Overtired:extremely tired, but not able to sleep.

As a certified sleep consultant, I work with a lot of tired families. Although each family is unique, there are often elements that are common between them. One prevailing issue with parents, is the misunderstanding of how being overtired effects their child. When parents come to me, they often say that they’ve tried a certain sleep training method and it didn’t work. But if their child is constantly being kept up too late or skipping naps, then the child never gets caught up on sleep. Sleep training doesn’t work on chronically overtired children. It doesn’t matter how great the child is at self-soothing. If they’re always overtired, they are going to continually have sleep problems.

When a child is overtired, they enter into a state of sleep deprivation and although that may sound extreme, it really is the truth. The words ‘sleep deprived’ conjures up images of someone barely able to function, zombie-like and listless, but this usually doesn’t match up with the parent’s reality so they have a hard time believing that their child is very tired.

Often overtired children can behave just the opposite;  instead of being sleepy, they’re overactive, hyper or slaphappy- because their bodies are running on adrenaline. Parents will try to put their children down for naps or bedtime and the child will often have a hard time settling, leading parents to believe that he or she really isn’t tired, when nothing could be further from the truth.

We live in a society where our culture encourages people to go with little sleep and it is very challenging for parents to fully appreciate the truly detrimental side effects that chronic sleep deprivation can have on babies and children. Adults can get by on little sleep, but our children are much more sensitive to being tired and it always manifests itself in other areas.

So let me break it down for you…

When I say overtiredness is the root of all evil, I really mean it. Overtiredness causes the following disturbances in children:

  • frequent night wakings
  • early wake ups
  • short or broken naps
  • resisting naps (excessive crying or extreme giddiness)
  • night terrors
  • bedtime battles

behavioural issues such as

  • meltdowns
  • clingy and/or unable to play independently
  • defiant
  • temper tantrums
  • crankiness
  • refusal to eat
  • hyperactivity

In addition to not understanding the effects of sleep deprivation, most parents also have a very tough time understanding how long it takes to undo those effects. (hint-a long time! 😉 )

When a child has been missing his or her required amount of sleep for several days, weeks or months, this missing sleep takes its toll on their body and produces a ‘sleep debt’. This is similar to what we experience when we are financially in debt. A healthy bank account is similar to a healthy body-you want to have a surplus.

When a child is sleep deprived, you can imagine that their body is like us being $10,000 in debt. You need to work at depositing at least $10,000 back into the account just to break even. For most of us, this takes some time and doesn’t happen overnight. The time it takes you to work and put that money in, is similar to the time you must invest in getting your child caught up on sleep. This is why sleep training, or getting a child on a healthy sleep routine, takes so long and why people often give up. We have all seen the books that promise miracles with our children’s sleep in only a few days and when it doesn’t happen, we get disillusioned.  However, if you understand the process and know that each day you get your child to bed a bit earlier, or have better naps, you are slowly chipping away at that sleep debt, then you will be more likely to stick it out and see success .

Once you have caught your child up on sleep, keep in mind that you are only “breaking even”. That child, much like your bank account, is only at zero. You must then continue to work at getting extra money or sleep to be in a healthy state or surplus. Depending on how long your child has been overtired, will determine how long it will take to get them caught up and then become well rested (their body’s version of having a financial surplus). The good news is, is that if you are consistent, then you will start to see some changes quickly.

When you really focus on fixing your child’s sleep issues, you might feel like you’re stuck at home for several weeks. And you’re right-you are. But, like anything in life-nothing worth having, comes easy. Keep focused on the big payoff at the end-sleep! All the hard work will be well worth it when you have a well rested, happy, compliant child who sleeps through the night. Life becomes so much easier, calmer and more stress free when everyone is getting the sleep they need. If you want more help getting on the right track, please visit babysleep101.com and check out our services.

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