Many first-time parents believe that when their baby is overactive, they’re not tired, when the exact opposite is probably true. Irritability, demanding more attention and becoming demanding are all signs of a tired baby or toddler.
Here’s the challenge: by the time your child reaches this stage, they’re overtired, which will actually make it harder for them to fall asleep.
Learn to recognise your baby’s ‘tired signs’
It’s therefore important to know when your little one is displaying ‘tired signs’, so that you can start getting them ready for sleep by reducing any stimulation around them.
For new-borns, this includes obvious signs such as yawning and fluttering eyelids, as well as less apparent signs like closing their fists, pulling at their ears, staring into space, going cross-eyed or having difficulty focusing, arching backwards and jerking their arms and legs, and frowning.
They could also start suckling their fingers. This is a good sign because it means that your little one is trying to put themselves to sleep.
Most new-borns can only stay awake between one and one and a half hours – any longer than that and they’re probably getting tired. This gives you a good indication of when you should be putting them down for a nap, and when you should start looking out for the tired signs we mention.
The older a baby is, the longer they can stay awake. At three to six months, babies will get tired anywhere between one and a half and three hours. By six to 12 months, this is two to three hours and after a year, toddlers are generally having three naps a day. The problem is that if they miss a nap, they could end up overtired.
Overtired toddlers send to be clumsy, clingy, bored with toys and fussy with food. They could also cry or even throw a tantrum.
Learning to figure out if your baby is tired or hungry
It’s not always easy to tell whether your little one is tired or hungry when they cry, particularly because it’s a sign of both.
If your baby has had a feed within the last two hours and is cranky, she’s probably tired. If you’re not sure, offer a feed. If she takes only a little milk and is still irritable, she needs a sleep.
Reduce stimulation and make quiet time
As soon as your little one shows signs of tiredness (or even earlier, if possible), start reducing stimulation to get him or her ready for bed. There are a number of ways to do this, including taking your little one to the place where he or she usually sleeps, closing the curtains, talking quietly and soothingly, using lamps instead of overhead lights and even playing soft music to cut out background noise.
Some quiet time before bed usually helps children to settle down for sleep. It’s also a beautiful time to spend with your child that can include a gentle cuddle, a story or a song.
A few minutes of quiet time helps children to relax before they fall asleep, which also supports a better night’s rest.