Why your baby can't sleep when they're overtired

Why your baby can't sleep when they're overtired

Rebecca Michi, Sleep Consultant Rebecca Michi, Sleep Consultant

What can you do if your baby doesn't want to fall asleep but you know it's tired? It's possible that your baby is overtired. So what can you do about it?
Here are some tips on how to help your baby fall asleep when it's overtired and information on why babies become overtired.

It should be easy to sleep when we're tired, and it is for us adults, but it's not for children!

Why does your baby have difficulty falling asleep and remaining asleep when they're overtired, and what can we do about it?

Let's begin by looking at what happens when your baby becomes overtired.

What happens when babies become overtired

When your baby is awake, their brain is taking in everything, and the longer they are awake, the more their brain needs to rest so it can process everything and be ready for more learning; when they're awake, they're building up sleep pressure. 

The older your baby gets, the more mature their brain is and the longer they can be awake before they need a nap to give their brain a little rest.

Their stress-response system ramps up when your baby becomes overtired, producing higher cortisol and adrenaline levels. As a result of these higher levels of the stress hormones, your baby's heart rate increases, as does their energy; this is part of the fight-or-flight response. It's the same response you have when you're panicking, and when you're panicked, you're not thinking about sleep.

Overtired baby

How can babies become overtired?

Your baby will become overtired if they don't have the opportunity to nap and rest their brain. Some babies are great at showing us their tired signs. When you see these signs, you'll have some time get help your baby relax and sleep. 

Some tired signs you'll want to look out for are:

  • Yawning
  • Losing interest in things quickly
  • Becomes clingy
  • Pulling on ears
  • A glazed look in their eyes
  • Beginning to get fussy

When babies are around six months old, their tired signs may be a little harder to spot. If you think you're missing the tired signs, you should watch the clock to make sure your baby is napping before they become overtired.

How to help a baby fall asleep when it's overtired

Sometimes it's just impossible for you to avoid overtiredness; maybe your baby took a short nap, had a tough night's sleep, or refused to nap. If your baby has got overtired, be prepared to give them more help unwinding before sleep, when falling asleep, and get the best possible sleep.

Let's see if we can help relax your child's brain before you begin your getting-ready-for-bed routine. A walking wind-down is a fantastic way to help relax your babies brain. If your baby tends to become overstimulated, this is also a great way to help reduce the level of stimulation. 

Scoop your child up from whatever they were doing and slowly walk around with them. You can look at pictures on the walls and out of the windows. This slow rhythmic walk is wonderful for relaxing the brain before sleep; your child is still in your arms, and the slow pace is relaxing as it's slowly moving from one thing to the next. Grab your Lulla doll or Lulla owl so your baby has something to keep their hands busy, and the soothing heartbeat sounds will help your baby relax further. End your wind-down where you will begin your sleep routine. The walking wind-down should be between 5 and 15 minutes long.

Walking wind-down

The sleep routine

Now you've relaxed your child let's get on with the sleep routine. We know your child is tired, but don't rush through your routine and don't miss any steps. Make the steps shorter than usual, and therefore the routine shorter than normal. Continuing to go through each step of your routine makes the routine more relaxing as your child's brain knows that they will soon be sleeping, and it begins to get ready for sleep.

Your baby may need more help falling asleep. If you usually rock them to sleep, you may need to rock them for longer. If they feed to sleep, you may feel like you're sitting feeding for a very long time. Don't worry; it's okay. 

Your baby will probably need more help sleeping. As we want to get the best sleep possible so your child can catch up on some sleep, you may want to hold your baby for longer than you usually would before laying them down. Some parents may continue to hold their child for an entire nap to ensure their baby is getting the best possible sleep. If you have older children, maybe popping the baby in the carrier or stroller and going for a walk will help them get the best possible rest.

Sleep routine

If your child has been able to get the best sleep possible, even with the extra help, they shouldn't wake feeling tired, and you should have a much easier time avoiding overtiredness before the next sleep time.

Lulla Owl

Lulla Owl


- New in the Lulla doll collection - The Lulla Owl is a soother and sleep companion for the smallest babies and is also great on the go. Lulla Owl is inspired by scientific research and based on the design of… read more

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