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Is overtiredness really the enemy of sleep?

Think of a time you’ve been so tired you could imagine yourself lying in a public space and falling sleep. When we get really tired, the urge to sleep gets high and we fall asleep.

How about when you have also been very tired but also have felt angry, stressed or anxious. What happens when you try to fall asleep? Hard to feel you can get there and trying to make sleep faster isn’t going to help. What about the night? Your sleep can be unsettled. Perhaps you wake more, it’s hard to fall back to sleep, feel agitated?

What’s happened? You have been really tired, perhaps even overtired, in both situations. Why would your sleep get rattled in the second situation but not the first?

The obstacle to sleep is not being too tired. The obstacle is dysregulation.

Mother holding and comforting her young baby in arms and baby is upset

When our bodies are in a heightened state and there is dysregulation, sleep is very challenging. For getting to sleep and settled sleep to be optimised, we want to be regulated & calm.

The common message is that your child being overtired means getting to sleep and being asleep is now going to be terrible.

For some littlies, just like adults, being tired can result in us getting dysregulated. The more we stress and focus on the urgency of getting a child to sleep, the harder it can be to actually help them become calm and regulated for sleep to happen.

For others, being more tired doesn’t result in any dysregulation. These littlies tend to just fall asleep faster or show more sleep cues.

The fear that overtiredness will destroy sleep creates so much undue stress especially during settling to sleep when everyone being calm and connected is so powerful. It can mean we are focused on the wrong solution or urgently trying to get a little one to sleep rather than helping with calm. Sometimes the dysregulation could be due to something entirely different anyway. It could be because their presleep routine felt rushed and they haven't had time to physically or emotionall prepare for sleep. Maybe they have FOMO. Maybe they are undertired. The focus on overtiredness often shuts down lifting the lid to truly understand what might be going so we can support what's happening.

Getting enough good quality sleep is vital for every aspect of our children’s well-being. And yes, the body does come under stress when there is sleep deprivation and this can impact sleep. However, being a bit extra tired versus sleep deprivation are two very different circumstances.

Evidence-based knowledge can transform how you support your child’s sleep and detour some of the stress that’s so exhausting.

Always love, Annie x

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