How do you know if your baby or toddler is overtired or undertired? There are lots of signs including rubbing eyes, tugging ears, yanwning and even rejecting sleep all together. But how can you tell if it’s over or under tiredness affecting your child’s sleep? When it comes to knowing whether your child is overtired or undertired, it can sometimes feel like a confusing puddle of “gray matter.”
Why is knowing the difference so important anyway?
Understanding the difference between overtiredness and undertiredness is important because it’s the KEY to nailing your child’s ideal bedtime.
In this video, I’m going to explain the difference between your child being overtired or undertired, the signs to look out for and how to recover from each of them so that you and your family can remain well-rested.
If I’m being completely honest, the topic of being overtired or undertired is challenging because there’s a very fine line between the two.
So let’s quickly define what it means to be overtired and undertired.
I want you to imagine a line in the sand.
This line in the sand is the ideal time that your child should go to bed or go down for a nap.
If your child is overtired, then that means your child has crossed the line, and has gone past the ideal time for naptime or bedtime.
If your child is undertired, that means your child hasn’t made it to the line yet and they actually need more awake time before their ideal bedtime.
When your child is overtired, they have had too much awake time and their body is having to rely on a false “second wind.”
When your child is undertired, they haven’t had enough awake time and their body still needs to burn off some energy before they are ready to fall asleep again.
Now that we understand what it means to be overtired and undertired, let’s first dive into the signs of overtiredness.
First, when it comes to being overtired, you will be able to see it written all over your little one’s face. Sleepy facial cues are the #1 sign that your child isn’t just tired, they are overtired.
Although society uses yawning and rubbing of eyes as a sign for “bedtime,” these facial cues are actually a “warning” sign that your child is officially overtired and should have gone to bed a long time ago.
Do not use sleepy cues for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
You can look for them and use them for newborns, but we are not looking at them past that newborn stage because if your child is yawning or rubbing their eyes, then that is them communicating to you that their body is overtired.
The second sign of overtiredness is hyperactivity.
This sign might surprise you, unless you have a toddler, and then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Overtiredness in toddlers manifests itself in hyperactivity.
It’s very common toddlers to catch a false second wind between 5:00-6:00PM in the evening. If your toddler skipped their nap for the day, or has dropped naps all together, this period of hyperactivity means that their little body is overtired and has compensated with a false “second wind” to make it to a later bedtime.
If your napless toddler is running around the house, singing at the top of their lungs, scaling the walls, and jumping on and off the furniture, then you can chalk it up to overtiredness.
It’s important to know that this hyperactivity is a step beyond your typical “toddler” energy.
As a parent or caregiver of a toddler, you know what’s normal toddler energy and what is crazy, “hyperactive” toddler energy.
If your toddler protested their nap for the day or has recently dropped their mid-day nap, then be sure to get them to bed between 6:00PM-7:00PM to prevent any overtiredness from the day.
Picture this – you’re getting your baby ready for bed and you’re putting them in the crib and you close their door, walk downstairs, turn on the monitor and they’re already asleep.
If your child is crashing to sleep within 5 minutes or less, then they are overtired.
If we are going to bed on time, it should take our bodies between 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep and the same is true for children.
During this time your child should be rolling around, finding a position they are comfortable in, self-soothing for a while, and then drifting off to sleep.
If they are crashing to sleep, that is a sign that they are overtired and should have gone to bed earlier.
The next and final sign that I’m going to address when it comes to being overtired is restlessness.
This sign of overtiredness goes hand in hand with hyperactivity.
Restlessness often occurs when you’ve had an off day. Maybe you and your family are traveling and you had to wake up really early and naps have been skipped or shortened.
Or maybe you had an evening event that caused bedtime to be later than usual.
You can identify if your child is experiencing restlessness throughout the night by listening to them on the monitor and evaluating their sleeping position(s) throughout the night.
Are they crying out during their sleep?
Have they changed positions multiple times throughout the night?
These are all signs that your child is experiencing restlessness, which is directly linked to overtiredness.
If you find that your child is restless throughout the night, reflect on the events of your day.
If you had a busy, full day and naps were shortened or skipped, consider offering your child’s bedtime 15-30 minutes earlier to help offset any overtiredness that they might be experiencing.
Now let’s move on to the signs of undertiredness. Undertiredness can manifest itself in a few different ways.
The #1 sign that your child is undertired is that they’re taking too long to fall asleep because they weren’t quite ready to go to sleep yet.
Maybe it was like right a little bit below the line and like this was the line, they were perfectly ready for sleep.
If you’re putting them to bed too early and they’re not tired enough, then they are not going to fall asleep within 10-20 minutes.
Instead, they might take 30-60 minutes to fall asleep.
