What do babies do when their senses are overwhelmed or overstimulated? Do they shut down immediately and sleep ....OR do they cry and is hard to coax to sleep OR.....?
December 6, 2007 1:30 PM   Subscribe

What do babies do when their senses are overwhelmed or overstimulated? Do they shut down immediately and sleep ....OR do they cry and is hard to coax to sleep OR....?????

I have read conflicting accounts of what babies do when they are overstimulated. I don't know if it depends on individual babies or the age of the babies or what.

For example, here are some of what I have found so far:

'Babies experience new situations 24 hours a day.'......"Stress reduces the child's ability to learn."" ...."..."Child-development researchers have found that even babies signal a desire to retreat from contact when they're overstimulated -- by squirming or turning away from their caregivers." ...."when babies are in a deep phase of sleep all sensory stimulation is muffled."
(Source: Mostly from Factiva)

"My advice is to research and use "vestibular stimulation" on your baby. Basically, your vestibular system tells you where you are in space. It consists of several tiny sacks filled with liquid in your inner ear. There are lots of tiny hairs inside these sacks, and whenever you move around, it detects the motion of the liquid.
You experience the results of this system every time you get carsick or airsick. When it's overstimulated, people tend to get nauseous. However, babies don't get sick when their vestibular system is overstimulated. In fact, they love it. They become either very excited or mesmerized, and then after a while they just fall asleep."
(Source: http://ask.metafilter.com/11977/)

I am confused.

Please enlighten.

Please try to back up your answers with scientific research , if possible.

Thanks a million.
posted by cluelessguru to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it depends on individual babies or the age of the babies or what.


My own experience in this is that babies who get overstimulated get very fussy.

Sometimes you can rock them into calmness.

A car-ride can also do wonders, and I've heard about simply popping them into the car seat and setting it atop the dryer while it's running will approximate.

Soothing rhythmic noise has helped sometimes (think 'ticking clock' or 'windshield wipers').

And sometimes they just want to be put down somewhere quiet. Others need a bit of background noise.

YMMV. Ours did on a per-child basis.
posted by jquinby at 1:35 PM on December 6, 2007

sorry, nothing scientific - I just saw your last couple of sentences
posted by jquinby at 1:35 PM on December 6, 2007

Anecdotal based on my 6 month shorty.

There are different levels and types of overstimulation.

When he gets a little too much funny face or rasberrying from his pop, he smiles and turns away.

If he is getting too much external stimulation (or internal from a grumbly stomach) and doesn't want any attention from me, he turns away and doesn't smile coyly. It's very much "Just leave me alone right now."

If he gets really too much stimulation (loud, discordant noise and changing lights or extreme hunger) he will cry. If it last too long, he will fall asleep (except for hunger, we've never let him go long enough without food to see if the same happens).

If the stimulation comes from noise and lights that are patterned (ie: loud music or a concert) he passes out almost immediately. Movement is soothing in most overstimulated situations, less so for hunger.

His cousin who is 50 minutes younger cries for most of these situations.

My conclusion: it depends on the kid and the situation.

No time for science when little Attila is so damn cute.
posted by Seamus at 1:41 PM on December 6, 2007

These days I'm encountering alot of babies and toddlers on a daily basis. I see a great many different responses to overstimulation. One parent's experience can be the opposite of another's. If this is in reference to your own child(ren) or one/some you interact with, the data from scientific studies won't be nearly as useful to you as just observing the child yourself.
posted by winston at 1:46 PM on December 6, 2007

The stuff you quoted does not seem conflicting to me. "Vestibular stimulation" is a fancy way to say "rocking." This is a traditional way to soothe babies.

However, by associating that with your question, you seem to be implying that the reason babies need to be soothed is that they are over stimulated. This is of course not true: hunger, pain, being startled and even the need for stimulation will cause crying ("Hey! People! I'm bored! I can't bicycle my feet on my own, you know!").

Remember that infants have few ways to relieve stress. Crying is pretty much where its at when you are 8 weeks old. So, while in my experience, over stimulation = inconsolable crying, many things can lead to that kind of crying.

Swaddling and serious rocking will often soothe an over-tired or over-stimulated baby, but to a certain extent, they may just need to cry to relieve the stress.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:40 PM on December 6, 2007

the reaction to overstimulation not only differs on a child by child basis, but each childs threshold for overstimulation does as well. Obviously. i have never met a baby who shuts down immediately and can't imagine a baby reacting to serious overstimulation by just falling asleep. Not without a healthy vocal protest first, anyway. I have definitely seen babies look like they are thinking "lady if you kiss me one more time. it's awwwn."

that is trial and error scientific research from the library of domino, 1995 to present.
posted by domino at 2:50 PM on December 6, 2007

Thank you all for the awesome answers so far.

