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Baby and toddler tired signs and how to recognise them

Baby and toddler tired signs and how to recognise themRecognising your baby’s tired signs is one of the key ways to help your baby settle to sleep more easily.

Babies can become overtired quite quickly so it is important to watch them for the telltale signs of tiredness before they become irritable and overstimulated. It is not easy to settle a cranky baby.

Some of the baby and toddler tired signs are quite obvious – such as yawning or thumbsucking – but others are not as easy to recognise. It is important to watch your own child to see which of the following tired signs they exhibit.

Recognising your baby’s tired signs can also prevent you from trying to settle a baby who isn’t ready for a nap. No one wants to go to sleep when they’re not tired!

Consider this situation … your baby usually goes down for a nap about 9am but has lately started fighting sleep at this time. Maybe he is ready for a later nap or moving towards having just one nap a day? By watching your baby for tired signs (rather than watching the clock) this transition will be a smoother one.

Here are some of the common baby tired signs …

Tired signs – newborn babies

A newborn baby cannot stay awake for very long at a time. You should start to watch for these tired signs within an hour of your baby being awake, it will help you survive your baby’s first few weeks.

  • Yawning
  • Twisting body
  • Arching their back
  • Staring into space/blank stares/no eye contact
  • Jerky movements of arms and/or legs
  • Fist clenching
  • Hiccups
  • Loss of head control
  • Pink or red around the eyes
  • Hands up near face (trying to pull on ears or suck fingers/thumb).
HUBBER’S TIP: “My daughter is 10wks old and she yawns, rubs eyes, goes quiet and lastly she has what I call a fake cry, where she just makes a ‘huh huh’ noise with no tears.” – poppyseed

Tired signs – older babies

As a baby grows they are able to stay awake for longer periods of time.

In very general terms, if your baby is 3-6 months old you should start watching for tired signs after about 1hour 30mins (although at this age they might have at least one longer stretch of awake time each day –about 3 hours — without becoming overtired). A baby aged 6-12 months can perhaps go for 2 or 3 hours before exhibiting these tired signs.

  • Rubbing eyes
  • Yawning
  • Resting head/snuggling
  • Sighing
  • Whining
  • Thumb/finger sucking
  • Grumpiness
  • Crying
  • Ear pulling
  • Hair twirling
HUBBER’S TIP: “My son is 8 months old. He sucks two of his fingers and then starts to twirl the one curl he has behind his right ear, then if I pick him up he will rest his gorgeous little head on my shoulder and off to nigh nighs!” – Amajai

Tired signs – toddlers

An overtired toddler is not a fun person to be around! But at least by this age you probably are quite good at recognising their tired signs. Up until about 14-18 months many children will still need a morning and afternoon nap to avoid becoming overtired but many will drop to one nap a day around this time.

It is good to keep an eye on your toddler’s specific tired signs so the transition from two naps to one (and, in time, none) will be smooth.

  • Yawning
  • Asking for dummy or other sleep aid
  • Increased clumsiness
  • Thumbsucking
  • Eye rubbing
  • Lying on the floor (to play or rest)
  • Cuddliness
  • Increase in frustration
  • Extra silly
  • Extra giggly
  • Extra clingy
  • Bored
  • Whingy
  • Fussy with food
HUBBER’S TIP: “My son is 15 months and when he’s tired he’ll do the usual rubbing of his eyes, but mostly he will start falling over a lot — like he’s drunk.” – Miska25

If you are experiencing sleep issues, or have had success with baby sleep and want to share what you’ve learned, chat about baby sleep and settling issues with other mums and dads in the Bub Hub Forum Sleep and Settling section 24/7.

Image credit: dolgachov/123RF Stock Photo

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One comment so far -

  1. totally true. Missing the tired window is the worst mistake. Had never hear about the pink/red eyes before but it’s totally true for my almost 3 month old!



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