Cortisol, what is it? Cortisol is a stress hormone that has many purposes within our bodies. It wakes us up in the morning, it gives us a second wind if we stay up too late and it is one of our “fight or flight” hormones. It is affected by positive stress (such as exercising or positive excitement) as well as negative stress. A baby’s cortisol levels can become raised after prolonged crying, being in a situation that is stressful or new to them as well as when a baby becomes sleep deprived. Typically a baby becomes sleep deprived after missing their sleep window. While short term sleep deprivation is not going to do harm to a baby’s body, long term sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on both mom and baby.
Our bodies weren’t meant to be bathed in cortisol for months on end. Many baby’s (and mom’s) that I see are chronically sleep deprived and therefore living on a day to day basis with elevated cortisol levels. Many of them have lived for months never getting more than a few hours of sleep at any given time. This elevated cortisol keeps baby’s from being able to go to sleep easily or stay asleep for long periods. It has also been shown to wreak havoc on our body and our brain when we are exposed to high levels of cortisol for an extended period of time. Two common symptoms of elevated cortisol is prolonged crying, and when baby finally does go to sleep he is up again a short time later. These baby’s are essentially “wired” and even though they are in desperate need of sleep their bodies are “fighting against them”. This becomes extremely burdensome to moms and can lead to many other health problems such as postpartum depression. I hear moms all the time tell me they are so sleep deprived that they can’t even sleep anymore. Cortisol is responsible for that. When I hear moms tell me that their young baby stays awake for hours at a time and just won’t go to sleep I know unfortunately what is happening….. Many times these baby’s cry uncontrollably simply because they are SOO tired!
In order for their baby to go to sleep at that point he typically needs to be allowed to fuss/cry in short intervals in order to obtain peaceful rest. The mom needs to remove all stimulation and take baby to a darkened room, preferably the nursery, and turn on some white noise. Then lay your baby down in their crib and let them be for 5 -10 min. depending on their age. This is the only thing that will cause his body to come to a point of relaxation and escape that feeling of being “wired” that is keeping him awake. It will also give you a much needed small break! Once you realize you have an overtired baby on your hands the sooner you deal with it the sooner everyone will have peaceful rest. The longer you spend trying to “put your baby to sleep” the longer you will be delaying the sleeping process and the more overtired your baby will become. I talk to MANY moms that say they spend HOURS trying to get their baby to sleep! That is why it is so important to establish healthy sleeping patterns from a young age and learn to understand your baby’s sleep window. If your young baby is swaddled properly, all their needs are met and you get them down in their sleep window then you should see a baby that is capable of putting themselves to sleep with a fair amount of ease. If your baby still isn’t going down and you know your putting him down at the right time, or your baby has developed negative sleep associations that have prevented him from learning to self soothe then contact Mamie for some extra troubleshooting help or to do a comprehensive sleep consultation that will enable your baby to start getting the sleep he so desperately needs!