October 4, 2022

Understanding Your Baby’s Sleep Cues

Baby Boy waking up from sleep

Do you find yourself guessing if your baby’s tired and ready to sleep? Being able to identify your baby’s sleep cues can save you many long nights of crying, rocking, and patting his back in an attempt to soothe him to sleep.

In order to reduce a newborn’s crying, it is important to respond to their cues.

Thirty days after delivery, 80% of mothers and 45% of fathers were able to recognize their infants’ cries, controlled for extraneous cues. (Green & Gustafson, 1983).

Babies don’t come with an instruction manual and so it can be hard to know what they need when it comes to sleep.

If you want to get your baby off to the best start, try paying attention to their sleepy cues.

Sleep cues are subtle signs that your baby may be getting tired and ready to fall asleep, so it’s up to you to help the process along and get them into crib so they can drift off. It’s very important that you spot these cues correctly; if you miss one, they may become overtired and have difficulty falling asleep when it comes time for bedtime.

These are the things that indicate they’re ready to rest, and you should aim to follow them in order to get them into a routine and avoid over-tiredness and its consequences.

Baby Boy Waking Up

Common Baby Sleepy Cues

The most common baby sleep cues are waking windows, hunger cues, tired signs and habits. For example, if your baby sleeps longer than 11 hours a day (or has slept for this long in the past two days), that is a sign they might be overtired. Additionally, they may show signs of tiredness like rubbing their eyes or seeming grumpy. Here are some common baby sleepy cues:

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Decreased activity
  • Yawning,
  • Jerky movements
  • Calmer
  • becoming quiet, not wanting to play
  • Grizzling’ or fussing
  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Making a sleepy sound
  • Crying
  • Facial grimaces, including pulling faces
  • Starts zoning out
  • Less social
  • Redness around the eyebrows
  • Turns head away

A newborn stage is a good time to set up a bedtime routine to start the habit of having healthy sleep habits from the start.

Mom patting newborn

“I’m Tired” Baby Sleep Cues

As your baby gets older, their sleep cues will become more varied. But there are some things that are pretty standard for young babies. And when it comes to sleepy time, one of the biggest indicators that your baby is ready for a nap is when they show the signs, I’m tired.

Here are some sleepy cues when your baby is overtired:

1. Yawning

2. Jerky movements

3. Refusing naps

4. Difficulty falling asleep

5. Restless sleep

6. Irritability

7. Drooping eyelids

7. Crying

8. Rolling around

When this happens, be sure to get them in their crib or bassinet as soon as possible so they can start resting.

Mom looks at sleeping child

Ready for Nap Time Cues

A baby’s nap time cues include crying, feeling fussy, appearing tired and yawning. You can help by putting your baby in a quiet room, where he/she is less likely to be disturbed.

We also recommend giving your babies a healthy sleep foundation for the first year of life which includes activities like cuddling during the day, rocking them to sleep, singing to them, and swaddling.

Close To Overtiredness Cues

Sleep is important for babies, and it is a very stressful experience when your baby’s sleep schedule gets disrupted. One of the best ways to keep your baby sleeping well is to understand their sleep cues. The most common sleep cues are:

The following are more subtle but still good clues that he may be getting close to overtiredness:

  • Your baby has become more fussy and clingy during feeding.
  • You have been feeding them more often or for longer periods of time lately.
  • Your baby starts to suck on his/her thumb, finger or pacifier more than usual.
  • You can tell by looking at your baby that they are about to fall asleep ( Closes his/her eyes and becomes limp).
  • Your baby wakes up from naps sooner than usual (although there will always be some variation in this).

If you see any of these signs, feed your baby as soon as possible. If you wait too long, it might result in an overtired baby who then cannot go back to sleep no matter what you do.

You want to avoid over-feeding your baby so he/she doesn’t get overly full and uncomfortable which can lead to an increase in fussiness.

Little girls sitting with bear

Overtired Baby Sleep Cues

Do you find yourself waiting up with your overtired baby, trying to figure out what is going on? Understanding baby sleep cues can help you make the right moves.

Some of the most common are decreased alertness or excitement levels, or decreased interactive play time with their environment.

For example, if your baby’s age ranges from 3-6 months old, they may have increased fussiness and short periods of wakefulness at night. Babies at this age go through growth spurts both in weight and height, which require them to eat more during the day and drink more water. It’s not uncommon for a 3 to 6-month-old baby to need 10-12 feedings per day!

Baby also has a hard time settling into bed and will often fuss a lot before eventually falling asleep. If you notice that these are your baby’s sleep cues, don’t despair!

How To Get Your Overtired Baby To Sleep

There are many ways to combat an overtired baby, but learning their sleep cues is the best way to get them sleeping again. Sleep cues from your baby will tell you how much sleep they require to recover from the day’s events and get their body rested.

Read more on “wake windows”

Try the 5S’s To Calm Your Baby

It can be tough to calm your baby, especially when they’re overtired. Try these 5S’s to soothe your little one: swaddle, shush, swing, suck and sling. Start with swaddling them and then rocking or swaying them while making a shushing sound in their ear or singing softly to them.

Let’s explore each of these 5S’s.


The snug feeling of being wrapped up tight will help soothe your baby as well as make it easier for them to get back to sleep if they wake up again.


The gentle shushing noise from you will help reassure the baby that everything is okay and hopefully lull him back into slumber.


Rocking or swinging motion will also help babies sleep better because it simulates the womb-like feeling that our babies enjoy in utero.


Make sure your baby has a pacifier to suck on. A soothing sucking motion can be just what a baby needs to fall asleep!


Hold your baby close against your chest and tap around their back gently. You’ll want to keep an eye out for signs of fatigue (yawning, drooping eyelids) before putting them down.

Mom kissing child

No Sleepy Cues: What To Do

No sleep cues is a common problem for many parents. It can be challenging to know how to proceed if your baby isn’t giving you any sleep cues. However, you can take steps to help them learn and listen better, allowing them to get the sleep they need.

  • Step 1: Determine whether or not your baby knows how to self-soothe and has had enough chances to do so. If they don’t have this skill yet, it’s time to teach them!
  • Step 2: Consider that maybe the baby is just not ready for bed yet; if this is the case, see what triggers playtime or nap time before going down and following through with a plan of action.
  • Step 3: Consider other factors such as hunger, thirst, being too hot or cold, or pain from teething.

You may need to make adjustments on these things in order to get your baby more comfortable and back on track. It can also be helpful to work with your pediatrician in order to determine any underlying issues like an ear infection or gastrointestinal problems.

And remember that every child is different so some babies need more sleep than others at certain stages of development.


When you can read your baby’s cues, it helps you know when to put them down for a nap and when to pick them up. Baby’s will get the sleep they need and you’ll feel more in tune with their needs.

If you get into a pattern of responding to your baby, they will learn that these behaviors mean that it’s time for sleep or play.

When you understand your baby’s sleep cues, you can determine what type of schedule is needed, how long your baby needs to sleep, and when he or she is overtired. This will help you soothe your baby’s sleep and avoid a cranky baby!

Taryn Crimi

Taryn Crimi

Taryn is an international intuitive, focused on helping to empower you manifest your best life!

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