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  • Julia the Baby Consultant

Is overtiredness under appreciated?

You hear it a lot. People say it about babies and toddlers all the time. But it's used as more of an excuse for erratic behaviour rather than a call to action. I'm sure most of you can relate to hearing the phrases; "Oh I'm sorry for the shouting, he's just really overtired". "Can't wait for bedtime, she's so overtired." "He doesn't know what to do with himself poor mite, he's so overtired"!

But no one seems to DO anything about it! The baby is telling you, in the only language they have (which is mostly screaming inconsolably), that they are extremely tired. How do you cure tiredness? You go to sleep! #simples!

HOWEVER! Once you get into the land of overtiredness, it is very difficult to fight your way out of the ever increasing fog of screaming/shouting/thrashing arms/arching backs and general sleep deprived anger. So how do you go about avoiding and getting out of this fog? Well, let's first look at what overtiredness actually is and why it affects humans the way it does.


Overtiredness is also known as the hormone "Cortisol." The "STRESS hormone". It's the one that initiates the fight or flight response and effectively dumps you full of adrenaline so you can remain on high alert in case a sabre tooth tiger jumps out at you! It's well recognised. If you're stressed from work, home life etc, you don't sleep well. You wake frequently and then by 4am, you're up for the day! Because your body is waiting for the sabre tooth tiger to appear at any moment (otherwise, why else would you be so stressed?), when you do fall asleep, instead of doing the light sleep/deep sleep cycles which are restorative, you tend to have smaller and shallower sleep cycles so you remain effectively in a constant phase of light sleep. So you wake easily. You might even consider this as being a "light sleeper". It's exhausting. Then, because you didn't sleep well, you end up even more overtired, which then means, you wake even more frequently and get even less rest! It's a vicious cycle.

And the same happens to babies. Except, we as the parents are the ones who have to deal with them and figure out how to get them to sleep and stay asleep.


There are various things that can affect infant sleep but the two main ones, are age appropriate awake times, and developing the ability to #selfsettle. Babies can in fact (despite popular belief), self settle from newborn if helped. This means, when they hit the #4monthsleepregression and start to wake between sleep cycles, (more on that another time) they are able to fall back asleep without outside assistance and therefore are able to sleep long, consolidated periods of restorative sleep. If they can't fall asleep unaided and have an external sleep association, then as they start to wake after 4 months, they become fully awake until they have been resettled. Even if this only takes 10-30mins, each time they wake, if they wake every 1.5-2 hours at night, then at the end of the night, they will have lost out on 1-2-3-4 hours of sleep! This will automatically put them in the overtired category! This also means that during the day, instead of having 3-4 naps of 1-1.5 hours each, they can only #catnap for 20-30mins per nap so by the end of the day, they're even more tired. You can see a pattern starting to form here........


But what if they can self settle I hear you cry! I've had those clients too! They were so diligent with getting their baby to self settle from newborn but little one still wakes frequently at night and they're racking their brains! Now we come to age appropriate awake times. I will go through this more thoroughly at another time but fundamentally babies only have certain amount of time where they can handle being awake without getting overtired.

For instance, newborns, have an awake time of 45mins-1 hour maximum before they start getting overtired. After 45mins, they start to grizzle/whinge and they have entered their #sleepwindow. Sleep Windows are when babies are ready for sleep and tend to settle easily if timed well but they only tend to last about 10 minutes before baby starts straying into the fog. That's why being aware of your baby's awake times is crucial in getting them to sleep at the right time.

If you put them to sleep too early, then they will be undertired and they will either fight it and then get themselves into such a state that they scream past their actual sleep window right slap bang into the middle of the fog, or, you put them to sleep too late at which point their adrenaline is pumping and they are sleeping on high alert so wake at any little sound/movement and then wake screaming after only one #sleepcycle.


It's a minefield! And it's a continuous learning curve. And there will be days that you time all the days perfectly and then you feel like #supermum and then there'll be the days where a mistimed poo through the nap off, your friend popped round for a friendly chat and baby got WAY too excited and refused to nap (after all, it's rude to go to bed if you have company, isn't it?) and then by 4pm, you're contending with a snot filled screaming monster who resembles the spawn of Satan more than the little cherub you were smooching that morning!

On those days, the best cure, is an early night for all. Babies need them as much as adults do. Doesn't mean they will wake earlier, but quite often they will wake later. Just like an adult. If you're exhausted, you go to bed at 9pm. You still wake up at 7am but you've had an extra couple of hours sleep which you NEEDED. Same for little ones. If bedtime is normally 7pm, get them down at 6pm. (No earlier, because let's face it, that's just daytime) and give them a chance to catch up!


So that's it. Overtiredness in a nut shell. Next time you hear it/think it/speak it, remember, it's not an excuse, it's a call to action.


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