Overtiredness in children

Overtiredness is something that most of us will suffer in our lifetime. We can become overtired for a number of reasons such as broken sleep, overstimulation and illness.

It can happen a lot in childhood where a child is refusing to go to sleep and eventually the overtiredness kicks in which makes it even harder for them to go to sleep. But what impact can it have and what can we do to avoid it?

What is overtiredness?

Overtiredness can be experienced after just a single day of not enough sleep or it could be chronic because people have missed out on enough adequate sleep for a long stretch of time. It can also be described as sleep deprivation. Some people will suffer the effects more than others – some can go for quite a few days before the effects hit them whereas others will be affected pretty quickly.

Overtiredness has a range of symptoms including a lack of clear thinking, changes in mood, fatigue and restlessness among others.

When it comes to children, symptoms can be less obvious than those in adults as children tend to require more sleep each day. Just missing a nap or going to bed later than they usually do can cause overtiredness as well as broken sleep from waking through the night. Adults can easily verbalise what they are feeling whereas children find it harder to let people know they feel which is why it is important to know the signs and keep your eyes out for them.

The problem with overtiredness is that once you are overtired, it can be incredibly difficult to fall asleep – and even if you do fall asleep, it can be hard to stay asleep for the whole time you actually need to.

What effects can sleep deprivation have on children?

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can have some awful effects on children. These include a poor immune system, stunted growth and potentially having more excess weight than those who don’t suffer from it. Sleep loss causes an increase in ghrelin levels and a decrease in leptin levels which may cause overeating. It can also increase the risk of depression later in life, a misdiagnosis of ADHD and other disorders and much more.

You may also notice that children suffering from overtiredness have difficulty with their emotional control and difficulty concentrating. Have you ever noticed that when a child is overtired, they can have a massive tantrum, seemingly over nothing? They may also be quite irritable.

How common is overtiredness?

It is actually a very common sleep problem in children with many sleep professionals claiming that the majority of their work is related to overtired children. The cycle can be incredibly hard to break – it becomes a vicious circle of finding it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep which in turn means becoming even more overtired.

It is also quite a big problem in adults too due to various reasons such as over-stimulation from spending a lot of time on their phones or watching TV. Adults find it quite difficult to switch off, sometimes even more so than children.

How much sleep should children be getting in early childhood?

The WHO guidelines provide recommendations for the amount of time in a 24 hour day that a child under 5 years of age should spend being physically active or sleeping for their health and wellbeing.

The recommendation for infants less than one year old is anywhere between 14 and 17 hours sleep between 0-3 months and 12 and 16 hours between 4-11 months. Those children who are between 1-2 years of age should be getting 11 and 14 hours of good quality sleep and 3-4 year olds should be getting between 10 and 13 hours.

How much sleep should children be getting in early childhood

How can you help a child to overcome tiredness?

It may seem like an impossible task to help a child overcome overtiredness but there are a few ways you can help them to overcome it. It can be hard to settle them ready for bedtime but making sure they are calm beforehand is super important.

Some ways you can do this include:

  • Avoid stimulating activities prior to bedtime – this includes watching TV, tablet time or games consoles.
  • Keep the room quiet and cool – Avoid having any overstimulating items in the child’s bedroom. Keep it cool and quiet and then also dark when it comes to bedtime.
  • Have a routine – A bedtime routine is so important. Younger children may have a bath, feed, story and bed whilst older children might just have the bath and the story but knowing they have this everyday can make it a lot easier to fall asleep.
  • Alleviate any fears – A reason many children struggle at bedtime is because of anxiety. Trying to help them to overcome their fears can definitely help with getting them to actually fall asleep.

If your child is already suffering from overtiredness then look for signs of tiredness from them so you can determine their perfect sleep schedule and if the child is older, make sure they avoid unnecessary naps to avoid difficulty sleeping at bedtime.

With the difficulties that overtiredness can cause, it is important to seek help where possible. The London School of Childcare Studies are passionate about healthy sleep and supporting sleep in children. Their wonderful Sleep Programme course is a great way to learn the best ways to help children through their sleep difficulties. Armed with the techniques and knowledge to help support parents with their baby or child’s sleeping, you can help find the solution to their individual needs.

Overtiredness can be awful but there are ways to get through it.

Did you enjoy reading this blog? If you want to learn more about helping children with sleep, take a look at our Sleep Practitioner Course.