You’ve figured out when your baby is hungry or needs a nappy change. But what about the signs that your little one is tired? Spotting these sleep cues can mean the difference between a baby who sleeps peacefully – and a baby who’s near on impossible to settle!
It’s hard work being a baby! Which is why, if you have a newborn – who sleeps 16-18 hours a day – he’ll probably be feeling tired quite a lot of the time.
While there are common sleepy signs like yawning, your baby will also have his own individual way of telling you he’s tired.
And the good news is, the more you get to know your baby, the more tuned in you’ll be to his behavior. Meaning you’ll have put him down in his moses basket or crib before he’s even yawned. Result!
Common clues that your baby is tired
It’s important to put your baby to bed when he’s drowsy, rather than already asleep. This means he’ll learn to send himself to sleep as he gets older, rather than relying on you to help him fall asleep.
As such, it’s key to look out for the early signs that your baby is tired. These can include:
- Pulling at his ears
- Quietening slightly and engaging with you less
- Moving slower
- Seeming to be staring off into space
- Starting to frown
- Sucking on his fingers
- Rubbing his eyes
- Fluttering his eyes or losing focus
- Starting to yawn
- Making jerky arm and leg movements (especially if he’s a newborn)
- Getting cranky
- Fussing with his food
- Demanding constant attention
How long should your baby be awake for between naps?
Newborn (0-3 months) – Typically he’ll be tired after 45-60 minutes awake time.
3-6 months – Will usually need a sleep after 1.5-2.5 hours awake time.
6-12 months – Your baby will typically be tired after 2-3 hours awake time.
These are averages and it’s important to remember all babies are different. That’s why it’s so useful for you to learn your baby’s own sleepy cues. That way, you can put him down for a sleep before he gets overtired.
How to tell if your baby is overtired
It’s the moment parents dread – realizing your baby has gone from being tired to overtired. Which means rather than being (relatively!) easy to settle, they are likely to be very cranky indeed.
The signs your baby is overtired could include:
- Repeatedly rubbing his eyes, batting at his ear
- Getting more and more active as the night goes on
- Becoming increasingly clingy
- Crying inconsolably
- Fighting sleep
- Back arching (in newborn)
How to settle an overtired baby
If you have a newborn, you could try swaddling him, playing white noise or comforting him with a cuddle.
If you choose to swaddle your baby, be sure to follow latest advice from the Lullaby Trust, which recommends:
- using thin materials
- not swaddling above the shoulders
- never putting a swaddled baby to sleep on their front
- not swaddling too tight
- checking the baby’s temperature to ensure they do not get too hot.
If your baby is slightly older, spend some time calming him down before trying to put him to bed. You can do this by taking him to a dimly lit room, playing music or singing him a lullaby.
The stages of your baby’s sleep
Along with understanding your baby’s signals that he’s tired, it can also be helpful to know about his sleep cycles.
If your baby is over the age of 3 months already, then you may find it useful to introduce a routine for your baby’s bedtime and to encourage him to self soothe, so if he wakes in the night he can send himself back to sleep.