Children require adequate sleep each day to function properly. A 4-year-old who appears to be tired all day may be suffering from too little sleep. When specific symptoms are present, the fatigue could be due to an illness. Determining the cause of a tired child takes patience and may require a health care professional's assistance.
How Much Sleep
Elizabeth Pantley, author of "The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers," points out that a 4-year-old requires between 11 and 13 hours of sleep per day. This includes nap and nighttime sleep. Every child is different, but if a child sleeps this number of hours every day and still appears to be tired, caregivers should examine other factors including quality of sleep and symptoms the child exhibits.
Getting to Sleep and Staying Asleep
Children who have trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep may have daily fatigue. Parents generally know whether their child fits into this category. Children with night terrors, nightmares or general anxiety about sleeping can benefit from parental or medical guidance in getting better sleep. Only a medical professional can diagnose a true sleep disorder and assist in treatment. Children who awake and crawl into bed with caregivers are probably suffering from poor sleep. A child should awake in a relatively good mood if she has had enough sleep.
If a child seems drowsy or clearly has low energy, he may be beyond the point of fatigue and may be overtired. Early signs of fatigue include staring off, fussiness, temper tantrums, rubbing eyes, slowed speech, slowed thought process and general slowness in movement. These early signs suggest the child may need a nap or may need to go to bed earlier than usual. Caregivers can identify a child's rhythm by tracking signs of fatigue and noting his sleep patterns. Some children fall asleep quicker and more readily when put down at the earliest signs of fatigue. Finding a sleep solution that corrects a child's lack of sleep and works for the entire family takes time. There are numerous books and methods to explore.
Growth and Development
Four-year-olds who participate in daily activities like daycare or preschool are likely to be tired. At this age, a child can fight sleep or catch a "second wind" easily, making it seem as if she isn't really tired. Later in the day, the fatigue will catch up with the child and will be more noticeable. A 4-year-old can hit a growth spurt and require more sleep. Learning new physical and mental skills also can make the child more tired. At this age, children play together, whereas they played side-by-side in previous years; active play can be more tiring. If none of these issues seems relevant, consult a health care professional to explore medical explanations for your child's fatigue.
Any tiredness issue can be discussed with a health care professional, but when symptoms that are more worrisome appear, a visit to the physician is necessary. Signs that suggest fatigue interferes with a child's normal functioning -- or that an underlying illness is present -- include dark circles under the eyes, weight loss, failure to gain weight, poor appetite, falling asleep unexpectedly, having difficulty speaking, stumbling, poor gross motor skills, poor fine motor skills and signs of physical illness. Personality or behavioral changes -- including mood swings, withdrawing from social settings or similar issues -- should be discussed with a health care professional.
- "The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers"; Elizabeth Pantley; 2005
- "The Happiest Toddler on the Block: The New Way to Stop the Daily Battle of Wills and Raise a Secure and Well-Behaved One- to Four-Year-Old"; Dr. Harvey Karp; 2005
- KidsHealth by Nemours: Sleep and Preschoolers