We all get cranky when it's past our bedtime, but for toddlers, overtiredness can manifest a bit differently than it does in adults. We break down some of the odd signs that your toddler is overtired at bedtime — and how to get their sleep schedule back on track.
Signs Your Toddler Is Overtired at Bedtime
For parents who are struggling with toddler bedtimes, you may just have an overtired child on your hands. These are some of the common signs that your little one may not be getting enough sleep:
Hyper Streaks: Fatigue in toddlers can bring on hyperactivity. Similar to a dog that gets the zoomies, your toddler will go from acting normal to becoming extra animated and energized with the snap of a finger. This is a sign that they have passed the start of their sleep window.
Frequent Tantrums: Overtired toddlers also tend to become a bit irrational, which can lead to breakdowns over the most basic things. Toddler tantrums at bedtime are another sign that the time to rest is overdue.
Attention Demands: Overtiredness can trigger your toddler to act out as well — throwing toys, shoving siblings or pets, shrieking for no apparent reason, or simply not listening can all occur when your child is lacking sleep.
Clumsiness: Another signal that your toddler's bedtime should be moved up is a loss of coordination. You will notice that they fall more frequently and bump into objects that are fixtures in your home when they are extra sleepy.
Clinginess: Toddlers who suddenly want hugs and snuggles may also be overtired and looking for a way to rest. Since most toddlers can't deduce that they're tired, they will many times just retreat to the place they're most comfortable — with you.
Impulsivity: Seemingly spontaneous and erratic behaviors like leaping off the furniture, jumping on the bed, and climbing on inappropriate surfaces are other signs of exhaustion in toddlers.
Hyperactivity may seem like an odd sign your toddler is overtired at bedtime, but it actually happens for a logical reason. When a child is lacking sleep, their body will begin to produce extra cortisol, the hormone responsible for helping us wake up in the morning. This makes them appear exceptionally hyper and can hinder their ability to sleep through the night.
How to Help Your Overtired Toddler Get the Sleep They Need
Don't lose sleep over your toddler's slumber struggles! These are some simple ways to promote sleep and prevent your toddler from getting overtired.
Determine Your Toddler's Sleep Requirements
The amount of sleep your toddler needs will depend on their age and activity level. Here is the American Academy of Pediatrics sleep recommendations for toddler-aged kids:
|Amount of Sleep Hours
|Toddlers (1 - 2 years old)
|11 - 14 hours (including naps)
|Preschoolers (3 - 5 years old)
|10 - 13 hours (including naps)
Evaluate Toddler Bedtime & Naptime Windows
If your toddler is sleeping too long or too late in the day, toddler bedtime will become much more tedious. Typically, toddlers will transition to one nap a day by 18 months.
This nap should be no longer than three hours and should end "at least three to four and a half hours before the child’s evening bedtime." This ensures that it will not interfere with their nightly sleep.
Get Into a Routine
Once you have determined suitable nap and bedtimes for your toddler, stick to them! Children thrive on routines and by going to bed and waking up at the same times every day, you can allow your child to get better REM sleep.
Your child learns so much in their toddler years. The Sleep Foundation reports that "REM sleep is a crucial part of memory consolidation and helps prepare and maintain neural connections to enhance future learning." In other words, by prioritizing sleep you are enhancing your child's ability to learn and memorize information.
Try to Treat Every Day the Same
While it may seem tempting to let your little one stay up later on the weekends, this can throw off their sleep schedule, resulting in an overtired toddler. It's important to note that it takes up to two weeks for anyone of any age to get into a good sleep routine, so one late night can bring the need for weeks' worth of readjustment. If you get off track, though, don't worry. Just work on getting back into a routine.
Don't Rush the Process
You want your toddler's bedtime to be a relaxing process, so don't hurry through things. Prioritize that 15 to 20-minute window every single night. Read them a story, tuck them in, and tell them you love them.
I also like to tell my oldest son, who has the hardest time going to sleep, all about the fun things we will get to do the following day, once he goes to sleep and then wakes up. This gives him a bit of motivation to stay in bed and try to go to sleep.
Start a Quiet Hour
Too much stimulation can make it hard for anyone to go to bed. A quiet hour can be a terrific transition into bedtime. Make the house dark, turn off blue light devices, and keep things quiet. During this time, read, do puzzles, or color. Then, end the hour by getting into your bedtime routine.
Make Sure They Are Full
If you're hungry, it can be hard to drift off into dreamland. Making sure that your tot has a healthy, evening snack before bed can be a great way to promote better sleep. Some great options include almond butter on whole-grain toast, banana slices, a glass of milk, yogurt, or cheese cubes.
Pay Attention to Signs Your Toddler Is Overtired
The last thing to remember is that your toddler is growing and changing every week. This will bring regular changes in their sleep needs. If they have been sleeping well and you notice a change, consider adjusting their sleep schedule, starting with 15-minute increments until you find a new schedule that works.