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« Not Too Tired, Not Too Wired: Correcting Overtiredness and Undertiredness | Main | Ask Malia: Hello Kindergarten, Goodbye Nap »
Tuesday
Sep272011

Overtired or Undertired?

Recently, I helped a very nice mom sort out a very tricky sleep issue with her son. He was waking up all night long, and his poor parents were at their wits’ end. One of the most difficult parts of this particular sleep situation was figuring out whether this child was overtired, or undertired. Sounds simple enough, but this type of confusion is highly common—and it can make it very difficult to determine they best way to support a child's sleep needs.

“Overtiredness” is a word familiar most parents of young children. As parents know, sleep goes awry when children are too tired to fall asleep and stay sleep. Overtiredness—a state that occurs when a child’s tired body pumps out adrenaline to stay awake, making it hard for her to reach and maintain deep sleep—makes bedtime a battle. It can also contribute to excessive night wakings.

Many overtired kids greet the roosters with a dawn wakeup call, because when overtired kiddos enter the naturally-occurring phase of light sleep in the early morning hours, they wake up and stay up. Chronic overtiredness can lead to weight problems, difficulty concentrating, and ADHD-symptoms, or misdiagnosed ADHD, according to Roslinde Collins, M.D., of The Sleep Center at Rutland Regional Medical Center.

Chronic overtiredness may sound awful, and it is. But many parents don’t realize that overtiredness has a close cousin that’s almost as bad—undertiredness.

Undertired children can’t fall asleep easily at night, either. They have long, bizarre periods of nighttime wakefulness—sometimes lasting for hours—during which they may act like it’s daytime at 2 a.m. And, like overtired children, undertired kids can also wake painfully early in the morning.

Noticing a pattern? The symptoms of overtiredness and undertiredness are awfully similar. Because it can be very difficult to tell overtiredness from undertiredness, parents are often confused about the best way to support their child’s sleep needs. Does their child need a later bedtime, or an earlier one?

If you’re trying to sort out an overtired vs. undertired situation of your own, here are a few clues to help you:

Signs of Overtiredness

  • A period of intense bedtime resistance, after which he will finally “crash”
  • Hyper or silly behavior in the evening and before bed
  • Frequent awakenings in first three hours immediately following bedtime
  • Grumpiness upon awakening and after naps
  • A tendency toward long naps—you may have to awaken her from her nap to keep her from sleeping through dinner
  • Waking too early in the morning
  • Daytime irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating in school

 Signs of Undertiredness

  • Playing or talking in the bed or crib for more than 30 minutes prior to falling asleep at bedtime or naptime
  • Long night awakenings lasting more than one hour
  • Behaving as though it’s time to get up in the middle of the night
  • Lengthy periods of light, fussy, on-again-off-again sleep at night
  • Waking too early in the morning

Anything jumping out at you? I hope so, because determining which camp your child belongs to is a big part of solving this sleep challenge. In my next post, I’ll talk about simple fixes that will help your chld get OUT of the overtired (or undertired) club for good.

 

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