There’s no such thing as an overtired baby. If your baby is fussy and fighting sleep, what you have is an overstimulated baby.
Recognize a tired baby
This is the biggest mistake that everyone makes: playing with a tired baby. Why? Because tired babies are fun to play with! They are uninhibited and ready to laugh dramatically at the drop of a hat (literally). When you get an easily amused baby, it’s hard to help yourself. But if you make a tired baby laugh, you’re stimulating baby and deterring sleep. An overstimulated baby cannot sleep because they are so wired and don’t know how to calm themselves down. This can lead to restless sleep and even night terrors.
Solution: If you see baby laughing uncontrollably, calm baby down by putting baby in a neutral environment without any distractions. Feed and change baby in a gentle and quiet manner. Don’t talk unless you absolutely have to and keep your voice boring and soft.
Sleeping too often
Due to the amount of information out there about babies becoming overtired and regress on their sleep, parents try to force their babies to sleep much more than they need to. This will create short naps. It’s okay to consolidate their sleep if baby can handle it. But just remember that oversleeping can result in an unhappy baby too. When you sleep too much, you will also feel tired, sluggish and at times, cranky.
Solution: You need to observe and see what your baby needs. If your baby hasn’t slept in 40 minutes (newborn) or 1-2 hours (3-6 months) and their aren’t as alert as they were when they woke up, just let them be. Put them in a calming environment, remove anything stimulating and wait for them to fuss. The idea is to bore them to bed. When in doubt, just let your baby entertain himself or herself. You do not have to engage your baby constantly. Allowing them to stare off into space also helps them with acclimating to this world.
Probably the reason why people think babies get “overtired” is because they go a little haywire if they skip their naps. But what happens when we sleep? Our brains process and digest whatever information we’ve been presented with. For babies, the world is a lot to take in. From floating in a womb with muted sounds and limited sensations, they are now being constantly stimulated. This means they need their sleep. They need it desperately in order to make sense of the world. However, we can help them by making their environment bearable.
Solution: Limit your child’s stimulation. Don’t play with them for hours on end. Start with one stimulating activity a day and slowly increase it based on your baby’s development. At 7 months, I give my boys 1-2 stimulating activities per session before letting them chill by themselves and putting them to bed when they begin to fuss. If your baby looks like s/he can handle more, by all means, go ahead. But don’t rush baby because we all have our own pace.
Literally, put your baby down
When babies begin to fuss or cry because they want to sleep, we pick them up and try to soothe them by walking around or rocking them. What we don’t realize is that being carried is also stimulating. A baby that will sleep in your arms is one that is absolutely fatigued. Furthermore, you will create a needy baby down the line whereby baby can only rely on you to go to bed.
Solution: Put baby in a quiet and dark place, pat them if you must. This emulates the environment baby is used to: dark, comforting, with the rhythm of a pounding heart.
Create a routine one step at a time
Too often we do too much too quickly because we get so excited about baby. Furthermore, there are so many articles out there encouraging new parents to get their newborns into a sleep routine as soon as possible. But if you take into consideration how easily they can be overstimulated, it’s much practical to take it slow.
Solution: Choose a time and turn on music to signify bedtime or simply dim the lights and do this for a few weeks. When they show signs of recognizing the time or music, add another step. Wipe them down. When they get used to the sensations and are calm when being wiped, start putting them into PJs or read to them. This is how you should build a routine. One step at a time.
Let me know if you also think that overtired babies are a myth and share your thoughts in the comments below!