Does your child continue to fight naps and bedtime? Learn how to get an overtired toddler to sleep, back to a normal schedule, and sleeping through the night.
My extended family hosted a reunion over a three-day weekend. Friday night meant my kids stayed with a babysitter so my husband and I could grab drinks with cousins. The following day was the main event outdoors at the park, while Sunday found us spending the entire day at the beach.
With no naps on either Saturday or Sunday, on top of all the stimulation and “newness” of the weekend, my kids were plain exhausted.
Molars, transitioning to fewer naps, and yes, hectic family festivities… no matter the reason, one thing’s for sure: every parent dreads dealing with an overtired toddler who suddenly won’t sleep.
Maybe it started when your toddler woke up at an unbelievable hour, refusing to fall back asleep. Then, despite desperately needing sleep, he fights his midday nap, making for an even rougher afternoon and evening.
And of course, he not only resists bedtime for up to an hour and a half, but wakes up throughout the night, as miserable as ever. Nothing is making him happy.
The worst part? He wakes up just as early the next morning, repeating the horrible cycle you’re trying to escape from.
How to get an overtired toddler to sleep
I’ve had my fair share of dealing with kids overtired whether come bedtime or nap. I know exactly how frustrating it is when you know your child needs to sleep, but fights it instead. When cranky and whiny behavior becomes a real struggle and tests your patience.
Sometimes my boys would outright skip naps, or would only nap for 30 minutes, despite needing a lot more sleep than that. Life events prevented regular naps or their usual bedtime routine, which only made them resist even more (or wake up throughout the night).
Not wanting to be stuck with an overtired toddler, I dug around for advice on how to get back on schedule and have a good night of sleep. With bags under their eyes, I didn’t want their sleep to worsen, or their post-wake up tantrums to be the norm.
Thankfully I picked up a few effective tips to turn an overtired toddler back into a good sleeper and on his regular schedule. I’m confident they can do the same for you:
1. Have your toddler take an earlier nap
Let’s say you decided to keep your toddler in bed despite his early wake up time. And while he did stay in bed, he also didn’t fall back asleep. Even though you officially got him up at, say, 6:30am, he’s technically been awake since 5am.
Instead of having him nap at his usual midday nap, move his nap time up much earlier. That way, he doesn’t get even more overtired come nap time, which could prevent him from having a restful sleep.
Let’s say he typically naps 12-2pm—see if he’ll take a nap starting at 10:30 or 11am. While the clock says it’s not nap time yet, his body might be itching for sleep even at that early hour.
Then, if he happens to sleep in past his typical two hours, let him “sleep in” and catch up on lost hours of rest. If he started napping at 10:30am, don’t feel compelled to wake him up come 12:30pm. Instead, let him wake up on his own. After all, he still has plenty of time between his nap and bedtime to be awake.
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2. Have your toddler take a later nap
Let’s say your toddler wakes up on time in the morning, but fights naps hard. She takes forever to fall asleep, or skips her nap entirely. She might even throw a fit at the mere mention of nap time.
If she consistently refuses to nap, it could simply be about timing. In other words, she may not feel tired enough come nap time.
What to do? Experiment with pushing nap time back, even little by little, especially if she tends to wake up just fine in the mornings. If she usually naps 11am-1pm, see what an 11:30am nap will do. If she still doesn’t seem the least bit sleepy, try 12pm.
Sometimes a toddler who refuses to nap simply isn’t tired enough. By pushing nap time back, you’re giving her plenty of time to play, priming her for a good midday rest.
3. Have a really early bedtime
You might’ve heard the advice to have an early bedtime as a way to accommodate your toddler’s recent lack of sleep. But “early bedtime” for many parents might mean 7:30pm instead of 8pm, only to find their kids just as resistant to sleep.
If a slightly earlier bedtime hasn’t worked, try a really early bedtime… as in hours before your toddler normally sleeps.
For instance, if he usually sleeps at 7:30pm, try putting him to bed at 5:30pm tonight. This is especially useful if he skipped his nap or had a short one. A ridiculously early bedtime can be just what he needs to “reset” his sleep patterns and catch up on lost hours.
4. Set an “official” wake up time
Do your toddler’s cries determine wake up time?
Maybe he wakes up far earlier than you’re ready or willing to start the day. Or the length of his naps depends on how far he can sleep before he wakes up cranky.
Except there’s a problem: he could still use more sleep but isn’t given the chance to.
Instead of ending nap or nighttime sleep the minute he wakes up, set official times for him to do so. Don’t start your day at 5am just because he woke up crying. Walk into his room, make sure everything is fine, and calmly let him know that it’s not wake up time yet.
The same is true for naps. If he wakes up after a mere 30 minutes when you were hoping for an hour, briefly enter his room to let him know nap time isn’t over. He still has 30 more minutes to try to sleep.
As I say in my book, No Cranky Naps:
“Resist the urge to barge in the minute you hear your child whimper or cry. As much as it feels like you’re supposed to end nap time at the first sound of a cry, holding off—even for just a few minutes—has its benefits.”
Whether during naps, in the morning, or the middle of the night, continue to check in every few minutes to gently let him know it’s time to keep sleeping.
Many parents get discouraged when they try this and find that their toddlers don’t go back to sleep. Remember, he’s still not used to this arrangement and will fuss and cry about it.
But over time, he’ll learn that you mean your word when you say nap time isn’t over and that he can’t get out of bed yet. He’ll realize that he can play with his stuffed animal while he waits for you, and even just fall back asleep.
He won’t learn to wait, much less sleep, when you get him up the minute he fusses.
5. Keep your day calm and low-key
It’s no surprise that an overtired toddler usually gets that way from back-to-back festivities and outings. Even a day packed with errands and extracurricular activities can take a toll. While special occasions like these are just that—special (and often unavoidable)—try to keep your days calm and low-key otherwise.
For instance, if your toddler has been struggling with sleep and adjusting to a new schedule, try to keep him home most of the day. Save errands for when he’s at daycare or at night, and turn down (or cut short) an outing if needed.
Kids need a surprisingly large amount of downtime to simply tinker at home, especially when they’re already overtired as it is.
Dealing with an overtired toddler is enough to make any mom lose her patience. Hopefully with these tips, you’ll find a way to get your little one back on track.
Start by putting him to bed much earlier than you usually do, especially if he woke up early from a nap (or didn’t take one at all). If he woke up early in the morning, have him nap earlier as well. Don’t end nap or bedtime when he fusses and cries, and instead have an official wake up time that you decide.
If he doesn’t need an early nap—or even an “on time” nap—try putting him down later in the day. This is especially useful if he wakes up fine in the morning but isn’t sleepy enough come nap time. And finally, keep your days low-key—he needs a break from the hustle and bustle of family life.
You can get your overtired toddler back on track—even if you spent the entire day at a family reunion at the beach.
Get more tips:
- Need a Toddler Schedule? 15 Examples That Will Actually Make Life Easier
- How to Get Through the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
- How to Stop Your Toddler Whining (Even When You’ve Tried Everything)
- Toddler Waking Up at 5am? What to Do with Early Risers
- What to Do when Your Toddler Doesn’t Want to Sleep
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