during that short period when his body is producing melatonin. If that window of time passes and your child still hasn’t gone to bed, he becomes overtired. At this point, your baby’s body begins secreting a hormone called cortisol, which is a stress hormone created by the nervous system. Cortisol is what specifically causes difficulty falling asleep, nightwakings, early rising, and short naps.
When babies become overtired, they either become wired and get a second wind of energy, OR they become cranky and irritable. Regardless of how your baby behaves when overtired, going to sleep and staying asleep will likely be more challenging.
A baby or toddler becomes overtired when he’s awake for periods of time throughout the day that are too long. Very often, a baby will consistently go down for a nap too late, which leads to short naps. By the end of the day, the baby is SO overtired that he struggles to settle at bedtime. I’ve even seen situations where a baby’s naps are timed perfectly- but because the baby’s bedtime was too late, it threw the entire night off!
Babies’ brains develop the most under the age of five. A big part of brain development happens when one is asleep. Babies being overtired translates to babies having poor sleep, not just in terms of how long a sleep segment extends but also the quality of rest the baby gets. It is simply not worth it. Anything beyond an hour of the baby’s usual sleep time is bad sleep hygiene for the baby.
Overtiredness is a well-known sleep stealer.
Make sure you have your baby or toddler on an age-appropriate schedule with properly timed naps, based around biologically appropriate wake windows. In order for sleep training of ANY kind to work, the child cannot be overtired. Otherwise, if you remove the child’s sleep crutch (such as feeding or rocking to sleep) AND put him down too late for sleep, he’s not going to fall asleep so easily. In fact, the sleep training might not work at all.
If you are tackling a sleep problem, make sure you are protecting your baby’s daytime schedule, naps, and bedtime.