Over-tired and under-tired babies

Over-tired babies

Babies have a very sensitive circadian rhythms (internal body clock).  The younger the baby, the less awake time they can handle before they lose the plot and need to have a sleep.  Their overactive brain needs a chance to process all that has gone on and re set. This is how they grow and learn.

The younger the baby, the more sensitive they are to being awake for too long between naps and become overtired. Older babies and toddlers can become overtired too.

Some babies will give very clear tired signs and you'll have heaps of time to get them ready for bed so they're asleep at the right ‘sleep window’.

However some babies won't really show any tired signs until it's too late.  Other babies will show tired signs quite early on, but this doesn't necessarily mean they're actually ready for bed, they may just need a change of scene. (tricksters)!

An over-tired baby/toddler looks like this:

  • Crying (when you know they aren’t hungry) and difficult to calm down.
  • Resisting setting.
  • Waking 45 minutes after bedtime at night.
  • Waking a lot in the night waking early morning.
  • Older babies will seem hyperactive or like they have a second wind.
  • Tantrums in toddlers.

Over-tiredness causes the body to have a build-up of a hormone called cortisol.  This is similar to adrenaline and stops your baby or toddler from achieving asleep easily and will wake them once they have fallen asleep. This is why older babies and toddlers can seem wide awake when you know they should be tired.

Cortisol stops the production and release of another hormone called melatonin (the sleep hormone).  Melatonin is what helps us to settle to sleep and stay asleep. The more overtired your baby is, the less likely they are to settle well and the more likely they are to wake frequently and in the early morning.

Some parents, whilst trying all they can to prevent their babies from becoming overtired, end up popping them down to bed too soon and then end up spending the next 45 minutes trying to settle their baby to sleep. This is under-tiredness.

Under-tired babies

An under-tired baby will simply stare at you with wide open eyes the whole time you are trying to set them to sleep, or be crying and fighting you every step of the way.  You may assume your baby is overtired because they won’t fall asleep, but in fact a sleepy baby will go to sleep as soon as you actively start putting them to bed. 

If your baby is waking 20/30/45 minutes after you put them down, and you end up assisting with settling them back to sleep - this means your baby wasn't ready to go to sleep in the first place.  Some babies are easy to settle to sleep because rocking or patting is nice and calming, but in reality, they weren’t actually tired enough to have a long restorative sleep and needed more awake time.  

Under-tired babies will end up either catnapping in short bursts leading to them to become overtired.  Or they may nap well but then be extremely difficult to get to bed at night.  all because they just need some awake time.

An under-tired baby/toddler looks like this:

  • Crying (even though you know they aren’t hungry).
  • Resisting settling/ cat nap/short naps.
  • Older babies will protest at nap/bet time toddlers will play or get out of bed constantly.
  • Waking in the night and playing.
  • Waking early morning.

Under-tired behaviour is similar to over-tiredness which is why it can be so tricky to get the balance right.  Both over and under tiredness lead to bad napping and night time wake ups making for a grumpy baby and tired frustrated parents.

Sleep Works has the knowledge and skills to find the right balance for your baby or toddler and get the sleep you are needing!  Contact us today for your free 15 minute phone consultation.

Tamara Bruce