Fed, clean, burped and still not sleeping??? What could your little one possibly need?! Knowing your baby's tired signs will help you ensure that you’re placing bub down at the right time of the day. If missed, though, our little ones can quickly become overtired or, if put down too early, can easily become undertired. While you might be thinking, how can I possibly win in this situation? I promise you, a happy medium does exist, and I’m here to help you find it! Let’s start by identifying the tell-tale signs of an overtired bub.
When your little one has an extended period of not maintaining the recommended amount of quality sleep for their age group, they become overtired. Bubs that stay up for longer than they can handle end up having a stress response. Causing an increase in adrenaline and cortisol, making it harder for them to wind down. This results in a very challenging bedtime experience for you!
Signs of an overtired bub:
- Excessive crying
- Temper tantrums
- Very fussy or cranky
- Early morning wakeups
- Resisting settles
- Falling asleep at random throughout the day
- Easily frustrated
An undertired baby is a bub who hasn’t had enough wake times between their naps, and as a result, hasn’t been able to accrue enough "sleep dept" in order to get them to settle easily.
Sleep debt is the quantity of sleep a baby has accumulated over the day, resulting in a slow and steady build-up, or ‘banked awake hours’ in order to prepare and push bub towards falling asleep more easily. In theory, sleep debt is the difference between how much sleep a child should be receiving and how much they are actually getting.
Unsurprisingly, undertired babies often get mistaken for being overtired. As such, many try to overcompensate by putting bub down too early. However, putting your little one to sleep when they aren’t ready is not fun and will lead to one very undertired baby.
Signs of an undertired bub:
- Resist settling and battle bedtime
- Extended wakeful periods in the night
- Playing happily in the cot at nap times
- Short naps, but awakenings
- Wakeful in the wind down routine
Great, you know what signs to look out for, now what?
To prevent your little one from being overtired or undertired, in essence, you need to ensure you are allowing your baby ample opportunity to meet their sleep needs. Effectively optimising your child’s age-appropriate sleep schedule will help to ease the settling down process and prevent your baby and you from experiencing the dreaded undertired/overtired dilemma.
Wake windows are the key to success:
Wake windows are the times from when little one wakes up to when they are next ASLEEP
(I emphasise asleep because resting is not factored into this equation. In order for the wake window to end, baby needs to be asleep!). Your baby’s body clock is highly sensitive, so it’s important to try your best to follow the sleep guide above and stick to a set routine when working within your child’s wake windows. Find out more details on wake windows here
Keep in mind, however, that the age sleep guide is just that: a guide. All babies have different needs, and as such, your baby may not fall into the set bracket for their age. If you have tried following the recommended sleep schedule and still find yourself struggling when putting bub down, watch your baby for the first 15-20 minutes before their awake time ends. This tiny window holds all the answers! If bub is noticeably showing you tired signs outside of their designated "sleep period", listen to your baby and head straight to bed. Failure to attend to your baby's needs will result in a very overtired bub. On the other hand, if your baby is constantly showing signs of being undertired, try pushing their awake time out by 10 minutes for the first 3 days, until you find the perfect sleep time that works for them.
Don't overthink it!
Whether rest time is difficult because your baby is overtired or undertired, it’s important to remember that sometimes babies are just in fact difficult! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it right straight away. Trial and error is what being a mum is all about! What works one day may not work the next. Take your time and listen to your baby. They will tell you everything you need to know. Good luck! You've got this!
If you have tried everything and are still struggling to identify your child's tired signs, check out our complete comprehensive sleep programs
specialised to age groups or consider a one-on-one consult
for more unique circumstances.