Updated: Nov 11, 2020
If there’s anything that can send your child’s sleep off the rails, if there’s an arch-enemy for
sleep training, it is, without a doubt, the dreaded condition of overtiredness.
Kids, as with all people, 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 dependent on a variety of factors, but timing is the most prevalent.
Kids, as with all people, have a natural rhythm when it comes to sleep.
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
And that’s when the trouble starts.
Because 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 daytime hormones, and the cycle
So the best way to prevent this situation is to get baby to sleep before they get past that
window of opportunity. But babies, especially newborns, are a little bit cryptic when it comes
to signaling 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 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.
They’ll be able to stay awake for longer stretches as they get older, but even toddlers should
only be awake for around an hour and a half to two hours at a time, so stay aware of the
schedule and error 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.
I know that this schedule can sound a little rigid for parents who aren’t used to it. After all, an
hour at a time is barely enough time to get a diaper changed, a feed in, and a little bit of
playtime before baby’s got to get back into their crib and down for another nap. But I can
assure you, no client I’ve ever worked with has ever come back to me after implementing it
and said, “I have a feeling that baby’s getting too much sleep.”
So give it a try for a couple of weeks and see how it works. I can almost guarantee you’ll be
seeing a happier baby.