cortisol, wont sleep

Is My Baby Overtired?

Waking up every hour? Fighting to get them to sleep? Waking up MEGA early?

Your little may be overtired! You have probably heard this term before but let’s break down what it actually means and what is happening to make sleep so tough.

Cortisol is a stress response hormone that is sometimes released when we become very tired to help us remain alert. Ever had a “second wind”? That is your brain releasing cortisol, fabulous when you are on a night out and it’s only 8:30 and you’re starting to flag…not so great when you are actually trying to sleep.

When we have a surge in cortisol it can counteract any melatonin (the sleepy hormone) we have been producing and makes it physically more difficult to fall asleep. It’s frustrating enough for us as adults to be in this situation knowing full well why we can’t sleep and still desperately trying to achieve it. But for our little ones who don’t know what is happening and want to sleep but just can’t, it can be infuriating and very stressful for them, meaning their cortisol levels are likely to get higher and higher.

The rise in cortisol levels can also prevent them from going into the deeper aspect of our sleep cycle meaning they are much more likely to wake after a short period of time.

Cortisol does have many great benefits though, one being that is the hormone that helps to wake us up gradually in the morning. However, having a higher baseline cortisol level means that as soon as our brains start to release cortisol to wake us up, we will wake up earlier than normal due to the already present cortisol levels.

So, how can we stop this?

First of all, prevention is better than cure, so learn your little ones tired cues. Once you spot these signs start preparing your little one for bed or for a nap with their usual routine.

Early signs of being tired may be;

  • yawning
  • glazed expression
  • gaze aversion
  • looking pale
  • going quiet
  • loss of interest in toys or people

Some babies give us lovely big early signs that they are tired, while others can seem like they are perfectly fine until they start screaming like a banshee. Some late signs of being tired and needing to go to sleep ASAP are;

  • grimacing
  • not wanting to be put down
  • rubbing eyes
  • pulling ears
  • crying

If you think your little might be overtired but you are not sure, these are really helpful signs to look out for;

  • hyperactivity – back arching and squirming for babies, Running around and hysteria for older babies and toddlers
  • Irritability
  • high pitch crying
  • frequent yawning
  • being clumsy

At this point it’s important to get your little one to sleep whatever means necessary. So if it means rocking them for 40 minutes while signing “Sweet Home Alabama” and stroking their hair in a rhythmical fashion then so be it! The quicker you can get them off to sleep the better.

However, if you are at the stage where your little one is waking up every hour and then waking very early in the morning, resisting naps and then only napping for a short period of time then they may be stuck in the chronically overtired vicious cycle.

To overcome this try following these simple steps;

  1. Follow their age appropriate wake windows. Even if they don’t seem tired, just starting their routine should give them a big enough cue to their brain to produce enough melatonin to get them off to sleep.
  2. Get an early night! So often as parents we fear that putting our babies to bed early will result in an ever earlier wake up, but quite often it does the complete opposite and they will sleep longer in the morning.
  3. Stick to their routine like glue. Having a regular bed time and routine will help their brain to predict when sleep is coming and produce enough melatonin to help overcome the excess cortisol
  4. Try using continuous white noise. One of the magic things about white noise is its ability to create much more restorative sleep than if you were sleeping without it. So Even if you have if you have tried it and they still wake up very often, keep going as it may take some time to pay off some of their sleep debt, but it will be helping!

If you have tried all these things or simply want to talk through your little ones current sleep situation then click here to book your FREE 15 minute phone consultation.

Alison ✌🏻

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