Rested Mamas Are Happy Mamas: An Overtired Baby

Rested Mamas Are Happy Mamas: An Overtired Baby

Cubby Reader Lisa wrote, "My sweet baby is 8-weeks-old. He generally wakes up around 7 a.m. or so (bright eyed and happy for the day), but then stays awake until noon (at which point I will finallyyyyy be able to get him down for a nap). Once I finally get him down for his nap, he will sleep well into the afternoon and stay pretty sleepy all evening... I wake him for feedings, but he isn't as alert during wake time as he is in the morning. He honestly doesn't seem tired before noon - I will cuddle him and lay him in his swing to try to get him to sleep and he watches his mobile for 10 minutes or so and then starts to cry. Any suggestions on how to shorten his awake cycle in the mornings to get him on a more regular nap/awake schedule for the rest of the day?"

I know you've probably all heard a saying in some context that goes pretty similar to "keep them awake longer during the day, so they sleep at night." FALSE. Do NOT do this. Your baby isn't sleeping at night for a million other reasons. For instance, maybe he hasn't learned to connect sleep cycles yet, or maybe he's not getting enough calories during the day to sustain himself through the night (hasn't learned to adjust his caloric intake to all daytime intake). But, letting your baby stay awake ALL day will NOT help his nighttime sleep.

Babies require a certain amount of sleep in a 24 hour period depending on their age. "On Becoming Baby Wise" gives us the following guidelines that obviously vary a tiny bit with each child:

  • 1-2 weeks old: 17-19 hours, including 5-6 naps per day
  • 3-4 weeks old: 16-18 hours, including 5-6 naps per day
  • 5-7 weeks old: 15-18 hours, including 4-5 naps per day
  • 8-12 weeks old: 14-17 hours, including 4-5 naps per day
  • 13-16 weeks old: 13-17 hours, including 3-4 naps per day
  • 17-24 weeks old: 13-16 hours, including 3-4 naps per day
  • 25-38 weeks old: 13-15 hours, including 2-3 naps per day
  • 39-52 weeks old: 12-15 hours, including 2 naps per day

So in Lisa's case, her 8-week-old should be getting 14-17 hours per day, including 4-5 naps per day. Now sometimes mamas, if your baby isn't sleeping through the night yet, which should happen between 7 and 10-weeks-old, I may recommend more variation than the list above because they haven't been on a schedule from the start. For instance, if your baby is 8-12 weeks old, but not sleeping through the night, I may recommend, depending on the situation, that your baby acts more like a 5-7 week old until they sleep through the night.

But again, each situation can be so different, so do what works for YOU and use the above as a close guideline. But do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, let your baby stay awake for HOURS on end. They need their sleep, YOU need your sleep, EVERYONE needs their sleep. Let them take it. They will thank you.

Also note that if your baby isn't getting enough sleep during the day, they aren't able to take full feedings because they are simply too tired to eat. Remember, a baby should eat a FULL meal every 2.5-4 hours. If that's true (and it is ;) ), then your baby needs to be getting their sleep between those times as well. Logical, yeah?

You may notice that when doing a schedule like this one, a newborn adapts much faster than an older baby. Why? You see, newborns sleep ALL of the time. So it's quite easy to teach them WHEN to sleep. Older babies like to stay awake longer, but not as long as you probably once thought. For instance, a 12-week-old baby should be awake for about an hour at a time. So in 3 months, your baby went from being awake for maybe a half hour, to only an hour. Does that seem crazy to you? Well, it's true. :)

Cubby Reader Ashley came to the blog with some schedule issues for her 12-week-old. I explained that her baby seemed overtired and she needed to put her to bed SOONER. After it actually worked, (of course it did--I wouldn't lie to you) she told me she never heard that a baby should stay awake for such a short period of time at this age. "I totally thought she should be awake for at least a little longer by now, at least an hour and half," she said. However, not until babies are about 5-6 months old will they start to lengthen their awake time. They will then merge cycles, and as they merge cycles, they will take less naps, resulting in more awake time.

Babies LOVE sleep. LOVE sleep. You just have to help them get it when their bodies want it, and sometimes that's not so easy to determine. Two of my three girls had very obvious "I'm tired" signs: rubbing the eyes, yawning, eyelids turning red and heavy. My other twin daughter ALWAYS seemed wide awake, but I'd put her down in her crib when I put her twin to bed, and voila, she'd be asleep in a few minutes. So if you just can't tell, experiment! Put your baby down at 45 minutes, and see what happens.

Remember, a whining baby is okay, a SCREAMING baby is a whole different issue. Learn the differences between their cries so that you're very aware of what your baby needs. If 45 minutes didn't do the trick, go to 50, then 55, then an hour.

Know too, that it is sometimes better for a baby to go to sleep more awake than go to sleep when they are just too tired. Why? Because that baby will learn how to put themselves to sleep--this is a GREAT skill to have. An overtired baby can't put themselves to sleep. Just like when you are hungry, or stressed, and you can't think straight; same thing for babies. If they are overtired, all reason has left their small forms. The awake time affects the naps, just as much as naps affect the overall schedule.

So mamas, find a good balance for your baby! Let that baby sleep.

- Mama Jackie

*Sleep is essential. We need sleep to function, to take care of our children, to keep up on every single task life throws at us, to keep our sanity. Are you getting your 8 hours or do you have a baby who is keeping you up? Let’s remedy that! In the “Rested Mamas are Happy Mamas” series of our blog, sleep expert Jackie calms all of your sleep woes. Have a question or problem that needs fixing? Comment on the series and Jackie will address your specific issue!*
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Jackie, you are amazing – such good advice here… now the hard part: implementation! Thank you so very much for taking the time to spell this all out in a very understandable way. I honestly had no idea that they were to be awake for such short periods!

Lisa Pray

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