10 baby sleep cues you need to know that your baby or toddler is tired

Baby sleep cues

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Did you know that your baby has certain tiredness cues? It is easy to miss these cues and signs and before you know it, you have an overtired cranky baby that has a hard time settling down and going to sleep. Here are 5 common baby sleep cues that your baby is tired.

I know as a brand new mother, I felt like I had no idea what the heck I was doing!

I felt like I had this whole new language to learn to even be close to understanding and interpreting my baby’s cues and signals.

“Is he hungry?”

“Is he tired?”

“Why is he fussy, how can I settle him?”

Even though your baby can’t speak yet, and only manages sounds, coos, and cries, your baby does have it’s own way of communicating.

Baby sleep cues

Learning and understanding your baby’s sleep cues can be so helpful! Babies, especially young babies sleep A LOT! Newborns and younger infants need to eat and sleep, oh and of course have lots of snuggles.

So learning to spot sleep cues will be something you don’t want to miss out on.

Learn your baby’s sleep cues

Sleeping is a big deal for all ages and when you miss that perfect window of opportunity, you are left with a grouchy baby that is overtired and past the point of being able to fall asleep well.

The trick is to catch your baby when they enter into that drowsy, sleepy stage BUT before they get TOO tired.

I know, it doesn’t make sense because you would think the more time they are awake, the more tired they are and the easier and longer they will sleep.

I feel like that is the case for us adults anyway! As an adult, I can always use some extra sleep, no matter how tired I am.

Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case for babies. When your baby was giving you their sleep cues and you missed them all, they soon become irritated and fussy.

Overstimulation when becoming tired can cause all sorts of problems too and you will find yourself in a situation with a little one who doesn’t want to sleep.

Baby yawning

Overtiredness can make it so much more difficult for your baby to be able to settle and fall into a deep sleep. If you notice your baby becoming tired, avoid over stimulating them.

Looking out for your baby’s sleep cues and creating a bedtime routine (or nap routine) to help them prepare and be ready to fall asleep before it becomes too late is your best bet! Trust me.

If your baby is brand new, they probably won’t have much of a routine and that is ok. You can start implementing small simple steps as early as you want.

A song may be better suited for your newborn, whereas your 12 month old may enjoy reading a book.

How do I know if my baby is showing sleep cues or hunger cues?

Often times you might think your baby’s cues always mean they are hungry. But if your baby had a good feed has been awake and then becomes fussy, chances are they just might be tired.

Setting some sort of a routine or schedule for your baby can help you better differentiate their cues.

To avoid feeding time becoming a sleep prop, I like to break up feeding and sleeping with some sort of playtime.

If you follow this rule, then you will better be able to know if your baby is ready to eat or ready to sleep.

I’m not by any means saying don’t feed your baby if they are hungry, just don’t always jump to feeding if they are fussy.

They might need sleep and sleeping is just as important too!

5 Baby sleep cues to watch out for

Now don’t worry if you have no idea you should be even looking for your baby to give some sleep cues, that is totally OK! I didn’t really have any clue to start with either.

Your newborn baby’s signs may differ slightly from your toddlers, but they all do exhibit some sort of sleep cue.

Toddler rubbing eyes

1. Rubbing their eyes

I would say that this one is a pretty common baby sleep cue around all the board, no matter your baby’s age.

Your baby might not just rub their eyes, but their eyebrows, face or even their ears.

My toddler still does this classic sleep cue and it is usually a good first sign of tiredness.

2. Yawning

I think we all do this, right? Now there is a catch to those yawns. You don’t want to wait until your baby has yawned 4 or 5 times before you retire them to their crib.

By this time, you may be too late, and chances are your baby has entered the “overtired” zone.

Yawning is a good baby sleep cue for even the youngest of babies. The magic rule of thumb is 3 yawns.

Try to catch them before they yawn more than 3 times. I would always aim for the first or second yawn.

3. Decreased interest and alertness

If you notice your baby has suddenly become less interested and alert and has more of a “dazed” look on their face, chances are they are getting sleepy.

Happens to us all, I think!

4. Seeking comfort

Some babies will try to seek comfort when they become tired. This could result in sucking on their hands or fist, nuzzling into you, or reaching for a blanket or lovey.

My baby loves to sleep with a lovey and sometimes asks for it. I know then he is getting sleepy and ready for bed.

Whatever way makes your baby feel comfortable while sleeping could definitely become part of their sleep cues.

5. Crying, fussing, or arching back

Now, these three sleep cues often accompany each other. This could mean your baby is getting too tired and you might have missed their previous sleep cues.

Do your best to get your baby ready for a nap or bedtime and you might be able to prevent them from getting too overtired.

I found it helpful to always try to catch my baby’s sleep cues before he got to the super fussy stage and then became too upset to settle down well.

5 toddler sleep cues to watch for

Toddlers’ sleep cues may look a little different than a 4 for month old baby.

Even though your toddler may show some of those same baby sleep cues already mentioned, here are some extra ones that seem to be pretty common amongst those busy, defiant toddlers.

sleepy toddler

1. Lying down on the floor

When toddlers get sleepy, they naturally seem to find a quiet spot to lie down and play.

My toddler is notorious for this. I will sometimes find him, lying on a blanket, zooming his cars back and forth, being quiet and content.

When this happens, it is always before his nap time.

2. Extra hyper or silly

If your toddler suddenly becomes extra-anything, this sometimes means they are super tired.

Extra hyper, extra silly, extra giggly, extra funny might mean you have tired toddler on your hands.

Toddlers can be all of these things anyway, so it may not always be the culprit for tiredness, but I have found it can definitely mean overtiredness it next on the list, so just bear that in mind.

3. Difficulty handling situations

When toddlers become tired, they tend to have more of a hard time handling situations well.

Tantrums are suddenly being thrown left and right and you find yourself dealing with a grouchy, very tired toddler (who might tell you they are NOT tired).

When my toddler is tired, situations that he normally handles really well become disastrous and anything and everything seems to make him mad, upset or angry and I find myself at wit’s end.

Thankfully my toddler is a pretty good sleeper and is pretty scheduled with naps and bedtime, so I don’t find myself in that boat too often.

Although, it is helpful to realize, if your toddler is a complete menace and totally difficult, analyze their sleep over the past day or so and try to pinpoint if their behavior is from sleep deprivation.

Chances are it could very well be, or it could just be the fact you live with a toddler too! Welcome to life!

4. Constant whining

Whining is just part of toddlerhood, but if the whining is extra persistent you could have a tired toddler at your feet. If you find your toddler’s vocabulary full of whines, cries, and moans, maybe they are just tired.

Put them down for an early nap that day or make bedtime a tad bit sooner. You might then find the next day is a million times better.

5. Wanting to do quiet things

My toddler LOVES to read, and I really do mean love. We read stories before every nap and bedtime so he kind of knows the drill.

Sometimes he will beat me to getting ready for a nap and pull out books to read before we even make it up to his room.

This doesn’t always mean he is tired, because honestly, my toddler wants to read at all hours of the day, but when he chooses to do it when nap time is getting close, that usually is a good indication that he is getting sleepy.

Just like adults, children need to do certain things to “wind down” before bed.

Reading or quietly playing might be something your toddler likes to do when they get sleepy.

Whatever the age of your baby, watching for sleep cues can help your child get to sleep before they become too overtired and also help them be more rested when sleeping.

Your baby might develop their own personalized sleep cues, just observe them and you’ll start to figure out how they communicate with you that they are tired.

Do you know your baby’s sleep cues? Have you noticed if they become overtired, is it harder for them to fall asleep?


Baby sleep cues
Scroll to Top