Welcome back to the Overtired Series! We have finally reached the last two of 10 typical signs of overtiredness in littles. In the introduction to the Overtired Series, I shared 10 typical signs of babies and toddlers display when they are overtired. We looked at Hyperactivity and Irritable, Hunger and Physical Cues, Clumsiness and Increased Resistance, and Catnaps and Constant Stimulation. Today, we are talking about the last two signs: Easily Awakened and Early Wake-ups. What do those look like and how can we stop it from happening?
This is something that happens that leaves many parents thinking that they have a light sleeper on their hands. Here's the truth: We are all light and heavy sleepers. Depending where we are in the four stages of sleep, we alternate between light sleep and heavy sleep. However, the kicker when it comes to little ones, is that they cycle through the four stages in an average of 45 minutes, whereas adults take twice as long to go through the four stages. This means that by the time we have cycled through our "light sleep" stage, your little one has already done it twice. So by that count, they are generally lighter sleepers than we are.
When your child is overtired, it makes it harder for them to cycle through and sink into that nice, deep sleep that seems to have them be dead to the world and you could drive a train through their room and nary a peep will be made. Instead, a pin drops, and they wake up and nap is over. Another thing that leads to littles being easily awoken is the journey that they make to sleep. If they are being rocked, patted, or held to sleep and then placed in their beds, then when they ascend to the lighter sleep stage and wake up naturally, instead of simply cycling back to sleep on their own, they instead will startle awake because they don't know where they are, or what happened, as the last thing they remembered was being held, rocked, or patted and don't know how to fall back asleep.
Ah. The early wake ups. The bane of parents' existence, especially on the weekends, when all you want is one, measly, extra hour of sleep. Instead, you are rewarded with an earlier wake time in which case, just sets the tone for the rest of the day, which isn't great, AND it has just barely started!
There are several reasons why early wake ups happen, and here we're going focus on the cause of the early wake up being because the child is overtired. If bedtime is too late or the last wake time between the last nap and bedtime is too long, thus leading to your child being overtired, then early wake ups is something that is likely to occur in your immediate future. Sleep is the lightest between the hours of 4 and 6 am. If your child is overtired, then they will struggle to continue cycling through the stages of sleep as we discussed earlier, and are more likely to wake up early and not be able to fall back asleep.
Another aspect to early wake-ups that make it very frustrating for parents is that it can take a while to resolve. It is not uncommon that even after adjusting the schedule and moving bedtime to a more appropriate time, that it takes several days for the early wake-up to resolve and stop happening. Be patient and wait a few days before making any changes.
What Do I Do?
Both scenarios - being easily awoken and experiencing early wake-ups, are largely influenced by the daily schedule of the child. If your child isn't getting enough day sleep or is going to bed too late, then your child becomes overtired, and an early wake-up or being woken up easily is likely in their future, meaning you will be experiencing this as well.
Be sure that you have your child set up on a good schedule that is appropriate for their age. Babies up to 3-4 months need at least 4 naps a day, those who are age 4-8 months need 3 naps a day. Littles who are 8-14 months need 2 naps a day, and those who are a year or older need one nap. It's usually in between ages 3-4 where the last nap gets dropped. With that being said, it is also extremely important that bedtime is appropriately scheduled as well. Bedtime should be between 6 pm and 8 pm, with it being earlier when the child is younger. It does seem a bit counter-intuiative to have your child go to bed earlier to get them to sleep better and longer, but in this case, sleep begets sleep. Offering your child a consistent schedule everyday helps ensure that your child is less likely to be overtired and will enjoy independent sleep, and sleep longer at night.
If you are struggling with early wake-ups or you are wondering if your little one is really a light sleeper, or perhaps overtired, go ahead and set up a phone consultation with me and we can talk about what's happening with your little one, and how to help them sleep deeper and beat the early wake-ups so you can enjoy your mornings and naptimes more.
Thanks for joining us - we will be wrapping up the Overtired Series next week! 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.