Welcome back to the Overtired Series! In the beginning of the series, I talked about ten typical signs of an overtired child. Over the last month, we have discussed six of the ten signs: hyperactivity and behaving irritably, hunger and physical cues, and clumsiness and increased resistance. Today, we will talk about catnaps and the need for constant stimulation as two more signs of a little one being overtired. Let's discuss what those two signs look like in a child, why it is happening, how to address it in the moment, and what you can do to help stop it from happening in the future.
These naps are referred to by several different names: mini-nap, micro nap, and cat nap. All generally meaning a short nap in which your child just took a 20 - 30 minute snooze despite your best efforts to keep the house quiet as to not to disturb the sleeping little. A short nap is generally considered to be 45 minutes or shorter, with a long nap considered to be 60 minutes or longer. However for newborns, up to 3 months of age, short naps are very common, and should be expected. Their awake window ranges anywhere from 45 mins to an hour, so it is important that they are given opportunities to sleep, even if they just woke up a short time ago and all they seemed to do was eat during that time.
Once a child is four months, then you should expect naps to start consolidating, where their sleeping takes on a bit of a schedule and be more predictable. This is where longer naps, an hour or longer, should start occurring, allowing the body and mind time to rest and restore during the incredibly fast-paced growth and brain development periods that their little bodies undergo.
Typically, a child ages 3-4 to 6-8 months will take 3 naps a day, littles aged 6-8 to 12-14 months will take 2 naps a day, and kids ages 12-14 months - to 4 years will take one nap a day. There is some wiggle room, for each individual child, but most kids follow this developmental trend.
When a child catnaps all day long, or averages one short nap (less than an hour) a day before age 3, then that is a sign that the child is overtired. Why? We've talked about how being overtired makes it harder for a child to settle down before bedtime and achieve restful sleep. The same applies for nap times. If the child is already overtired when they go down for nap; they struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. Their bodies and minds cannot fully relax into the resting stages of sleep, so they get jarred out of light sleep after 20 - 30 minutes, and naptime is over. This can create a difficult nap cycle that is hard for your child to break. Additionally, if it's a rough nap day, bedtime isn't going to be so much fun either, as it is well known among parents that an overtired child is like taming a wild lion just before the circus show. It just doesn't go well.
Another surefire sign that your child is tipping over into the overtired realm is the constant demand for stimulation. We know that we're not talking about the need to be entertained or wanting you to play "tea party" for the hundredth time that day. We're talking about straight-up demands for play-housing, wrestling, refusals to sit and read a book or play with puzzles, or even to watch a favorite show with you. Your child starts wanting to play Ring Around the Rosey with you at hyper-speed, beg you to jump off the furniture with them, or pounce on you to instigate a wrestling match. Basically enlist you to do any physical activity with them at the warp speed of 100 mph and with the intensity of a thousand suns.
Constant stimulation and hyperactivity go hand in hand the vast majority of the time. Which creates a double punch for parents trying to wrangle their littles up to bed. Just like with hyperactivity, when kids get overtired, their bodies and minds starting trying to outpace each other to stay awake, and with that happening, the intensity increases tenfold, leading to the wild, demanding behaviors that are often dreaded by parents before bedtime.
What Do I Do?
A common, but very easy adjustment to make to prevent your child from being overtired is to tweak your child's schedule. If your child is at the age where two naps a day is most appropriate, make sure that you have your child's schedule set where they are given the opportunity to take two naps and not interfere with bedtimes. Same goes for littles needing one nap or 3 naps. I often tell to my clients that naps end at 4 or 4:30 at the absolute latest to preserve the bedtime. But this does mean that bedtime needs to be appropriately scheduled as well. Push it out too far, and you'll likely be hit with the child who demands constant stimulation to stay awake, when they should have been going up for bed 30 minutes ago.
Something that also helps the young cat-napper is to have a nap routine. A routine that is the same every time before nap: Bathroom break/diaper change, short story, sing one song, and into bed. Short, simple, and sweet. This not only creates predictability and consistency that children thrive on, it also helps with cue-ing your child's body and mind that it is time to get ready for sleep.
If your little one is constantly catnapping and you don't know how to help lengthen their naps, I can help you overcome that hurtle and get your child to take longer, restorative naps that also allow you to get a much-needed break and take care of things on your to-do list. Just set up a free 15 minute phone consultation and we'll talk about how to help your child take better naps that benefit them and YOU.
Check back next week as the Overtired Series takes a look at the last two typical signs of overtiredness in your little ones: Easily Awakened and Early Wakeups. See you there!
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.