Learn to spot the cues that your baby might be tired

Hanna Pauser
Written by
Kajsa Palmkvist Kaijser
Medically reviewed by
Bebis med brun ullbody i sin mammas famn

When your baby starts feeling tired, they show it in ways that can be subtle or very clear. Each baby has their own unique set of tired signals. Recognizing these signs can be key to setting up good sleep habits.

Knowing your baby's sleep cues can help you catch those early cues and put your baby to sleep before they get cranky or overtired. It can also also crucial for figuring out the best sleep schedule for your baby and tweaking it as needed.

What makes babies tired?

Both adults and babies tiredness are regulated by two things: The circadian rhythm (which involves darkness and routines leading to melatonin release) and sleep pressure. Sleep pressure builds up the longer we're awake and resets after a good nights sleep¹.

Babies and toddlers need daytime naps because they are more sensitive to sleep pressure than adults. Depending on their age, they can only stay awake for a certain period before needing sleep, known as their "wake window." Days packed with activities or new experiences can also make them tired faster, making the wake window shorter².

Spotting your baby's sleep cues

Sleep cues are the little clues that show your baby is ready for sleep. Every baby is different—some have lots of obvious signs, while others might be more subtle. To get started on understanding your baby's tired signs, keep an eye on how long they've been awake. Napper can help you figure out the ideal wake window for your baby. Pay close attention as the wake window is about to close—do you notice any recurring signs?

Common sleep cues in babies

Early signs:

  • Less interest in what's going on around them

  • Slowing down

  • Losing interest in play

  • Less interaction with you

Medium or late signs:

  • Looking drowsy

  • Glassy eyes

  • Staring off into space

  • Yawning

  • Heavy eyelids

  • Red eyebrows

Late signs / overtired:

  • Suddenly becoming active again

  • Getting fussy during play

  • Being cranky or crying

  • Hard to settle down

  • Difficulty being held or put to sleep

  • Arching their back when you hold them

  • Meltdowns

Benefits of learning your baby's sleep cues

Understanding your baby's unique tired signs helps you get them ready for naps or bedtime smoothly, avoiding overtiredness. It's also good for your peace of mind, allowing you to prepare for sleep in a way that helps both of you relax and recharge.

Timing bedtime just right

Catching those early tired signs can be a game-changer. If your baby starts to wind down and seems less interested in their surroundings, especially at the end of their wake window, it's the perfect time to start the bedtime routine².

Maybe you'll have time to change their diaper before they get too fussy, or get ready for a calm walk. This way, you're all set for nap time right when tiredness hits, and your baby has had time to calm down. Or, if you spot those tired signs, you might decide to stay home from a drive or walk, letting your baby sleep where you can catch a break too.

Avoiding overtiredness

Getting to know your baby's signals for tiredness means you're more likely to spot when they're ready for sleep, even if it's off their usual schedule. If they've had a day full of stimulation or haven't napped well, they might need to sleep sooner. Keeping an eye on those sleep cues helps you adjust on days when the usual routine doesn't fit².

Setting up sleep routines

Noticing when your baby is tired can fine-tune your sleep routines, making them just right for your baby. Every baby is different, and the way your baby sleeps and develops is unique to them².

Napper lets you track your baby's sleep This gives the app more precise info to work with, offering customized nap and sleep schedules that fit your baby perfectly, based on both your observations and vast amounts of sleep data.

1. Tom Deboer. Sleep homeostasis and the circadian clock: Do the circadian pacemaker and the sleep homeostat influence each other’s functioning? Neurobiol Sleep Circadian Rhythms. 2018 Jun; 5: 68–77. Published online 2018 Mar 1. doi: 10.1016/j.nbscr.2018.02.003, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6584681/

2. How Babies Sleep: The Gentle, Science-Based Method to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night