How to recognise your baby’s tired signs

You’ve probably been told by your maternal and child health nurse to look for your baby’s tired signs during the day, and settle them to sleep as soon as possible. The length of time your baby is awake from one sleep period to the next can actually have a powerful impact on their temperament and behaviour.

You would have discovered that an overtired baby is unsettled, cranky, and much harder to get to sleep. This is why awake times are an important consideration. If you want your baby to be calm, cry less, and sleep better, keep one eye on your baby and one eye on the clock.

How to recognise your baby’s tired signs

Tired signs are confusing as there’s a fine line between early signs and late signs. You want to catch your baby at the early tired signs, and settle them to sleep however you normally would. If you miss them and then notice their late tired signs, it can be almost as though they get their second wind. By then your baby will fight sleep and the swaddle.

What are the early tired signs for newborns?

It’s a little more straightforward in the first couple of weeks, when you’ll most likely be feeding your baby, burping them, changing them, and then they’re ready for sleep again. The time a tiny newborn should be awake is very short. As the weeks move on, their awake windows get bigger but they’ll only happily stay awake for about 45 minutes to an hour or two at the most. So, what are the early tired signs for newborns?

  • Decreased activity and slower motions

If your baby is busy playing on their mat, grasping a toy, or kicking their legs in the air, and suddenly they slow down, this is an early tired sign. If you leave your baby for another ten minutes, you might see increased activity. This is a clear sign that your baby is now overtired, and should have been put to sleep ten minutes earlier.

If you’re feeding or cuddling your baby, and either their sucking slows down, their babbling stops, or they become calm, these too are early tired signs. It’s a good indicator that it’s time to start settling your baby to sleep. If you wait and your baby gets animated and chatty (as cute as that is!), then this has become a late tired sign.

  • Lose ability to concentrate

If your baby starts to lose interest in their surroundings, they stop making eye contact with you, or stop looking at their toys, they are losing their ability to concentrate. Pay attention to this particularly if your baby is being passed around to visitors or family members, which is incredibly stimulating for them. Another big telltale sign is red eyebrows or droopy eyelids.

What if you don’t notice any tired signs?

If you haven’t seen any tired signs in your newborn, then the solution is to use the clock as a guide. If they’ve been awake for 1.5 hours, then it’s recommended that you start your wind-down ritual for a nap.

What are the early tired signs for older babies?

From 3-6 months old, a good indicator that your baby is tired is yawning or rubbing their eyes. This can get tricky to pick up as they become mobile, or you take your eyes off them and miss a yawn. If you don’t notice the early tired signs for babies at this age and they’ve been awake for about two hours, it’s time to start their sleep routine.

Another good indicator that you may have missed the early tired signs is when they wake from a nap noticeably upset after 20-40 minutes. Next time, you might want to start settling them earlier before they become overtired.


See our Baby Sleep Routine section for more guidance on awake times for your baby



Elizabeth Pantley

Baby Sleep Consultant