Yawning. Eye-rubbing. Crying. Screaming.
Most parents can quickly recognize the telltale signs that their little one is overtired. The problem? By the time you recognize these signs of overtiredness, it’s too late.
Every child has a short “window” between when they start to feel tired and when they become overtired. Knowing how to recognize the signs before your baby becomes overtired is an important skill that can save you a lot of stress and frustration in your afternoon or nighttime routine.
Despite your best efforts, there will be times where your baby is overtired. The demands of parenting are many and it's impossible to expect that your baby will always be on a precise routine.
If you’ve ever found yourself on a the end of a tantrum and are wondering how to calm an overtired baby? we’ve got 10 tried and tested techniques that will help.
How Do You Know If Your Baby Is Overtired?
When your bundle of joy becomes overtired, their body reacts to it as if they are reacting to stress. When faced with this stress, your baby’s cortisol and adrenaline levels rise, which keeps them from being able to fall asleep when they need to.
Your baby requires a lot of sleep to help develop their growing brain. According the Infant sleep and Its Relation With Cognition and Growth: A Narrative Review the ideal average sleep hours for your baby in a 24-hour period are:
0 months to 3 months: 16–17 hours
4 months to 6 months: 14–15 hours
6 months 12 months: 13–14 hours
There are several tell-tale signs that your tot is in desperate need of some shut-eye - many of which will be obvious. Here is what you should be looking out for if you believe your baby may be overtired:
- Eye rubbing
- Visible Frustration
- Trouble falling asleep at night
How To Calm An Overtired Baby: 8 Simple Tips
Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of that sleepless tunnel! There are several things that you can do to spot when your baby is reaching that overtired state so you can be right there to give them what they need.
Below are 8 techniques on how to calm an overtired baby which you can use in your home:
Swaddling your baby tightly is one of the best techniques on how to calm an overtired baby. Swaddling can make them feel like they are getting a warm and comforting hug while they drift off to sleep.
Many parents consider the first three months of the baby’s life to be a transitional “fourth trimester”. It is a transition period for your baby after they emerge from the womb and learn to adjust to the complexities of the outside world.
It makes perfect sense why your baby would want to be swaddled tightly in a blanket. The sense of security, warmth and calm can take away their anxiety and help them fall asleep.
Swaddling also helps their Moro or startle reflex. Sometimes babies will wake up during the night or during their nap “startled” because they have a feeling like they are falling while they’re asleep.
As with all other baby practices, makes sure you know both the benefits and risks of swaddling before you start.
Movement is one of the best ways how to calm an overtired baby. This can be as simple as rocking or walking around the room while holding your little one and doing some light bouncing.
After all, your baby did a lot of moving around in your tummy and many newborns will feel comforted by light, but constant movement.
If that doesn’t do the trick, you can step it up a notch and take them for a little stroller ride around the neighborhood to lull them to sleep. If you get really desperate, we’ve always found that taking your baby on a leisurely car ride can help put them to sleep.
With modern technology, babies can be bombarded by sensory experiences that keep them awake. Cell phones, computers and televisions are all major culprits that will distract your baby and keep them awake for longer than they should be.
Removing stimulation is one trick when trying to calm an overtired baby. Sometimes this can be as simple as turning off your television or tablet. Sometimes it might mean moving them to a dimly lit room with no distractions.
By removing distractions, it will be easier for your little one to drift off to dreamland. Just keep in mind you will always want to to do your best to avoid eye contact as well if you can. After all, you’re the most interesting part of their day!
Use White Noise
On the other hand, some little tots need a little bit of sound to sleep. A sound machine with a white noise setting or another soft sound or lullaby could help relax your baby so they can fall asleep.
Consistency is key with parenting. Even as an infant, your baby will come to know and recognize the routine of the day. If you are able to establish “cues” like changing, feeding, bath time and sleep time it will help avoid the meltdowns associated with overtiredness.
Don’t panic if you miss a cue. It’s going to happen … a lot.
Many breastfed babies usually use nursing as a way to fall asleep. If you want to stray away from that method, dummies or pacifiers are a tested way on how to calm an overtired baby.
There are so many types to of dummies to choose from. You can find ones that are shaped like mom’s breast and nipple to help with the transition. This is also a great method for bottle fed babies as well. Sometimes that sucking motion is the soothing they need to fall asleep.
This probably goes without saying, but one of the best ways on how to calm an overtired baby is simply to remain calm yourself. Slow down, take a deep breath and remember that things aren’t always going to be perfect (truthfully, they rarely are as a parent).
Don’t underestimate the connection you have with your baby. They will be able to tap into your energy when you are anxious and will quickly adopt that behavior for themselves. If you are yelling, screaming or running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you can’t expect your baby to remain calm, can you?
The best thing you can do for them during this time is to try to remain as calm as you can. Remember, things will get better. As Her Majesty the Queen says, “Keep calm and carry on”.
Easy for her to say, right?
Read a Book
Reading a book in a soft, soothing tone can be helpful for some little ones. Unlike your iPhone or television that has distracting blue light and moving images, a book can act to calm your overtired infant.
Listening to your voice while you hold them close can make your baby feel safe and help them to relax. Since my family loves camping, I would always read our little ones a camping book for preschoolers before they went to sleep.
Final Thoughts On How to Calm an Overtired Baby
An overtired baby is not a happy baby. Thankfully, there’s a number of tested methods on how to calm an overtired baby.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you have an overtired baby. Overtired babies are a universal experience of all parents. Despite a societal demand to be a “perfect” parent (there’s no such thing) it is impossible to keep our routine down to the minute.
The important part is just to be prepared for when your baby is overtired so a difficult situation is not made worse. Try all these methods and see which one works best for your baby. You may find that your baby responds to one or more of these methods better than others.
Parenting is a constant game of trail-and-error and sometimes it can take weeks or even months to find the right solution. Trust us, once you’ve found that trick that works best for your baby, it does get easier!
About the Author
Stefanie is a freelance parenting writer and blogger, and has published works on other publications such as Motherly. She is an expert in baby and children's' products and frequently writes how-to’s and buying guides to help other parents. She also balances her work from home life with being a stay at home mom.