As grown ups, we often associate fatigue and sleep. The more tired we are, the easier it is to fall asleep, right? Well, it’s not necessarily the case, and it’s actually quite the opposite in babies and toddlers. Overtiredness can lead to bursts of energy and playfulness, which can cause baby to have a terrible time getting to, and staying, asleep.
If a baby’s been awake for more than an hour, then they are most likely fatigued, not hungry, although that’s the first thing we assume. How can you tell with a newborn baby? A couple of little things you can watch for. One is a seven-mile stare, so the baby’s eyes are not really in focus, just gazing at nothing essentially. That’s a sign that they’re getting fatigued. Some newborn babies will do some twisting or back arching or they get really rigid when they’re fatigued which can also look a lot like hunger. A lot of newborn babies turn their head in to something which looks like rooting. What they’re really trying to say is, “I’ve had too much. I’m overstimulated. I need to hide and get away from the bombardment of all the things out there externally,” so they turn in to something.
Look at your clock. If it’s been about forty-minutes to an hour since your baby last ate and they’re doing that or they’re showing those signs, then I want you to try for a nap first because it is most likely fatigue that we’re dealing with here. Now, a lot of people wait until their baby is fussy, right. When you’ve got a fussy newborn on your hands, then you either assume they need a feeding or perhaps they need some sleep. Often, that’s too late. You’ve waited too long. Overtiredness sets in at roughly the hour mark for a newborn baby. If you let them get fussy and start to cry and get cranky, it’s much harder to get them to fall asleep.
You really want to catch it just before that occurs. Sometimes it’ll feel a little awkward or it’ll feel a little unnatural where you’ve got this very contented little baby and you’re going to go ahead and try for a nap. Again, keeping in mind the time. It’s very important when we’re talking about newborn babies. Now, let’s move into older babies. Around the third, fourth month, they start having some control over their bodies. You might start to notice things like ear pulling, nose rubbing, eye rubbing. Anything to do with pulling or rubbing the face is often a very good sign that a baby is fatigued.
I can remember being at a home consult many years ago and this little nine-month-old baby was sitting on his mom’s lap through our meeting and we were talking for about an hour, and the whole time, this little person was just rubbing his nose and pulling on his ears and just looking really miserable. Finally, I said, “Oh my gosh. He’s just so tired. Do you see how he’s doing all of that with his face, pulling and scratching at his ears and nose? That’s a very good indicator that he’s tired.” She looked shocked and astonished and said, “Oh, really? I had no idea. In fact, I thought he had allergies, and so we are off to the allergy specialist next week, and I was hoping that he would solve that problem.” Guess what? Once we got this little guy’s sleep under control, he stopped doing that sort of things, and he didn’t have any allergies.
That’s a really good cue that your baby’s trying to tell you, “Help. I’m very tired. I need a little assistance over here.” Some babies are very good at yawning. They get red-rimmed eyes. That can be a good indicator. Although, be careful with yawning because some babies yawn very early on. They could be up for ten minutes and they’re already yawning. Yawning doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fatigued. You could just be needing a little bit of extra oxygen in your system for whatever reason, and that’s going to stimulate a yawn. Again, you really want to do a balance of both watching your baby and the time.
In the Sleep Sense Program, in the nap chapter, there’s a good document in there about age range and time stamina. A three-month-old only has about an hour-and-a-half of stamina where they’re going to need to go down for a nap after that period of time. Whereas, if we’re talking about an eight-month-old or a nine-month-old, they’ve got about three hours of stamina before they’re going to need a nap. Always keeping in mind that you really don’t want to let the baby get cranky as your indicator because that’s going to be too long that you’ve waited. Now, it’s going to be harder to get that little person to fall asleep because they’re into overtiredness.
Now, let’s talk toddlers for a couple of minutes here. How can you tell if your toddler is tired? Those toddlers are very, very clever little people. What they tend to do when they’re feeling fatigue is push into overdrive. That’s where you see your toddler running around, manic in their personality where they’re laughing really hard then at one minute and crying the next and they really don’t have a real good grasp of themselves by the time they’re getting overtired, and they get hyper. Most children get quite hyper when they’re feeling fatigue. The bad news is that when they get hyper, that’s usually a sign that you’ve waited too long. Now, they’re pushing into overtiredness.
If you do see that, catch it before it gets too far. Go get your bedtime routine started or get the nap routine rolling. Give her fifteen, twenty minutes or so to calm down a little bit with your routine and then get her to bed. Don’t try to ride it out because the longer you wait, the more overtired the child’s going to become, and the worse the situation will become as well. Okay. I hope that gives you some signs to watch for. Again, remember it’s a combination of both watching the clock and your child. Thanks so much for watching today. Sleep well.
If your baby, infant or toddler is having trouble sleeping through the night, help is just a click away! The Sleep Sense Program has helped over 57,00 parents to get their kids sleeping 11-12 hours through the night AND taking long, restful naps during the day. If you’re ready to get started today – I’m looking forward to helping you!