Welcome to the Overtired Series! We're going to talk about ten of the more common signs of littles being overtired and what you can do when it happens, and how to prevent it from happening. In the introduction to the Overtired series post, I shared ten typical signs of an overtired child. Today, I will be talking about signs #1 and #2: Extreme hyperactivity and behaving irritably and crabby.
Children seem to defy all logic and common sense. As a parent, this is nothing new. But despite that, this is one of the most obvious signs of tiredness in a child and one that parents seem to misunderstand the most often.
As adults, when we get tired, our bodies start to slow down and prepare for resting and sleeping. We find ourselves spreading out on the couch, closing our eyes for a few minutes. In kids, tiredness manifests in the opposite fashion. Instead of slowing and winding down, kids will become more hyper, wild, and out of control when they are tired. Why is that?
Young children have a naturally higher sense of curiosity and more inquisitive. Their minds are constantly going, absorbing information at a faster rate than they can articulate. Children are also naturally more sociable, especially in the company of those they are comfortable with. All of this leads to an intense need to be a part of what's going on, even if it is "boring" by adult standards. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a real thing that kids experience. Not wanting to miss anything "important", the child's body responds by releasing adrenaline to keep them moving and active, and by proxy, stay awake longer. This leads to children being physically awake, but mentally exhausted. Their brains are no longer on par with their bodies, so the actions become more frenzied and hyper without any true thought process behind it. Thus leading to children "not listening well", "being "disobedient", and so forth. Of course, this drives parents crazy when their child stops listening and seems intent on destroying the house. But this isn't being done out of maliciousness, it is literally out of the child's control. Their body is jump-starting a natural response, and they have no way to stop it from happening on their own.
Behaving Irritably and Crabby
When your usually sweet-natured, even-tempered child all of a sudden becomes this irritable, crabby mess right before your very eyes, instead immediately reverting to discipline or cajoling, you should consider putting them to bed.
When your child becomes tired, their minds begins short-circuiting. Cortisol levels, along with adrenaline, start amping up, but the natural sleep hormone, melationin, is also getting ramped up in production, so mentally, it becomes a mess. Things don't process very smoothly, and electric connections become irregular and misfires can occur. This translates to thought processes and emotions running off-kilter in a child. Since children don't recognize that this is happening and why, their personality can take on a darker change, manifesting in crabbiness and being irritable. They don't understand why they're getting more upset, or that things are bothering them more than normal, they just feel that way. As the parent, it is important to consider what is bringing on the personality change, especially if your child is naturally more happy and good natured. In most cases, it is happening because your child is tired and needs to sleep.
What Do I Do?
It is very common to think that the purpose of sleep is that it is a time for the child's body to rest, but it is also incredibly important to remember that their little minds needs to rest too, and have time to absorb and process all of the information that was presented during the child's day. This is done when the child sleeps. When the body and mind become out of sync, restorative sleep is much harder to achieve. Think about the nights where you were physically tired, but your mind was going 100 mph? Did you fall asleep right away? Probably not. Did you sleep well that night? There is a good chance that you've had better nights. Same goes for kids. When they go to bed overtired, it manifests itself in difficulties falling asleep, more night wakings, and even earlier than normal wake ups the next day.
Many parents' responses to rough nights is to make bedtimes later the next day or have them skip a nap with the idea that the child will sleep better. Instead, it just makes it worse and prolongs the overtired cycle.
Instead, make bedtime earlier. Move it up 30 to 60 minutes. Do not skip the nap and allow your child time to rest. Sometimes they may not fall asleep right away or may flat out refuse to sleep because their minds and bodies are still out of sync, but if you remain persistent, and continue to provide the opportunity for your child to sleep, they will eventually go to sleep. Keep your child's schedule consistent, so their bodies and minds will know what to expect and can begin to rest easier at nights and during naps.
Check back in later this week to read the next installation of the Overtired Series! We'll take a look at the next two signs of overtiredness in our littles. 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.