How can I tell if my newborn is tired?

Published by Baby Bunting on Monday, January 28, 2019

As a new parent, one of the most important skills you can learn is how to recognise the signs of tiredness in a newborn. Learning these early can be vital in promoting a routine for your newborn that helps them relax, feel secure, cry less and sleep better

Why is early recognition of tiredness so important?

If you don't pre-empt the signs that your baby wants to go to sleep, you will find that they get overtired. Everyone has had this experience, from kids to adults, and we all know that it is extremely unpleasant.

Overtired babies are harder to settle, harder to feed and can respond poorly to soothing techniques and the disruption to their routine. You may have to work harder for longer at calming an overtired baby, which is why it's in both of your best interests to learn the early signs for tiredness in your newborn.

Reading the signs

The following are some of the signs that indicate your baby might be starting to get tired. You will notice that some of these signs can be cues for other needs (such as hand sucking for hunger).

It will be down to you to apply a process of deduction and consider the context of these signs (for example, if you have just fed your baby, hand sucking is unlikely to mean they are hungry.) You might not be able to recognise them all straight away; each baby is different and as your relationship develops you will be better able to intimately understand one another.

Early signs

Most newborns below 3 months start to get tired after being awake for 1-1.5 hours. Keep this in mind when you start to see these cues. If you do notice early signs it might be a good idea to put your baby to sleep as soon as you can.

Some of the warning signs for a baby getting close to sleep time include:

  • Suddenly falling quiet
  • Becoming unfocused, disinterested
  • Disengaging from activity
  • Fluttering their eyelids
  • Hand or toe sucking
  • Jerky arm or leg movements
  • Sporadic and frustrated whimpers
  • Yawning
  • Clenching fists and rubbing their face and eyes
  • Frowning and grizzling
  • Back arching

Late signs

Some of the signs that your newborn might be getting overtired include:
  • Crankiness, irritability
  • Increasing jerky movements, like they are fighting off something (probably their fatigue!)
  • A pained expression
  • Insistent crying
  • A constant, penetrating grizzling.

Once you start to see some of these later signs, you might need to try relaxing your baby before putting them down so they don't cry themselves to sleep. Dim the lights, reduce stimulation and help them feel safe and secure.

Over time you will work out a routine with your baby that works in a type of eat/play/sleep/repeat cycle, with the timing changing depending on your baby's age and temperament. The best thing you can do is spend as much time as possible with your baby and pay close attention to what they are trying to tell you.

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