Can a child be too tired at bedtime, how do we battle overtiredness?
First things first, Is there such a thing as a child that’s too tired at bedtime? Hear me when I say, YES!
Overtiredness is what I like to call the arch-enemy for sleep training.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like “keep your baby awake all day so they’ll be good and tired at bedtime.” I hope that you will throw that piece of advice out the window (along with the other not so helpful bits of parenting advice that’s thrown around on the regular).
Let me tell you why dealing with an overtired child at bedtime is a recipe for disaster.
Kids, as with all people, have a natural rhythm when it comes to sleep. Our bodies secrete hormones to keep us up and running during the day, and different ones to help us rest at night. They’re dependent on a variety of factors, but timing is the most prevalent.
What happens when a child is overtired?
So what happens when your little one stays awake past the time when these natural cues to sleep are activated? Well, the body assumes there’s a reason that it hasn’t been allowed to get to sleep, assumes there’s a need to stay awake, and fires up those daytime hormones again.
And that’s when the trouble starts.
Because once those signals to stay awake get fired up, they’re tough to shut down, and baby’s already tired. So less sleep leads to more daytime hormones, and the cycle perpetuates itself.
Can I prevent overtiredness?
So, you might be asking, Dana how in the world do I prevent overtiredness?
The key is to get baby to sleep before they get past that ideal window of opportunity.
With newborns especially, it can be tricky to detect those sleepy signals. However, if you know what to look for, you can get a feel for the right time to put baby down.
Some good signs to watch for include tugging at their ears, or rubbing their eyes and nose, arching their backs, and turning their face into your chest.
Now, those are all strong signs that your baby’s ready for bed, but they’re also easily mistaken for signs that your baby’s hungry, so it’s best to combine your keen eye for signals with a keen eye on the clock.
Keeping track of awake time can also be super helpful. Newborns can usually only handle about an 45 minutes of awake time in a stretch, so make a note of the time when they wake up and set a reminder or make a mental note that they need to be headed down for a nap around 45 short minutes after that.
They’ll be able to stay awake for longer stretches as they get older, in fact I have observed this window grows by about 15 minutes each month for the first year of life. You should even be watching toddlers! Toddlers should only be awake for around 5 hours to maybe 6 hours at a time, so stay aware of the schedule and err on the side of more sleep, not less.
What does an overtired toddler look like?
On the subject of toddlers, they have a quirky little habit when they get overtired. The sudden influx of those daytime hormones can make them quite manic, so they might seem to be super happy and giggly for a while; just the opposite of what you would expect from a child who needs to get to bed. But you’ll see before long that their mood will take a big shift into crankiness, and then you’ve probably got a bedtime battle on your hands.
I know that this schedule can sound a little rigid for parents who aren’t used to it. After all, an hour at a time is barely enough time to get a diaper changed, a feed in, and a little bit of playtime before baby needs to get back into their crib and down for another nap. But I can assure you, no client I’ve ever worked with has ever come back to me after implementing it and said, “I have a feeling that baby’s getting too much sleep.”
So give it a try for a couple of weeks and see how it works. I can almost guarantee you’ll be seeing a happier baby.
If you found this helpful, be sure to join me over on Instagram @sleep4babies to catch more tips!