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Annette Faamausili, April 18 2018

What under-tiredness can mean for your toddler?

Do you have a toddler wrecking havoc at your place when it comes to bedtime? Or they are waking in the night, or rising far too early in the morning. All of these things could be signs of under tiredness.

Yep, that's right. There are different kinds of tiredness and they can seriously affect your child’s sleep routines. Let’s look at what under tiredness is and how you can combat it to restore peace and calm when it comes to sleeping.

What is Under Tiredness?

No, this is not just a general wakeful state. It is a time when your child should be ready to go to sleep, but they just can’t manage it.  Too much day sleep can cause a child to be under tired at night. If your child hasn't been awake for long enough and their day nap has been too late or too long then under tiredness is likely to influence the success of bedtime.

What does it look like?

I have consulted with many families over the years that have struggled with the effects of under tiredness and many have been caught totally off guard. They have a child that is not ready to go to sleep at bedtime, are waking through the night, or more commonly are rising way too early in the morning.

What Causes It?

The main offending culprit causing this to happen is the day sleep. Their day sleep is probably too long or too restorative,  causing flow on problems at night.

In two year olds, a switch can happen in a blink of an eye. One day they are taking a two and a half hour nap during the day and sleeping through the night. The next day they have the same amount of sleep during the day, but are up out of their beds playing at 3am!

Between 2 years 4 months and 2 years 9 months, children will go through a transition period where they need to reduce their day sleep so that their night sleep becomes more consolidated. As I just mentioned, this transition can catch you completely off guard.

If the time that your child finally manages to drop off is creeping later and later each night, or they are bed hopping, or just generally taking a long time to fall asleep, then under tiredness is at play. The repercussions of this can be bad news! Say they fall asleep at 9pm, but wake at their normal time of 6am. They will actually wake with a sleep debt - they have not had enough sleep in the night due to their late bedtime.

What Can You Do?

If they are tired, they need more sleep right? You find they are sleepy all morning, so you put them down for a nap. They might sleep for an hour and a half or two hours. Then they wake up feeling much better and ready to tackle the rest of the day. Problem solved right?


That two hour day sleep is actually compensating for the sleep they missed at night. Over the course of a few weeks or months, your child’s body clock will begin to shift. It will tell them that they can afford to have less sleep at night as they can catch up during the day. That encourages them to continue the pattern of falling asleep late, waking through the night and rising earlier than they should.

Unless you change the amount of day sleep your child is having, the night-time shenanigans are going to continue.

As a general rule of thumb, children aged 2.5 years  should be having between 45 mins and 1 hour for their day sleep. From 2 and a half to 3 years, a 30 to 45 minute power nap should be plenty to recharge their batteries until bedtime.

Once you take the plunge and cap your child’s day nap allow at least 7-10 days for their body clock to adjust and process the shift in balance.

What If My Child Sleeps Well At Night?

If your child is in this age range and they are having a long daytime nap, but are still sleeping through the night, then under tiredness is not an issue. You don’t need to interfere with their routine.

This information is just for parents who are experiencing a sudden change in sleep routines, or have noticed bad habits creeping in over a couple of weeks.

When you are trying to change sleep habits or daily routines it can be tricky. Not getting the right amount of sleep affects anyone’s mood, even our little ones. So you want to nail the balance between daytime and nighttime sleeping.

If you are having trouble with the transition or you have some questions about the process, please feel free to get in touch for a chat.

Written by

Annette Faamausili

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