How to Know When Your Baby is Tired and Why it Really Matters

It is easy to get caught up in life and forget that your baby who has been cruising in her activity center for over half an hour without fussing is suddenly (loudly) letting you know she is in need of a change. For most new moms, deciphering between hunger, tiredness or boredom can be akin to reading Morse code. Sometimes literally! I remember that after several months I realized that my Boo Boo’s hungry cry had a kind of sucking-the-air twinge to it. Can you imagine asking for eggs for several months and getting roast beef instead?! I hope that this blog helps new moms get there sooner with this guide to figuring out when your little one is asking for her crib.


First thing you should know, if your baby is overtired is it easy to think that she isn’t really ready for sleep. She’s crabby, but overactive and when you try to calm her down she goes ballistic. Sometimes even breast feeding fails and she begins to practice boxing on your breast instead. Overtired babies are usually extremely clingy and hate to be put down. And you got it, they cry. A lot.


The good news is you can prevent this epic meltdown from happening with just a little observation and a lot more action.


When you’ve figured out your baby’s code for “I would like to go to sleep now” it will be a breeze to get her to fall asleep and bonus, you’ll also have a happier baby. One idea that is tried and true (spoiler alert: my baby self-soothes!) is laying her down while she’s got that swimmy look in her eyes, the heavy lids, beautiful lashes drooping – but not closed! Babies that need help from “sleep props” get less sleep, which directly affects mental and physical development in your baby. If you love your baby and he absolutely NEEDS the pacifier to get to sleep, resulting in mom or dad getting up 5 times in the middle of the night to “plug it back in,” it’s time to nix it.


So, how do you know when your wee babe is drowsy?



Tip: Newborn babies usually only stay awake about 1-1½ hours before needing more shuteye. Your newborn baby is probably tired if she


    • yawns
    • closing her fists
    • stares into space
    • has fluttering eyelids
    • makes jerky movements
    • looks worried
    • starts sucking on her fingers or hands
    • is pulling at her ears


Babies and toddlers

Tip: babies 3-6 months are usually sleepy after being awake 1½-3 hours. This is a big window, so keep your eyes peeled! Babies 6-12 months stay awake for around 2-3 hours before needing to sleep. Watch if your baby or toddler


  • becomes clutzy and stumbles a lot
  • gets needy
  • scowls or cries
  • needs constant attention
  • has had it with toys
  • gets fussy while eating


After a few days you should be able to tell your mother-in-law that your baby is not hungry or angry, rather she is sleepy and needs to begin her bedtime routine.


Her what?


Her bedtime routine is not just for nighttime.


Whether we realize it or not, all humans have a bedtime routine that signals to their body that sleep is coming. It may be as simple as changing into pajamas and brushing our teeth, but the routine is so deeply rooted into our brain that the movements leading up to sleep are actually working to help us sleep. Babies are no different. If you toss her in the crib after an hour of playtime she will be confused and frustrated. She needs a routine that will also tell her tiny psyche that her beloved crib is on the horizon.


The fun part is that you get to decide what that routine is. After several weeks of trying to figure out my baby, I found out how to help him get to sleep.


Our routine starts the same way every time. As we go upstairs to his room, I tell him sweetly that it’s “sleepy time” and we play for just a few minutes on the floor with his stuffed monkey. Then I change his diaper (even if he’s clean), and I change him into his jammies (usually only at night, but sometimes at nap time too). After we’ve had time with his Sleepy Monkey and changed, we settle for some good old-fashioned breast feeding while I sing our bedtime song, Jesus Loves Me. Then I tell him again that it’s “sleepy time” as I put him in his crib together with his Sleepy Monkey. He sometimes fusses, but for the most part he’ll either start chatting with his stuffed monkey until he falls asleep, or he’ll roll over to his side and instant-sleep.


You can choose whatever routine you want to, what I’ve done is extended bedtime routine to about 20 minutes, and nap time routines are a little fraction of what we do at nighttime bedtime. For example, I change his diaper at nap time but I will usually not change him into his jammies and play time with Sleepy Monkey merges into the time while I’m changing him, rather than 5 exclusive Monkey-minutes at night.


Singing, playing with a stuffed animal, feeding, rocking, reading stories – these are all valid options to make a part of your baby’s routine. Just remember one important key: she cannot fall asleep during any of these activities or it is in danger of becoming her “sleep prop.”


You can find out more details, read all about the importance of your baby’s sleep and even get a free sleep assessment on Dana Obleman’s website.


One Comment

  1. Funny how a lot of us carry these same ‘signs of being tired’ into our adulthood. Thank God for naps!

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