Overtired Versus Undertired Babies: What's the Difference?

If you think that one of the things that a baby needs and does most in its day-to-day life is sleep, it is logical to think that much of the attention paid to it should be directed to its quality of sleep, which is very important for its development. 

However, the fact that an infant communicates only through crying makes it difficult for some parents to differentiate whether the baby really wants to sleep or do something else, such as eating, pooping, or be cuddled. 

This gets a little more complicated when a parent cannot tell the difference between an overtired toddler and an undertired toddler, two terms that revolve around sleep and depend mainly on the child's circadian rhythm. 

The good news is that you can differentiate between these two conditions by knowing a few important details, which we provide below. 

If you notice that your baby is irritable, does not pay attention, shows clear signs of frustration, and/or becomes more physically clumsy than usual, you are probably dealing with an overtired child. Some examples of this may be: 

  • The baby throws its toys against you. 
  • Does not want to eat. 
  • It literally walks into walls. 

It can also be noticed in babies who were just interested in a sound or object, and then do not want to know about it anymore and suddenly start crying. With this in mind, the most characteristic thing about an overtired baby is the mood swings presented or, if you're lucky, them falling asleep in a random place. 

Now comes the tricky part, as an infant who is undertired may behave similarly to an overtired child. For example, a mother puts her baby to bed and it takes a while for the baby to fall asleep. If the baby is undertired, two things can happen: either the child falls asleep and wakes up soon after, or the toddler becomes irritable because it does not want to go to sleep. Some classic characteristics of an undertired baby are as follows: 

  • It takes a long time to fall asleep. 
  • Instead of sleeping, starts playing in the crib. 
  • Their naps are short. 
  • Does not sleep well at night. 
  • Wakes up early in the morning. 

This is a normal process because, as the toddler grows, the ability to stay more alert and interested in the world around gets bigger, extending the periods between naps. However, it is necessary to be attentive to this because if the baby is left without sleep for a long time it is possible that it may become overtired. 

Now, a good way to prevent your baby from becoming overtired or undertired is to monitor its sleep hygiene so that it can sleep and enjoy the rest it needs. Here are a few things you may want to try next: 

  • Your baby is quite sensitive to temperature changes, so try to make the room not too hot and not too cold. 
  • Your child likes the dark, so the darker the better. 
  • Musical or white sound patterns are often the most relaxing for them. 
  • When you put your baby to bed, tuck him in so that it feels safe and secure. 
  • Always put the baby to bed when they seem sleepy. 
  • Stick to a bedtime routine. 
  • And finally, use a crib with a mattress that provides safety and comfort for its correct development.