Some Thoughts on Overtiredness

As I write this, after 9:30 pm, Josh is pacing and singing with Jude in our backpack carrier while Jude screams and cries because he is too tired to fall asleep.  We’ve been trying to get him to go to sleep for over an hour to no avail.

For the first year of Jude’s life, this was how it went at every nap and bedtime—endless hours of pacing, singing, and screaming—and we thought it was normal.  Or, rather, we just didn’t know what we could possibly do differently (besides letting him cry-it-out, which is not something we have ever considered to be an option).

Now, maybe most new parents have more common sense than we do, or “easier” babies, or something… I don’t know…. but I feel compelled to write this post because it would have saved us a LOT of misery if someone had told me a year ago that overtiredness is a very strong adversary of sleep.

It wasn’t until after reading The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Elizabeth Pantley (she has another book specifically for babies, too) that I realized that we were waiting way too late to start putting Jude to sleep.  We were waiting until he was noticeably tired—yawning, rubbing his eyes, getting frustrated/upset more easily, etc.—to start getting him ready for bed.  The problem was that, by the time we figured out he was tired, he had already switched into overtired mode.  The tricky thing is that overtired mode is really fun and cute, so he would get really hyper and funny and we would think, “well, this is the happiest he’s been all day, we might as well enjoy it and let him get all of this energy out before trying to put him to bed.”  And then after about 30 minutes to an hour of that, he would switch from overtired to just miserably tired, and we would begin the hour or more of pacing, singing, and screaming, generally not getting him into bed before 9:30 or 10:00 pm.

So now, although I am not in favor of strict scheduling of small babies, I realize that it is in his best interest for us to recognize the times of day that he naturally gets sleepy, and to start his nap/bedtime routine (having a predictable wind-down routine is also something I learned from Pantley’s book) just before that time hits.  Right now, at 15 months old, those times are 11:00 am and 7:00 pm.  So he usually doesn’t even seem that sleepy at 10:45 am or 6:30 pm, but if we were to wait just 30 more minutes, he would be in overtired mode.  On a good day, when I am able to time it just right, he falls asleep with almost no effort.

Today, however, was not one of those days.  Sometimes, for various reasons, we are not able to get him to sleep before overtired hits and we wind up with a miserable little boy who is too tired to fall asleep, and miserable parents who are tired too.  But when we have a night like this (which is increasingly rare as we recognize just how important good sleep scheduling is for him), we remember how we used to go through this every night, and are thankful that the Lord finally showed us a better way!

We are the farthest thing from having any pretense of having everything figured out, but we pray every day that he would continue to guide us and give us wisdom for raising this wonderful little boy that he has blessed us with.  I pray that he would use this to help someone who reads it, because I know it would have definitely helped me if I’d have known this a year or more ago.

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