O V E R T I R E D . . . .
It is a common misconception that if you put your little one to bed later or skip a nap that they will fall straight to sleep and sleep longer in the morning. The truth is actually the opposite! As any parent who has tried this is likely to tell you what happens is that your little one will actually wake earlier and may even have multiple nighttime wakings too.
This is because your little one has become overtired – and being overtired is sleeps number one enemy! You will likely find if you skip naps or put your little one to bed later that they fall straight to sleep, lovely you think? Not when they jump on your bed at 4:30 in the morning (still night in my opinion) ready to start the day off the day by attempting to break a world record on how many questions they can ask you in under an hour……we’ve all been there!
My favourite question from my eldest son at 4:30 in the morning was “do you start the Macarena hands up or hands down?”. Queue me rein-acting a zombie version of the Macarena in an attempt to answer him as quickly as possible in the vein hope he might go back to sleep!
So what is actually happening and causing this? Well I hate to point the finger BUT it’s completely down to a wonderful hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is an essential hormone that, in its basic form, is vital for metabolism. However, it responds to stress which can have a huge impact on sleep and emotional regulation. Being overtired causes a release of cortisol which makes it physically more difficult for children to calm down and go to sleep. Do your little ones sometimes seem to be bouncing off the ways getting ready for bed? They are probably overtired!
But they go to sleep so easily?! Actually, yes they are falling asleep quickly but anything less than 15 minutes to fall asleep is a sign your little one is overtired. There are different stages of sleep that we go through each night called cycles. These include the dream stage and states of deep sleep. If you think of stages of sleep like gears on a car, putting your little one to sleep overtired to the point they crash and fall straight to sleep means they are going from 1st gear (dream sleep) to 5th gear (deep sleep) without bothering with any over gear in between. Instead of having smooth gear changes through the different sleep cycles they jolt from one to another. And this jolting is what causes nighttime waking.
So what can we do to help prevent this? It’s is important to recognise the signs that your little one is tired early on. These might include yawning, fussing, glazed expression, waving arms or legs, looking pale or going quiet. Some babies and children give us very big signals that they are tired but some are only very subtle. So the aim is to get your little one to sleep as soon as you see these signs.
However, if your little one is very subtle with their tired cues and they are missed then signs that they have become overtired include the following; hyperactivity (including squirming, bouncing, back arching, running around or hysteria), irritability, high pitched crying or morning, being more emotional than usual, loss of interest in food or being clumsy. If your little one has reached this point it is important to try and get them to sleep as soon as possible order to perform some damage limitation.
So to summarise, If your little one is still napping make sure they are not awake for longer periods than they can handle. If your child no longer naps then make sure they are given opportunities for “chill” time to be able to recharge. And remember, if you can prevent them from being overtired they will fall asleep more easily, sleep more soundly and typically sleep longer!
I will be doing another blog shortly on the best methods to get your little ones to sleep so keep your eyes peeled for that one!