Missing your newborn’s “window of opportunity” to sleep? Take a look at these 7 overlooked baby tired signs you might not be noticing!
Long before I was pregnant, I watched an episode on The Oprah Winfrey Show where a woman described different baby cries. Each cry, she said, would let you know what the baby needed, from food to sleep. The idea was to identify your baby’s different cries so you would know exactly how to respond.
This is brilliant, I thought, and pocketed this bit of useful information should I ever have kids.
Well… fast forward a few years later when I did have a baby, and I couldn’t for the life of me tell one cry from the next.
They all sounded the same, which was basically, “I’m so mad right now!” He seemed to go from happy to inconsolable within seconds. And as we all know, cranky babies don’t make for good sleep, and the cycle continued on and on.
At one point, he was awake for a whopping 6 hours between naps, unable to sleep. You can imagine that I had a harder time getting him rested after that.
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Baby tired signs to watch out for
I felt horrible for not being able to differentiate my baby’s cries and took that as a sign that I had no idea what I was doing. Well, three kids later, I got a bit more “practice” on picking up these signs, and listed them below.
If you’d like to see the signs—some common, many not so—that babies tend to give, check them out below. The trick is to get your little one to nap once you see them and before she gets too tired:
1. Yawns (aim for no more than three)
The most common sleep sign is the yawn. Like anyone ready to sleep, she might yawn when she’s tired. A good way to keep track is to put her down for a nap before she yawns three times. Any more than that and she might be too tired for a restful nap.
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2. Facial expression
Observe your baby and note how he looks when he’s alert and playful. Then, watch out for when he starts to look a bit more… dazed, as if he’s staring off at a distance. He might avoid eye contact or even close his eyes when you’re talking to him.
3. Lack of interest
Beyond your baby’s face, take a look at her energy and engagement. A lack of interest is one of the signs indicating she’s ready to sleep.
What does that look like? She might slow her movements down—whereas she was batting at a toy minutes ago, she might now hold it in her hands. She also might not smile in return, even as you coo and smile at her. And her body “slumps” with zero energy in it.
4. Tired eyes
Your baby’s eyes are one of the best telltale signs to rely on. After all, it’s one of the most visible cues that we’re asleep—whereas our nose or mouth may look the same, closed eyes are often a sign we’re asleep.
The same is true for your baby.
Tired eyes might look like red eyelids or eyelids half-closed. His eyes can also seem heavy, watery, or slow to blink. He might even cover his eyes, whether with his hands or even outright close them shut, to block out the stimulation.
Does your baby rub her eyes with her fists? She might be giving you a sign that she’s sleepy. It’s not only eyes, either. She might rub her eyebrows, so much so that they can turn red. Or she might reach for her ears or the top of her head and rub those parts, all indicating that she’s sleepy and tired.
6. Particular cries
Even though I couldn’t tell one cry from the next with my eldest, I learned to pick up these cues when I had my twins a few years later.
For instance, your baby might cry in a complaining, “mewing” kind of way, sort of like “baby whining.” It’s her way of saying “I’m tired and want to sleep” and might be frustrated that she isn’t.
Compare that to other cries that might indicate anger, fear, or meltdowns, which sound like outright yelling.
7. Comfort-seeking actions
Sometimes, these tired signs appear when your baby is looking for comfort. After all, we all get comfortable before falling asleep—the same is true for our little ones. A few examples include:
- Sucking her hand
- Turning her head side to side
- Nuzzling closer to your arm or neck if you’re holding her
- Rooting for a pacifier
These actions are her way of trying to get comfortable or lull herself to sleep because she’s tired.
When all else fails…
I want to reassure you that nailing (or not) these signs doesn’t make you any better (or worse) as a parent. In fact, after a while, I threw my hands up and relied on my baby’s awake time as a surefire way to know when exactly to put him down to sleep.
So, if you’re done with looking for signs, it’s okay to “go by the clock” or at least use it as a gauge or even as a supplement to knowing when the next nap should be.
For instance, let’s say your baby was fussy when you put her down after being awake for 90 minutes. One thing you can do is shorten her awake time by 15-minute increments, so that the next time she wakes up, you only keep her up for 75 minutes before starting your next nap routine.
As a first-time mom, spotting signs that your baby is tired can feel like a strange language we’re not equipped to understand. But sometimes it takes observing and doing the best you can to help your little one sleep well.
To recap, a few signs to watch for include:
- Facial expressions
- A lack of interest
- Tired eyes
- Particular cries
- Comfort-seeking actions
And if all else fails, going by the clock helps as well. If anything, never feel bad because you can’t tell one cry from another—they sometimes all sound the same to many of us.
Get more tips:
- How to Get Your Baby to Nap in the Crib
- 5 Ideas to Try with Your Catnapping Baby (They Really Work!)
- The Best Baby Sleep Books You Should Be Reading
- How to Establish a Baby Nighttime Routine
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab One Mistake You’re Making with Your Baby’s Awake Time below for healthy sleep habits: