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Why is my toddler fighting sleep so much?! 5 common signs your toddler is overtired

Toddler night time struggles are like a right of passage for many parents. Or at least that’s what we’ve been made to think. There are actually many different reasons that a toddler’s overnight sleep gets disrupted (see our other blog post about that here) but today we’re talking about recognizing overtiredness in toddlers as this is one of the most common reasons for sleep resistance. We’ll cover the 5 common signs your toddler is overtired. Rest assured–these tiny humans aren’t purposely trying to give you a hard time. 

A young toddler approximately 2-3 years old sits "w" style on a gray soft couch colors on white paper with age appropriate crayons in red, yellow and green as they fight sleep.

Difficulty listening at bedtime.

“My toddler listens really well and follows directions during the day but at bedtime, it turns into a power struggle.”

I totally understand this scenario 😭. Keep in mind that your toddler isn’t trying to give you a hard time, instead your toddler is having a hard time. When your toddler is struggling like this, it might mean they’re overtired and so it’s harder following directions. The struggle can also show up as crying and meltdowns.  

Take this as a sign that they need a bit more help from you. It could mean they went past the time they needed to sleep so you need to start their bedtime  routine earlier. When you do so, you start the routine while everyone is in a good mood and they can gradually ease into getting ready for sleep. 

Falling asleep really really fast.

What is really really fast? Under five minutes. 

The normal time range it takes for toddlers to fall asleep is between 10 and 20 minutes* note it is important to consider what is normal for YOUR toddler – as in, if they have always needed 30 minutes, that might be what is normal for them. On it’s own, the length of time it takes them to fall asleep is NOT an indicator of overtiredness. All the signs must be considered together. BUT, if this is NOT typical for them, and their head hits the pillow and they’re out completely within minutes, it might be a sign that they went to bed too late. Instead, try to get them to bed, trying to fall asleep, 15 minutes earlier. 

Taking to long to fall asleep.

This is common with toddlers who nap during the day, are over two and a half years old, and have a 7-8PM bedtime. You’ll find that they’re happy and content at bedtime, relaxing, and they still have lots of energy for endless amounts of books to be read to them. They don’t seem to be tired AT ALL! 😬 this is a common scheduling challenge – where they are outgrowing their naps so they start impacting bedtime. We are not suggesting dropping the nap as the ultimate solution. For some kids shortening or dropping the nap is the answer, while for others it is actually an earlier morning wake or a later bedtime. Each of these can help balance the schedule for the optimal amount of awake and asleep time. 

Middle of the night wakes.

You will find this mostly with 12 to 24 month olds who are undertired. This is also called split nights. You may have experienced sleep regression when your toddler was a baby. If it is still happening in the toddler stage, it could simply be a sign of schedule imbalance or of them going to bed too early. It could also be that it is time for them to drop a nap during the day. 

Similar to this is waking up really early in the morning. This could indicate they are getting too much daytime sleep and having too early bedtimes. Remember that waking up early in the morning, by itself, is not a sign of an undertired toddler. It is the combinations of the things I’ve mentioned so far that indicate they may be experiencing overtiredness. The first step to figuring out what it is for your little one is learning what’s normal. Make sure to grab the free normal toddler sleep guide here. 

Getting a second wind.

There you are in the living room, and your toddler has been playing quietly with their blocks. You’ve been watching them, and it looked like they were finally starting to seem sleepy (or a twinge tired at least). You determine it’s okay to finish out the page of your book, so you keep reading all of a sudden. BAM! Your little one is now running around the house like a dog after a bath where nothing is safe and everything results in running and what you assume to be happy super hero screeches. That–is the second wind.

It means your toddler is relaxed and when it seems like they’re falling asleep, they somehow become energetic and wake again. When this process keeps on going, it could be that they weren’t really ready to sleep yet. Take a little break and try again. Keep in mind that this sign on its own doesn’t indicate your toddler is overtired. All the signs should be taken into consideration when deciding. 

Well there it is–5 common signs of Toddler overtiredness.

I hope those give you some direction, and ways to help your toddler get some more consistent sleep. But if you need more help we have tons of resources to help you. If you’re new around here, I would encourage you to start with our Normal Toddler Sleep Guide. It breaks down what is normal when it comes to toddler sleep and helps you understand the total amount of sleep and naps that are normal for your toddler’s age. If that sounds just perfect to get your started–complete the form down below and we’ll send the Normal Toddler Sleep Guide right over.

If you’ve been just struggling yourself with navigating all things Toddler-dom–you may need something more. And in that scenario, our Toddler Sleep Essentials Course is a huge help! It not only helps parents get their toddlers to have better quality (and reliable) sleep–but many parents report that it helped them better understand their toddler as a whole. If you’re ready to dig in and figure out this sleep scenario with your toddler–grab the course here!

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