My daughter woke up this morning at 4 am, for the fourth morning in a row. Almost 18 months old, she’s actually a pretty good sleeper, and this is unusual for her. The cause of this early morning rising might come as a surprise to some parents, however. My daughter isn’t waking up at 4 am fully rested and ready for the day after a good night’s sleep. Instead, she’s waking up at 4 am every morning because she isn’t getting enough sleep. Sound confusing? It usually does. In fact, children’s sleep patterns can be one of the most perplexing and confusing things for even the calmest and most together of parents. When parents are in tune with their child’s sleep rhythms, cycles, and needs, they’ll find that days and nights may run much more smoothly. It warrants asking: Is your child overtired?
Overtired children may wake frequently at night or early in the morning. Of course, not all night waking means your child is overtired. For newborns and infants, night waking for breastfeeding or a bottle is developmentally appropriate. However, if your older child is waking up frequently and doesn’t appear to be hungry, it could be because he is overtired. Overtired children have restless sleep, which isn’t refreshing and isn’t solid. Think about yourself when you go to bed after a long and exhausting day. Is your sleep always as rejuvenating as it should be? It’s the same for children, especially if the overtired pattern has been going on for awhile. Overtired children can’t and don’t sleep well.
Overtired children experience second winds and may appear to be wide awake. There is a perfect window for bedtimes and naptimes for young children. If you miss this window, your child may go from being extremely fussy to extremely hyper, energetic, and happy in a matter of moments. Don’t believe me? Sit back and watch it happen one night. To demonstrate, see how it happened in our house on Halloween. My 18 month old daughter was crying and fussy, ready for bed at 6:50 pm. However, because we were out of the house, she couldn’t fall asleep. By 7:10 she was running around from house to house, and didn’t pass out until we were in the car at 8 pm. She missed the bedtime window and hit her second wind in stride. But how did she sleep that night? She was up in the middle of the night twice, and was up for the day before 5 am, when she had been sleeping until after 6 am. Overtired children have second winds, and if parents don’t notice that they’ve missed the bedtime window, they may be setting themselves up for a long night.
Overtired children whine, cry, and are overly clingy. Of course, not all children that whine, cry, and cling on to their parents are overtired. But these are sure signs of overtired children. Think about how you behave when you’ve pulled an all-nighter and still have to head to work the next morning. You’re grouchy, cranky, and irritable to be around. As adults, we know how to deal with it (well, some of us do). Young children don’t know how to handle staying awake through their exhaustion, but they’ll still fight sleep. I know my youngest daughter is always worried about missing something, and will try to stay awake even when she’s clearly exhausted. She’s the one who’s clingy when overtired. My oldest daughter is the one who’ll whine and cry, because she just doesn’t know what else to do.
Is your child overtired? Parents may be surprised to learn that the answer is yes. Realizing that a child is overtired can be the key to solving a plethora of parenting woes.