Welcome to the Overtired Series! In the introduction to the Overtired Series, I shared ten typical signs of an overtired child, and we first tackled hyperactivity and behaving irritably as two common signs of a child being overtired. Today, we are going to be focusing on two more common signs of littles being overtired: Hunger and Physical Cues. We'll discuss what that actually looks like, how to address it, and what you can do to circumvent it in the future.
It is pretty well known among parents that children do not have a neat and tidy eating schedule and regimen. Some days, they eat more than a football team and require this amount of food at every feeding, that should occur every 30 minutes to appearing to suffice on oxygen the next day. As kids grow, their bodies' demands for nutrition and energy changes constantly. It is challenging to balance their food intake so that they are still eating nutritiously and not just filling up on empty calories. However, in the evening hours, if your child starts requesting snacks, snacks, and more snacks, it is likely that they are starting to become overtired. Here is why I say this.
When your body starts to want to shut down and prepare itself for rest but your mind is still moving along, processing away because you're watching your favorite show, the book you're reading is getting really intense, or you are almostdone with the level you're on in the video game, the mind sends messages to the body that it still needs to stay awake and function in order to complete the task that your mind wants to. In order to accomplish that, your body needs fuel. So, the body starts demanding the fuel, which in turns leads to you feeling peckish and wanting a little snack. This is no different for littles demanding a bowl of Goldfish, a banana, or string cheese right around the time that they should be getting ready for bed. However, because the body actually needs rest and not food, it's no longer able to process and digest the food at it's optimum level as it does during the day.
This can create mass confusion within the body because while it's trying to rest... or maybe stay awake?... the body is trying to expend the energy it gets from the food, while it is trying to rest. Did anyone else get really confused when they read that? Imagine how it is for a child who is supposed to be going to sleep. It's not going to work well and can affect their night sleep.
These physical cues are fairly common knowledge and most parents know what to watch for when they're looking for signs of their child being tired. When your child starts pulling their ear, rubbing their eyes, and starts yawning a lot, most parents will think, "Oh, Little is starting to get tired, time for bed." Let me tell you a secret: those signs actually mean that they are already tired and are quickly approaching OVERtiredness. Truth.
When your child is tired, the eye muscles start getting sore and rubbing them relieves the tension that the muscles are feeling. It also can help create moisture to keep the eyes from drying out, which is another thing that happens when the child is already tired. So in actuality, when you observe your child rubbing their eyes, it really means that they're already tired and are on their way to being overtired. Same with pulling their ears. Children can pull their ears for a multitude of reasons, and being tired is one of them. Some kids do this as a means of attempting to self-soothe themselves through the fussiness and tiredness that is already occurring.
When your child yawns, while it is likely a reliable indication that they are tired, it actually means that it is occurring due to the changing of conditions within the body. The body is changing its demands to stay awake and moving to demands of rest. When this happens, the yawns start emerging.
Here is something to note: all three signs - yawning, rubbing eyes, and pulling ears - all occur when littles are tired. Not beginning to tire. TIRED. If the body's need for rest doesn't occur in the form of a nap or bedtime, then it quickly spirals into hyperactivity and irritable behavior which are clear signs of overtiredness.
What Do I Do?
If your child is exhibiting the physical cues or start demanding snacks and it's getting close to nap or bedtime, get them to bed. Try not to give in to the demands of a snack or prevent them from rubbing their eyes or pulling their eyes. Just quietly gather them up and get them in their beds so their bodies can rest.
Keep an eye on the clock, especially for younger babies and toddlers. Their bodies can only handle so much awake time in between sleeps, so you want to make sure that you're not pushing them to stay awake longer than their bodies to handle.
Generally speaking, a child less than 10 weeks old, should not be awake much longer than 45 minutes in between sleeps. Babies up to 4 months can handle closer to 1.5 hours of awake time. Ages 5 months to 7 months sweet spot is around 2 to 3 hours. Littles 8 to 13 months can go about 4 hours, and 14 months and older can stay awake 5-6 hours before needing to rest.
There are some kids, whose awake time windows are actually shorter than what is recommended, especially if they are experiencing developmental milestones or are undergoing transitions in naps. That being the case is much more common than most parents realize. It is extremely rare that a child needs less sleep than their biological age guidelines recommend, so do not be so quick to think that your child is in that extremely small group of kids who seem to need less sleep. It's highly likely that they actually need more sleep, especially if they consistently exhibit some of the ten common signs of being overtired.
Head over here to continue examining the common signs of littles being overtired as the Overtired Series. I'd love to hear from you if you've experienced any of the signs that we've discussed thus far and have any questions or comments to share!
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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.