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Over tired, under tired, what is it all about?

Sleep is a biological need. Sleep is a biological need. Why then is it so hard to get a baby to sleep when they clearly need it so much?! Over or under tiredness could unravel your sleep. But how can you tell the difference.


Sleep is a biological need. Without sleep our body goes into a stress reaction. The more tired we get the more our body pumps hormones to keep us awake. This point of being awake when our body craves sleep is called over tiredness. It is often the undoing of your child's sleep. An over tired child may battle bedtime, take short naps, wake tired and cranky and wake frequently throught the night.

Everyone has an inbuilt body clock known as your circadian rhythm. This normal physiological pattern tells your body when to sleep and when to wake. It runs over 24 hours and works best with a regular sleep habits (set awake time and sleep times). The more predictable you are in sleep the more established your circadian rhythm.

When you work AGAINST this internal rhythym the body fills with stress hormones. This over tiredness is like giving your child a redbull and is detrimental to sleep.

Over tiredness is like giving your child red bull and hoping they sleep.

As a parent you want to avoid it at all costs. It will rarely lead to the deep and restorative sleep your child needs. Your child could be overtired if they are…

  • Battling bedtime and resisting settling efforts.

  • Or alternatively all asleep VERY quickly in 1-5 minutes

  • Get increasingly hyperactive as the day goes on.

  • Having prolonged periods of crying.

  • Taking short naps (20-50minutes).

  • Waking up every 45mins, day or night.

  • Waking before 6am in the morning.

  • Waking up unhappy and stay groggy and grumpy between sleeps

  • Struggle to feed well

  • Have prolonged witching hours or colic symptoms especially in the early evening


The well documented affects of over tiredness means many parents over compensate and hastily put their baby to bed too early.

Not enough awake time means they just arent ready to sleep.

As a one off you are unlikely to feel much affect of this, but the impact of under tiredness accumulates; resulting in similar symptoms of over tiredness; bedtime battles and short naps. Does your baby?

  • resist settling and battle bedtime?

  • wake regularly in the night?

  • wake before 6am in the morning?

  • take short naps (usually 20-40mins)?

  • Stay in the cot for up to 1 hour seemingly content

  • Wake happily from their nap and stay relatively happy until their next sleep?


  • Under tired children are not irritable and grumpy through the day, whereas whinging, crying, inability to cope is often the norm for over tired children.

  • Under tired children seemingly cope well and often play contentedly in their cot. Whereas over tired kids get hyper and worked up before nap time.

  • Both over and under tiredness can lead to short naps and regular night waking.

  • Naps also look a little different - under tired children often have restless sleeps and wake frequently. Whereas over tired children are harder to wake and sleep deeply.


When you perfect the timing of a nap the settling process should be effortless, stress free, easy. Get the timing wrong and sleep can be stressful, exhausting and often unsuccessful. The key to success is knowing your child's age appropriate wake windows.

Sign up for a FREE copy of our recommended awake time newborns to 4 years of age.

Sleep deprivation is torture. Tessa Gow is a midwife and certified sleep consultant working with families across the globe. She offers nurturing methods with lasting results. Let her be the support and guidance you need to get through this. On the other side of a consultation with Enhance Sleep is rested, functioning families. Take the first step towards healthy sleep by contacting me today.


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