In my last post, I helped parents determine whether their child’s sleep problems stem from overtiredness (a term most parents recognize) or undertiredness (something many parents may not have considered). Though most parents are familiar with the dreaded overtired cycle, many aren’t aware that undertiredness can be nearly as bad.
Did you determine that your child is overtired? If so, rest assured—it’s fixable. But it takes some persistence. Do it with an earlier bedtime, and naps that are long enough but not too long.
- If you child still naps, begin by moving naptime up by thirty minutes to one hour. The goal is to begin the nap before severe overtiredness and crankiness kick in. Encourage naps that are restorative but not overly long: One to one-and-a-half hours per nap for babies taking multiple naps; two to two–and-a-half hours for toddlers and preschoolers who take a single nap.
- No matter how tempted you are to let your overtired little one “nap it off,” do not allow him to make up for lost night sleep during the day. The goal of a nap is to help your child make it to bedtime without becoming overtired—not to replace night sleep.
- Finally, move bedtime earlier by thirty minutes to two hours, depending on your child’s degree of overtiredness. Make your home extra soothing, dark, and calm during wind-down. Repeat this pattern over the course of several days, and you’ll see marked improvement in your child’s demeanor, attitude, and sleep patterns.
What if your child is undertired, not overtired? The cues for undertiredness are more subtle than those for undertiredness, so if you’ve figured out this puzzle—congratulations! The good news is that correcting this problem is often quite simple, and improvement is swift.
- Examine nap length (and inquire with your child’s child care provider about how long she is napping at day care) to make sure long naps aren’t stealing her night sleep. For toddlers and preschoolers, a two-hour nap is plenty long.
- Correcting a too-long nap may be enough to restore her healthy nighttime sleep. If sleep problems persist, try moving bedtime later by 20 to 30 minutes. You will know when you’ve found the right bedtime when your child falls asleep easily, sleeps through the night, and wakes at an appropriate hour in the morning.
- I recommend moving to a later bedtime slowly, in 20-minute increments, to avoid creating a too-late bedtime (and a whole new set of problems!).
Good luck, and let me know how it goes!