Today I’m continuing my baby sleep tips and talking about Baby Sleep Debt Recovery and what to do when your baby has missed out on some much needed sleep. How do we help our little ones get back on track?
Our son just suffered his greatest sleep debt to date when we traveled from the Midwest to Okinawa, Japan. By the time we reached the other side of the world he had only slept 18 hours in 3 days, which is a fraction of what he would normally sleep.
On a regular day he sleeps about 14-15 hours, so over 3 days he normally receives about 42-45 hours of sleep, putting his sleep debt at a whopping 27 hours! Yikes! My sweet child was so, so tired. And yet, he could not and would not sleep!
Recovering your baby from sleep debt is difficult at times, especially after traveling with a baby. This isn’t our son’s first sleep debt, and unfortunately, it likely will not be his last. Knowing a few ways to help your baby transition back to his normal schedule can really make a huge difference.
Whether you are dealing with a minor or major sleep debt, there are a few techniques I’ve found very useful when helping a baby recover and return back to a normal schedule. Let’s dive in.
1. Start with a few recovery sleeps.
Whenever we are in sleep debt, and we arrive at our destination, I go ahead and allow my son some recovery sleep for the first 24 hours if we are in major sleep debt. (Note: if you are only in a minor sleep debt, you may only need one or two recovery naps to get caught up).
Normally only allow him to sleep 2 hours max for a nap during the day (if he is napping more than once per day). However, if we are recovering from sleep debt, I usually allow him to sleep for 3-4 hours if he so desires.
If it’s bedtime when we arrive at our final destination, I go ahead and put him down and allow him to sleep as long as he wants in the morning. In addition, if he wakes up during the night and has trouble falling back asleep, I may even allow him to stay up for a while and then put him back to bed.
I typically allow recovery sleep for the first 24 hours before I start trying to get back on schedule. This allows your baby to catch up on sleep a bit. It also prevents making an overtired child more tired and can help eliminate some of the battles that will ensure with an overtired child.
2. Help your baby fall asleep.
Once a baby is really overtired, it can be very hard to get him to sleep. He will fight it or just have separation anxiety or cry and fight sleep despite being incredibly tired. If you need to lay next to your baby or use a sleep prop to help your baby fall asleep, definitely go ahead and do so. After a few recovery sleeps, try to revert back to the way you normally would lay your baby down to sleep.
Normally he goes down independently with little to no fuss. If he is really, really tired, he will fight it and cry and cry. We typically go in and reassure him and lay him back down. His most recent sleep debt was so severe that I actually brought him to bed with me until he fell asleep for one of his recovery sleeps.
The next day we went back to our usual sleep routine, and while he did protest for a bit, he was rested enough to get control of his emotions and go to sleep after a short while.
You can use these baby routine cards to help keep a consistent bedtime and nap time routine…
3. Set a morning wake time and bedtime.
After a few recovery sleeps, I try to focus on getting back on track with morning wake up time and bedtime, while still being flexible with nap times. Being very consistent over a few days is usually enough to get reasonably back on track.
Pick a morning wake up time and bedtime. After 2-3 recovery sleeps, go ahead and wake your baby in the morning even if he is still asleep. Additionally, even if your child doesn’t seem tired at bedtime, it’s okay to try and lay him down anyway in order get back on track.
4. Finally try to reset naps.
The last thing I try to do when recovering my son from a sleep debt. Night time sleep is the most restorative, so I always try to prioritize getting night time sleep in order first. It is definitely possible to try getting back on schedule with naps and bedtime all at the same time. Unfortunately, I’ve found that we are busy getting settled in during the day for a few days, so naps typically are inconsistent. Instead, I focus on bedtime and then naps.
Try laying your baby down at the same exact time for naps each day. Consistency over a couple of days is usually enough to reset your baby’s clock and get back on track after a major or minor sleep debt.
Print your free baby sleep checklist!
This post comes with a free printable baby sleep checklist to help you support longer stretches of sleep for your baby! Plus, when you grab this printable, you’ll get instant access to my free 3-day baby sleep eCourse.
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable straight to your inbox, plus get my Free 3-Day Baby Sleep eCourse!
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference and don’t forget a thing!
Want more on baby sleep?
