If there’s anything that can send your child’s sleep off the rails, it is, without a doubt, the dreaded outplay of ‘overtiredness’.
Babies and children, as with all of us, 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 dependant on a variety of factors, but timing can be the most prevalent.
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. 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 more stimulation , and the cycle perpetuates itself.
So the best way to prevent this situation is to get your baby to sleep before they get past that window of opportunity. But babies, especially newborns, are a little bit cryptic when it comes to signalling when they’re ready for bed. However, if you know what to look for, it can work wonders in assessing 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 back, 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.
Newborns for example, can usually only handle about an hour 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 60 short minutes after that. I know that an hour is barely enough time to change their nappy, feed them, and give them a little bit of playtime before baby will be due for another nap. But I can assure you, try it for a couple of weeks, I can almost guarantee you’ll be seeing a happier baby. They’ll be able to stay awake for longer stretches as they get older, but it is easier stay aware of the schedule and err on the side of more sleep, not less.
On the subject of toddlers, they have their own quirky little habit when they get overtired. The sudden influx of those daytime hormones can actually 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.
Wind down time and early/on-time bedtime are really important and can play a huge role in helping babies and children settle to sleep.