How to Break the Cycle of an Overtired Toddler – Tips, Tricks & Personal Experience

Written by Daisy
Last updated:
Reviewed by Margaret

If you think you have an overtired child, you’re not alone. I’ve gone through this, so today I’ll help you understand how to break the cycle of an overtired toddler.

As a new parent, I didn’t recognize the signs of overtiredness and struggled to help my newborn sleep. One day, after 5 hours of being awake, my toddler became inconsolable. It took an hour of crying and frustration before I finally got her to sleep.

In this article, I’ll share my experience and offer tips on how to recognize and avoid overtiredness in your child.

Understanding the effects of overtiredness on your toddler’s body and sleep cycle

When your little one is exhausted, their tiny body releases two hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline. These hormones have various effects on the body that can make it challenging for them to fall asleep.

Effects of cortisol and adrenaline

Heart rate

Cortisol and adrenaline can cause the heart rate to increase, making it harder for your child to relax and fall asleep.

Sweat

The release of these hormones can also cause your child to sweat, which can be uncomfortable and further disrupt their sleep.

Stress

Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone” because it is released in response to stress. When cortisol levels are high, your child may feel anxious or agitated, making it challenging to fall asleep.

Blood pressure and sugar levels

Cortisol can increase blood pressure and sugar levels, which can also make it difficult for your child to relax and fall asleep.

Consequences of poor sleep

When your child is not getting enough rest, it can lead to a vicious cycle of overtiredness. Some of the consequences of poor sleep include:

Resisting sleep

Children who are overtired may resist sleep, making bedtime a battle.

Short naps

Overtired children may struggle to take long, restful naps during the day.

Bedtime struggles

Children who are overtired may struggle to fall asleep at night, leading to bedtime battles.

Night wakings

Overtired children may wake up multiple times throughout the night.

Early waking

Children who are not getting enough sleep may wake up earlier than usual, starting the cycle all over again.

Catching your toddler’s early tired signs – A key to better sleep

The most critical step in helping your toddler get the sleep they need is to identify their early tired signs. As you and your kid bond and spend more time together, you’ll learn to recognize their unique signs of tiredness.

To assist you, here’s a helpful infographic showcasing some typical sleepy cues:

SleepyOvertiredEnergetic
YawningFussinessSmiling
Rubbing eyesCrying uncontrollablyActive movements
Slow movementsDifficulty calming downBabbling
Staring off into spaceRefusing to sleepKicking legs and arms
Decreased activityClenched fistsWide eyes
QuietnessArching backCoos and giggles

Losing interest in surroundings

Difficulty feeding


Waving arms and legs

Ways to help an overtired toddler fall asleep

Dealing with an overtired toddler can be a challenging experience. It can be frustrating when your child is cranky and whiny, making it difficult for you to remain patient.

I have had to handle such situations often, whether at bedtime or nap time. My little girl sometimes skipped her naps or slept for only a short period, even though she needed more sleep. In addition, disruptions to her regular sleep routine due to unforeseen circumstances would further exacerbate the problem. That made her resist sleep or wake up so many times during the night.

I sought advice on how to restore her sleep patterns and improve her sleep quality. After some research, I discovered several strategies that helped turn an overtired toddler into a good sleeper. I am confident that these tips will be beneficial to you as well.

Let’s go through them!

Tip 1: Encourage an earlier nap for your toddler

If your toddler wakes up too early in the morning and cannot fall back asleep, try moving their midday naptime up much earlier. Instead of napping at their usual midday nap, see if they can take a nap starting at 10:30 or 11 am. By doing so, they won’t get even more overtired come nap time, which could prevent them from having a restful sleep. If they happen to sleep past their typical two hours, let them rest and catch up on lost hours of sleep.

Tip 2: Try a later nap for your toddler

If your toddler refuses to nap or takes forever to fall asleep, try experimenting with pushing nap time back. Start step by step, especially if they tend to wake up fine in the mornings. If they usually nap 11 am-1 pm, see what an 11:30 am nap can do. If they still don’t seem sleepy, try 12 pm. By pushing nap time back, you’re giving them plenty of time to play, priming them for a good midday rest.

Tip 3: Go with an early bedtime

If your toddler’s recent lack of sleep is affecting their bedtime, try a really early bedtime as a way to reset their sleep patterns and catch up on lost hours. For instance, if they usually sleep at 7:30 pm, try putting them to bed at 5:30 pm tonight. This is especially useful if they skip their nap or have a short one.

Tip 4: Establish a consistent wake-up time

Instead of letting your toddler’s cries determine the wake-up time, set official times for them to wake up. Don’t start your day at 5 am because they woke up crying. Walk into the room, make sure everything is fine, and calmly let them know that it’s not wake-up time yet. Similarly, don’t end their nap or sleep the minute they wake up.

Tip 5: Ensure your child has a calm day 

Overtired toddlers can be the result of busy and eventful days filled with errands and extracurricular activities. To prevent this, try to keep your toddler’s day calm and low-key, especially when they are struggling with sleep or adjusting to a new schedule.

Consider keeping them home for most of the day and saving errands for when they are at daycare or at night. It’s important to allow for downtime at home, especially when they’re already overtired.

Frequently asked questions

What happens when my little one gets too tired?

When your toddler gets overtired, they may have a hard time settling down for bedtime, become irritable or overly active, and have meltdowns. In addition, their body may release hormones that can increase their stress levels and blood pressure.

How can I tell when my toddler is getting tired?

Pay attention to your toddler’s personal sleep signals, like rubbing their eyes, yawning, or becoming grumpy.

What can I do to stop the cycle of overtiredness in my toddler?

Establishing a regular sleep schedule can be helpful. Also, creating a calming bedtime routine and being flexible with nap times can prevent overtiredness.

Over to you

So, that’s it! Here’s how to break the cycle of an overtired toddler. By recognizing your child’s early tired signs and implementing strategies like adjusting nap times and establishing consistent wake-up times, you can help your little one get the sleep they need and break the cycle of overtiredness. 

It’s important to be patient with your child and yourself during this process, and don’t hesitate to seek support from other parents or professionals. Here’s to a good night’s sleep for you and your little one!

Photo of author
Daisy Martinez, a Certified Financial Planner and mother of two, blends finance expertise from Ohio State and Anderson School of Management with hands-on parenting insights. Founder of "mamallove.com" and "cashsavvytips.com", she's passionate about guiding parents in financial and parenting realms.

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