If there is anything that can send your child’s sleep off the rails, if there is 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 dependant on a variety of factors, but timing is 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 that there is a need to stay awake, and fires up those daytime hormones again.
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 perpetuates itself.
So the best way to prevent this situation is to get baby to sleep before they get past that window of opportunity. Although 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 is ready for bed, but they’re also easily mistaken for signs that your baby is hungry, so it’s best to combine your eye for signals with an eye on the clock.
Newborns can usually only handle about an hour of awake time in between naps, 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 will be able to stay awake for longer stretches as they get older. Take a look at my wake windows article if you are not sure how much wake time your little one can handle: https://www.joannelozmanconsulting.com/2021/05/04/wake-windows/
My advice would be to always stay aware of the schedule to try and make sure naps are happening when your little one needs it. They should nap much better (and go to sleep much easier) if you do so at the right time.
As for 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 new parents who aren’t used to it. After all, an hour at a time is barely enough time to get a nappy 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 my baby is 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.