It is OK if you don't know of any scientific study.

I have read somewhere that babies encounter stress 24/7 and when overstimulated they more or less immediately shut down and go to sleep , unfortunately I cannot find that article .

This is why I have to turn to you guys for your insights and experiences.

I will continue to take whatever you can share with me .

Thanks a million
posted by cluelessguru at 3:05 PM on December 6, 2007

I have read somewhere that babies encounter stress 24/7

While that is arguable (sleeping and nursing, for example, seem innately un-stressful to me, at least once nursing is established), you're not distinguishing between eustress and distress - positive stress (which we would probably call "stimulation" in your context) and negative stress (pain, hunger, etc.) So while an infant may experience stress 24/7, that doesn't mean by default she or he is overstimulated or anything else negative.

I call phooey on the "falling asleep when overstimulated" thing, by the way, but possibly I have just been surrounded by cantankerous infants and toddlers all my life.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:17 PM on December 6, 2007

When we experiences new experiences, we have stress.

This is where my thinking about baby encountering stress 24/7 came from.
posted by cluelessguru at 3:23 PM on December 6, 2007

My daughter is 12 weeks old now, and I have learned the hard way that she is a hyper-sensitive baby. What was originally diagnosed as extreme colic has turned out to be a hair-trigger reaction to all change and stimulation, that is slowly decreasing as she gets older and is better able to deal with her environment. She used to cry (and I mean howl, to the point of not being able to breathe) when I picked her up, put her down, changed her, dressed her, even when I talked to her. At 2 weeks old she was crying 12 to 14 hours a day and I thought I would go mad - or that I was completely incompetent.

Now she only cries hard when she's wet and needs a change, and when its time to eat (she has little patience when she decides she's hungry). I have learned that she needs quiet time on her own, and that sometimes the best thing for her is for her to cry it out, and let her know she is safe and loved. She likes to play for about 20 minutes at a time, then she turns away and begins to whimper - if I don't clue in that she needs her quiet time, she'll cry.

The hardest thing with a baby like this, apart from wondering what on earth it is you are doing wrong (when it may be nothing at all), is the well-meaning advice or not so well meaning criticism from others. You have to be confident that you know your baby best. Trust me, every baby is different and no one can prepare you for how hard it is to take care of a little human who can't tell you what they want or need. In the end you have to be very patient and learn how to read the signals, by trial and error mostly. The days are very long and hard but the weeks fly by, and when they begin to really love you back it's priceless.
posted by hannahkitty at 3:29 PM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am told that as a baby, I would totally shut down when overstimulated.

Still do.
posted by veronitron at 8:19 PM on December 6, 2007

What do adult humans do when their senses are overwhelmed or overstimulated?

Answer: they react a bunch of different ways, some seemingly rational, some not.

Babies are people, too. They may look very similar and larva-like, but they have very different personalities even at young ages. The entire range of behavior mentioned here seems well within the normal range.
posted by InnocentBystander at 11:02 PM on December 6, 2007

My daughter had the normal range of reactions, pretty much--first reaction was to turn away, second was to get cranky, third was crying, could be soothed by rocking, all that. Once, though, she did the immediate shutting down thing. She was about 6 months old, and we were at the pediatrician's office. The doctor was doing some development testing. One test was to see if she could pick up some Cheerios--tested hand-eye coordination, of course. Another was a hearing test. The doc stood behind my daughter, out of sight, and rang a small bell, just a little not-too-loud ringy-dingy. My daughter immediately passed out. Her hearing was fine, obviously, but her reaction to the stimulus was, in my experience with her, unprecedented, and I never saw it again, either.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:34 AM on December 7, 2007

I am taking psychology right now....


Above is the link for my text book. You can read the review on it and the complete text is on google books if you want to read further. But within this text, there is scientific research they reference to about reactions to being overly stimulated. According to the research, they say that newborns almost always have the tendency to scream their heads off when overly stimulated and usually the only thing that soothes them are their mother and father's voices/touches, especially for newborns because they have not become conditioned to think that blankets or toys are a mode for comfort and safety.
posted by dnthomps at 12:27 AM on December 8, 2007

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