Is Your Child Overtired?

Many of us have seen their baby fall asleep in the high chair. That’s a pretty clear clue that your child is very tired. But they don’t always send such obvious signals.

It can take some experimentation and honing your powers of observation. It helps to know what you’re looking for.

We often attribute short attention spans, clinginess, and tantrums to developmental phases. But these behaviours are frequently resolved with more sleep.

Other important clues can be that your baby:

  • Wants to nurse constantly
  • Wakes up grouchy
  • Wakes multiple times at night (see What causes night waking?)
  • Wakes too early in the morning
  • Seems hyperactive or very energetic at bedtime
  • Lots of crying and trouble falling asleep at bedtime

Role of Cortisol
This is where things get counter-intuitive.

Our circadian rhythm predicts natural sleep waves that are associated with different developmental stages. When a child misses a sleep wave or window, the brain releases the chemical, cortisol. This chemical is released to combat the sleepiness that would otherwise befall the child. The cortisol gives the child extra energy to get through the period of time when they should have been sleeping. It’s what some call “the second wind”. In some children, this release of cortisol can look like hyperactivity. It can trick parents into thinking that their child is in fact, not tired. But remember “wired” usually means tired.

First steps
One of the best ways to address a sleep debt is to provide an early bedtime and an age appropriate nap schedule (see Early Bedtime Appreciation and Age-Appropriate Sleep Schedules). We sleep consultants have been known to recommend bedtimes as early as 5:00 PM to help a child catch up. Bedtimes can be adjusted by 15 – 30 minute increments or all at once, when you can see that your child is sleepy. It’s so important to get to know your child’s earliest sleepy cues, before they become over-tired.

We can work together to provide your family the sleep you all need. Check out my SERVICES.