I'm sure everyone's aware of the scenario: the kid is exhausted, but instead of laying down and going to sleep, she won't sit still, won't stop asking questions, won't stop thinking of things to do instead.

What's going on inside the child's body/brain that makes them want to do anything other than get the rest that they need at the moment? (Assuming no extenuating circumstances - i.e. in their own bed, with people they know and trust, etc.)

2 Answers 2


The biggest problem kids have winding down is being able to focus. Think about yourself; as you get tired, you lose some of your ability to focus, right? If you work long hours, the more hours you work the less you can focus on your tasks and the more distracted you get.

Kids work the same way, but to a much higher degree because they have less skill at intentionally focusing their attention. A kid that's a little tired will still be able to focus on going to sleep; a kid that's very tired will become more distracted, will see more things to play with and want to play with all of them. They'll lose their self control, which is something kids have to work very hard to develop.

They're not so tired that they fall asleep directly due to tiredness, as at least for my kids they will do that if they get very tired. They're in that middle zone, like when I'm up at 11pm after putting them to bed and know I should go to bed but instead grab a PB&J and watch Big Bang Theory reruns for an hour. That's basically what they're doing, just the toddler version.


When your child is tired, h/she becomes:

  • grumpy,
  • irritable,
  • short tempered,
  • argumentative,
  • cries more,
  • hits and/or grabs more,
  • whines

An important addition to this list is hyperactivity.

It seems counterintuitive, but the body has a neurohormonal stress response in order to adapt and stay awake. This physiologic response increases levels of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine .

This is why children must have a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible. This will produce less of those stress hormones and stop him/her from being little monsters during their awake hours. For example, when we go to a weekly Thursday night gathering, our son becomes a handful for the next three days even if we put him back on the same sleep schedule the rest of the week for sleep between 7:30pm - 8:00pm.

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