Over-tiredness in seven weeks old baby

by Sinead - Answer by Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Question: My overtired baby won't go to sleep. My baby is 7 weeks old. My problem is she sleeps very little and is constantly becoming over tired which means she is always cranky and fussy and will not settle. She might sleep during the day for a maximum of 10-15 minutes at a time but could be awake for a few hours in between that. When I try and get her to nap during the day she goes hysterical. Is this normal for a baby of this age? I have tried everything from vibrating chairs to teddys with a heartbeat but I just need advice on what else I can do.

Heidi’s Answer: Hi Sinead,

It is not completely unusual for such a young baby to sleep very little during the day.

Yes, the average baby does sleep a lot in the first weeks. But also many babies either do not need that huge amount of sleep during the day (they often sleep very well at night) or just have a difficult time settling. Over-tiredness as you say indeed plays a role. But there can also be a specific cause which we should try to rule out.

That’s why I will suggest two things:

1) Help her sleep. I know that probably sounds all too easy, since you say you have tried everything. Have you also tried nursing/feeding to sleep, holding/rocking/singing her to sleep, or walking around with her in the baby sling or stroller?

I particularly recommend the sling: she will feel most secure when close to you, be in a good position and you keep your hands free while she naps. (in case you don’t have one, make sure you get a well-suited one for her age and size, you’ll find guidelines in the Baby Sling section of this site).

These things sound like "bad habits" to many people but right now, the only thing that matters is to get her to sleep, in whichever way. As long as she is overtired, there will be no way for her to self settle easily. An overtired baby simply won't go to sleep easily. Also you want her to have positive associations with sleep if she is to come to love sleep later on as well.

2) A few questions to try and find out if some discomfort is causing her sleeping so little during the day:

- Has this been since birth? Or started recently?
- Does she scream rather than cry? Overstretch when crying?
- How does she sleep at night?
- Does she also cry or scream during the day, say shortly after one of the little naps?
- Does she have any illness or has had something recently (like a cold, or even a diaper rash …)
- Does she start crying specifically when you put her down?

If you like, post a comment below with this extra info, then we'll follow up.

In case you haven't yet, I would also recommend a visit to your GP or paediatrician. Just to make sure she does not have an illness (coming up), allergy, reflux, ...

One possibility is that she has some discomfort in her spine, a nerve may have got stuck. A specialised cranial osteopath can do wonders then.

All of this is not to say she has something for sure. It’s possible, and quite likely, that she has simply got overtired and now it is hard to get out of that. Then step 1) above will get you a long way.

But to have her health checked is a good idea to be on the safe side. Sometimes a simple cure can make an enormous difference.

Good luck, take care,

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