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The age old question: is my baby over or under tired?

There are a few similarities between overtiredness and undertiredness, but how do we decipher between the two? How do we help our kiddos get the most out of their sleep if it’s such a puzzle?

This is where Anna Clifford of Happy Little Ones can help crack the over/under tired code!

First, let’s look at the signs that your baby/toddler is overtired:

  • waking up after 45 mins aka false start

  • waking a lot during the night

  • short nap cycles

  • fussy during playtime

  • early morning wake ups

  • hyperactive or like a second wind

  • toddler tantrums

  • toddlers can become clumsy

One sign for overtiredness is when your baby/toddler seems to have a second wind of energy even though it’s close to bedtime. They seem like they’re hyper and not tired anymore, but you know they have to be. An explanation of why this hyperactivity happens when they’re overtired is the increase in production of cortisol- the stress hormone. When a child’s brain produces more cortisol, it’s similar to a shot of caffeine for adults.

The increase of cortisol also stops the production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that helps make you sleepy.


Now let’s look at the signs of being undertired:

  • may protest a lot because they aren’t tired enough

  • it takes 30+ minutes to fall asleep during a typical nap/bedtime window

  • or - may fall asleep easily with calming assistance (feed/rock to sleep) but wakes up early- 20/30/45 mins later

  • restless

  • crying while trying to settle

  • waking up in the middle of the night then staying awake for hours

  • early morning wake up

  • protest nap/bedtime

  • toddlers will play and avoid going to bed

Your baby may be undertired at bedtime if they got too much daytime sleep, or if they slept in longer than usual and have naptime at regular time. After your baby is 4+ months old, it’s ok to wake them up after a nap (cap the nap) so they continue to build up enough sleep pressure for the rest of the day/night.

Sleep pressure is the drive to sleep that your body builds up throughout the day. The pressure to sleep gets stronger during the day the longer we are awake, and decreases while we sleep.

Babies & toddlers need to build up enough sleep pressure in order for them to be tired enough for their next sleep. If they haven't built up enough pressure, they will protest sleep.

This is one reason why age appropriate wake windows are so important.


Best way to avoid both:

Age Appropriate Wake Windows

  • Wake windows are the time awake between sleep. As babies get older, they’re able to stay awake for longer periods of time. Too long of a wake window can lead to overtiredness while too short of a wake window can lead to undertiredness

Consistent Nap/Bedtime & Routine

  • Kids thrive on consistency and structure. The bedtime routine acts as a cue that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. The same bedtime routine provides security to a baby because they know what to expect which also builds trust.

Independent Sleeper

  • To me, independent sleep is the same as sleep training: process of teaching your child how to fall asleep independently, beginning with gentle assistance and gradually decreasing the assistance. You can go as fast or as slow as you’d like, and be as hands on as you and your baby want. Take your baby’s personality and temperament into consideration when choosing a method to help your baby fall asleep. Don’t forget to also match it with your parenting style! The more your child falls asleep on their own, the more likely they will be able to fall BACK asleep IF it’s not time to eat.

Appropriate Amount of Daytime/Nighttime Sleep

  • As previously mentioned, the amount of sleep can have a direct impact on future sleep. If your child sleeps too long, they may not be tired enough for the next normal sleep. If they wake up too early, they may become overtired trying to stay awake for the next normal sleep. Adjusting the schedule each day can cause the body to not be able to adjust properly. We also want your child to have the right amount of nighttime sleep as that is when they grow and develop the most. That is why nighttime sleep is so important.

Sleep Environment

  • The ideal sleep environment can actually promote better sleep! I recommend a dark room, with white noise, no distractions, and a comfortable 68-72 degrees F. When light shines through the window, the light then goes through your eye and signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up. If it’s not time to wake up, then we want as little light as possible.

Full Feeds Rather Than Snacking

  • In order to get the ideal sleep required, babies need to have a full belly. Sometimes we need to extend the time between feeds which will help your child be more hungry and promote fuller feeds. Click here for my Feeding Chart Guideline. Spacing out feeds can help get most of their daily caloric intake during the daytime rather than in the middle of the night! After 4 months, snacking occurs when your baby eats every 2.5-3 hours or more. When we snack, our bellies do not get as full as they could on an empty stomach.

Follow Schedule Rather Than Sleepy Cues

  • By the time your baby shows sleepy cues, it may be too late and they may already be overtired. This is why relying on set wake windows or a consistent (age appropriate) schedule is more helpful.


Quick tip: if your baby has stayed awake way longer than they should have for bedtime, try to safely get them to sleep by any means necessary. Then start fresh in the morning.

If you feel like after reading this you know something needs to change, but not sure exactly HOW to do it, the HLO Sleep Solutions will take out all of the guesswork for you.

Our Sleep Solutions programs are personalized to your family and child(ren), with age appropriate feeding and sleep schedules.

In as little as 1-3 weeks, your family can achieve more enjoyable and less stressful bedtimes, longer stretches of nighttime sleep with less night wakings, improved naps, and you have a happy little one upon waking!

Here's where to start!


Anna works with families ready to transition to more independent sleep. She is available to help your family get the sleep they deserve. Anna encourages you to follow Happy Little Ones on Instagram for more tips and tricks! Ready for more sleep but not exactly sure on HOW to make the necessary changes? Schedule your free 15 minute sleep evaluation call to be one step closer to accomplishing your sleep goals. Wondering what other families have experienced after working with me? Read before + after stories HERE!

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