- My Top 10 Newborn Baby Sleep Tips To Help You Get More Sleep
- The Newborn Routine That Will Help Your Baby Fall Asleep Faster
- Top 7 Challenges + Solutions for Parenting a Newborn and Toddler
- 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know
Resources for baby sleep:
I've created a free email series just for you! If you are struggling with finding a routine, rhythm or schedule, this email series will help you find one that will work for YOUR family. Yes, really. I've seen my sample routines work time and time again for parents. I know it can work for you too.
This free email series will help you:
- Free sample routines for your child
- Best morning routine tips and tricks your kids will actually follow
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I have a 12 weeks old baby who is overtired and overstimulated all the time. She missed her few naps when her grandparents were visiting and being a first time mom i failed to notice those signs. Now she sleeps only for 40 minutes and wakes up. What should i do? Let her sleep in my arms?
We struggled with short naps (which is a sleep cycle transition issue) like that for a while so I totally understand where you are at. Sleep cycle transition issues are very common and often happen with overtired and overstimulation. Most of what I’ve read suggests doing whatever you need to do to help your baby take a good couple of naps. It could be a swing or your arms or whatever you think will work for your baby. A good nap is considered at least 1.5 hours. After a few good naps, try going back to your normal routine. There are 2 posts on How to Help your Baby Nap Better (part 1 and 2) and a post on Infant Sleep Facts, in which I talk a little bit more about dealing with short naps and helping your baby through a sleep cycle transition….if you haven’t seen them already 🙂 I hope this helps!
I went through a bit of this with my baby last month–we flew to California (she woke up SUPER early for that flight!) and we took a red-eye back (during which she only got about 7 or 8 hours of sleep) and then we moved a couple days after we returned, plus in the midst of it all she started to sit up & crawl. It took a couple weeks to get her back onto a normal routine, but I was worried during that time that she wasn’t getting enough sleep. Normally she goes to sleep really well but she was fighting sleep and it was much harder to put her down that normal. She only had minor sleep deprivation, but as her mom it was still hard to watch. I found trying to be consistent when we returned home in her routine was the best way for getting her back on track. Great tips, I will be referring to this when we (hopefully) travel to Asia next year!
Oh my, Bev, Asia sounds amazing. We are thrilled to be in Japan and hope to do some travel throughout Asia while we are hear. And I totally agree, watching your child be sleep deprived, when you know it isn’t what is best for them, is SO HARD to watch. I was struggling. I just kept thinking sleep. sleep. sleep. And he wouldn’t. After getting through it though, I know that he is totally fine, and that sleep debt is only temporary. We are much happier now that we are back on our routine. You are so right, consistency is key to getting back on track. I just remembered I wrote a post on International Travel with a Baby…I think I’m posting that this coming Monday…I’d love to hear what you think about it.
I didn’t even know this was a thing! But I’ve never moved somewhere or traveled somewhere where this would be that dramatic of a sleep debt! Great tips.
We had a few sleep debts that were that extreme. Cause that was really on the far end of the spectrum…yikes 🙂 But you know, we all get busy on vacation or travel or where ever and a baby will lose some sleep, so these tips can definitely apply to those situations too.
What fantastic tips! I wish I had you as a resource when mine were little. I was so sleep deprived for such a long time!!
Now we are over that, but this is something that will interest all moms! I will link this to my website http://www.theeducationaltourist.com where I write about traveling with the kids and learning along the way.
Thanks for sharing such wonderful tips!
Natalie, The Educational Tourist
Thanks for sharing Natalie! I hope this is helpful to others!
Hi! I know this is old so I’m not sure if you’re checking comments, but how is your baby supposed to catch up on sleep if they will not stay asleep?! My 16 month old has accumulated a major sleep debt over the holidays, and she just keeps getting worse. She won’t nap longer than an hour and a half during the day even if I hold her, during the night she’s up for a 2-4 hour period and just won’t go back to sleep, and she’s waking up in the morning earlier than ever. I’m totally overwhelmed because every day seems worse!
This is the most helpful thing I’ve read. I was uncertain of how exactly to handle my overtired 10 month old but every article just told me how to avoid overtiredness. Nothing about how I can start fixing it right now. This is so practical and real life. Thank you.