Recognizing Your Baby’s Sleep Cues

When your babies are little, it can be quite a challenge to recognize their signs of tiredness, particularly when they are mixed in with messages of hunger, pain or simply just wanting a cuddle with their Mom. With no ability to talk or properly communicate that they are feeling tired, and often their reaction being to cry or become fractious, it can be like trying to decode a secret language, for which there is no written down solution!

There are however some subtle sleep cues that you can look out for – subtle movements, actions or sounds your baby makes that show that it may be time to help them get some rest. Miss these cues, and you may end up with a very tired and very grumpy baby on your hands, who then ironically can take even LONGER to drift off to sleep. Cue a hysterical crying baby, more rocking, and a whole lot more comforting!

Learn to recognize the signs of tiredness in your baby, and you can avoid a whole lot of upset for all of you! The sleep cues will vary from one baby to another and may be unique to them, but you may recognize some of the signs of tiredness below.

  • Reduced movement – When your baby is tired you may find that they become far more calm and quiet and stay more still, moving their arms and legs far less than normal.
  • On the flip side – you may find your baby suddenly starts showing jerky and erratic movements – flicking or kicking out their legs or thrashing their arms around. They may be struggling to understand the sensation of tiredness in their limbs and trying to figure out how to alleviate it.
  • Glazed eyes – Your baby may start to look a bit glazed or stare off into space, not focusing on anything in particular. They may smile less or fail to respond with full expressions when spoken to, even from their favorite people like Mom, Dad or siblings.
  • Acting hungry or rooting – If your baby breastfeeds before a nap, you may find they start ‘rooting’ or searching for the breast, showing signs of hunger. If they’ve recently been fed and are displaying these actions, chances are they are trying to figure out how to get to sleep!
  • Rubbing their eyes – This may seem obvious – but is a sleep cue that is commonly missed. Your baby may rub, flick or even pull at their eyes – most likely because they are starting to feel heavy or itchy, and they are struggling to keep them open!
  • Pulling, tugging or flicking their ears – Both of my girls did this and it was a pretty consistent sign that they were tired. Whether they were sat up, lying down or even sitting on someone’s lap, they would flick their ear lobes as if they found it comforting or calming.
  • Groaning – My eldest used to let out a slow little groan when she started to get tired (think creaky door!) and I will never forget the time we went to watch the sunset and I had to apologize to another couple for her slightly distracting background sound effects! The groans used to continue as I rubbed her back until she gradually stopped and drifted off to sleep!
  • Yawning – This one is pretty obvious, and sometimes includes an audible yawn as well!
  • Irritable or fussy – When your baby starts to become fractious, it’s likely that some earlier signs may have been missed and that adrenaline has started to kick in. At this point it is DEFINITELY time for a nap!

By taking the time to understand your babies sleep cues, you are more likely to get your baby to sleep at the optimum time and avoid some of the challenges that come with an overtired child! What other sleep cues have you seen in your babies?

Lucy Cotterill
Lucy is a UK-based parenting and lifestyle blogger who has also featured in the Huffington Post. A Mom of two daughters, Lucy is passionate about sharing the true reality of parenthood and helping others through their first experiences. In her free time she loves to write, go on day trips with her family and photography.

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