If it’s taking your child 30-60 minutes to fall asleep at night on regular basis, then it’s likely they are undertired and need a later bedtime.
For babies, who are growing and changing weekly, this might mean they need a new nap schedule.
For toddlers, this might mean you need to cap their nap, or widen their wake window before bedtime and add more play and activity to their day.
For preschoolers, this may mean that they need drop their nap and have more opportunities to get their energy through the day.
If it takes over 20 minutes for your child to put themselves to sleep, then they’re likely undertired.
If your child is not ready for bed, and they are undertired, then they’ll likely protest bedtime or their bedtime routine!
If your child is genuinely upset about their bedtime routine and they’re upset that they’re about to go to bed, then it could be that they really aren’t ready to go to bed because they aren’t tired enough.
Just as it’s important to examine your child’s daytime schedule when they are experiencing overtiredness, it’s just as important to examine your child’s schedule when they are undertired.
Is your child getting too much daytime sleep?
Is their wake window before bedtime too short?
Are they burning enough energy during their wake windows during the day? (This is really important for toddlers!)
Are they getting enough time outside? (Another really important one for toddlers. Learn more about this in our 18 Month Sleep Regression post HERE )
Okay, the final sign of being undertired is that your child is telling you they’re not ready for bed.
Seems simple right?
Now, you still have to be discerning with this comment and piece of information as your child does still need sleep.
I have an eight year old who says she’s “not ready for bed” because she wants to read all night long.
There still has to be boundaries and expectations with it comes to your child’s daytime and nighttime sleep opportunities.
However, if your toddler or preschooler is telling you their not tired, you should stop and consider what they are saying!
Take a moment, evaluate your child’s day, and consider if their bedtime really is being offered too early.
Now if you’ve identified whether your child is experiencing overtirednesss or undertiredness, let’s talk about what we can do to help them.
The first thing you can do to help solve your child’s under tiredness or over tiredness is to evaluate their daily schedule.
This is something we’ve made really, really easy here at Little Z’s because we have a complete schedule guide for you to download and have throughout the years.
Schedules change, especially between 10 to 24 months old, and we want you to have the knowledge and tools to confidently support your little one through these changes.
Our sleek, beautifully designed schedule guide will help you to stay on track with your child’s awake windows and proper schedules so that you and your child can avoid long seasons of overtiredness or undertiredness.
The next thing you can do to help resolve overtiredness or undertiredness is to evaluate your child’s sleep needs alongside of their schedule.
Let’s look at how they’re growing and changing.
Did your child take their nap(s) or skip it?
Was their nap a sufficient length?
Is your schedule off because you’ve been traveling and life has been really busy lately?
Try to get back to the basics of your sleep expectations.
Evaluate your current season of life is critical when you’re trying to evaluate the under tiredness or over tiredness of your child and trying to get back to that middle ground of getting their ideal bedtime.
When it comes to overtiredness and undertiredness, there are times when your child will inevitably experience both of these situations.
For instance, your child will naturally be overtired when you’re going through a nap transition.
When your child goes from 3-2 naps or 2-1 nap, it is very normal for them to experience a few weeks of overtiredness. During these weeks, an early bedtime may be necessary as they adjust to their new schedule.
But I want you to promise me that you won’t go backwards to your child’s old schedule.
You need to keep moving forward.
It will likely take your child 2-4 weeks to begin settling into their new schedule and then they will begin to feel less overtired.
Parents will often tell me that it can’t be time for a nap transition because their baby or child is so tired and they can’t possibly handle more awake time before their nap or bedtime.
Actually, your child can handle more awake time they just need time to get used to it.
When your child experiences longer wake windows for the first time, their bodies need time to adjust!
It’s as simple as that.
So don’t evaluate overtiredness during a nap transition. Your child will be overtired, and its necessary as they become used to their new wake windows and schedules.
The same thing is true for undertiredness.
If your child is taking 30 minutes to fall asleep for nap or bedtime, don’t immediately assume they are undertired.
Instead, I want you to think about what new skill(s) they are learning.
Maybe their learning to crawl, stand, jump, sing, etc.
Or maybe their potty training!
Sometimes, when they are learning something new, your child will present signs of being undertired.
Because of this, be sure to evaluate your child’s season of development before changing their schedule again.
Overtiredness and undertiredness can also be a sign of a sleep regression or a newly developed sleep habit. Learn more about the difference between Sleep Regressions and Habits HERE.
It is very common for children to become overtired and undertired because they are constantly growing and their sleep needs are constantly changing!
Below are the signs of overtiredness and undertiredness and ways to recover from them so that sound, restorative sleep can be a thing for you and your family again.
Signs Of Overtiredness
Signs Of Undertiredness
How to Help Your Child Recover From Overtiredness and Undertiredness
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