Babies have their own cycles of activity. Babies can go from being wide awake, to tired, to over-tired in a very short span of time. It is for the parents to understand when the baby is tired and needs a nap. If you miss the 'sleep now' window your baby can quickly become agitated and irritable.

Signs of tiredness

Newborns to 3 months

  • Newborn babies need a lot of sleep and can spend up to 18 hours a day napping in the first few weeks. They are rarely able stay awake for more than a couple of hours at a stretch and fall back to sleep by themselves. If they are kept awake for longer they can quickly become tired.
  • Young babies do not have much control over their movements, and their behaviour is very much driven by automatic reflexes. Therefore their tiredness signs are easily missed and can be confused with wind or hunger.
  • By spotting your newborn baby's tiredness signs, as listed below, as soon as possible and putting them down for a nap straight away you can help them settle easier and you'll be able to avoid the fussing that comes when the baby becomes tired.
  • Some of these signs are: fussing, grizzling or crying, back arching, clenching fists, jerking leg movements, glazed stare, looking away, facial grimacing and/or wriggling.

3 to 12 months

  • By the time babies reach 3-4 months of age they begin to sleep a little less, usually around 15 hours a day, and start to spend longer periods awake. Babies at this age generally start to become tired after 2.5 - 3 hours.
  • As the baby, now, gradually gains control of her limbs the typical tiredness signs will become more obvious and easier to spot. Keeping a close eye out for these as well as sticking to a regular nap and bedtime routine will help to prevent your baby from becoming tired.
  • Signs of tiredness in babies at this age are: fussing, whining and crying, pulling ears, nose and hair, yawning, wriggling, rubbing eyes and they may be clingy.

12 months plus

  • Once your baby reaches the 12 month mark their signs of tiredness will be a lot more predictable. However, because they're starting to become so curious at this age they will often try to resist the urge to sleep just because they don't want to miss out on anything. As a result, though you may know that the baby needs to sleep, it may be quite hard to get them to settle. A calming bedtime routine will though, help you to settle your baby to sleep.
  • Once an older infant becomes tired they can start to act out mini temper tantrums can ensue so starting to get them ready for bed as soon as you spot their tired signs is a must.

Signs to look out for include: Yawning, Rubbing eyes, bumping into things, falling over, clingy, disinterested in toys and food.

A tired baby can be difficult to get to sleep and feed. Recognizing the signs of tiredness is, therefore, one of the keys to successfully induce sleep in your baby. It can be difficult initially for the first time parents to recognize the signs of tiredness. This can be mixed and misinterpreted as boredom causing the parent to wave more toys and trying to stimulate the baby, thus, over-stimulating and irritating them and which leads to a baby crying.

When babies are tired they may yawn, clench their fists, and grimace into a cry. As they grow older, louder vocalizing, increased irritability, rubbing of eyes and perhaps rubbing an ear or pulling at their ears may add to the signs. These should be treated as signals for you to put your baby to sleep.

If these signals are missed, the baby may get cranky. A tired baby is difficult to settle and may startle awake shortly after falling asleep. Sometimes, the baby may wake up crying and then go back to sleep soon after. Most tired babies will sleep for a short interval that may be about 20 to 40 minutes and then wake up crying. This crying indicates that the baby is still tired and needs more sleep. This is the stage of shallow sleep in babies and if the baby goes back to sleep, that would be the deeper sleep stage which is at least 1 to 2 hours.

If you pick up the baby the moment she cries after her shallow catnap and think that the baby is crying because she needs you, you may have misinterpreted the signal. Actually, your baby should be left alone for the chance to go back to sleep. 

What you need to do is simply watch and assess. If your baby goes back to sleep by herself, nothing better than that. But if the baby still keeps on crying the baby may be too overtired and finding it difficult to go back to sleep. In such cases, try to put the baby back to sleep without much of disturbance. Rub her back or pat her lightly.

Very tired babies find it difficult to settle by them. Try to read how the baby cries and not how long. You will in some weeks learn to understand the baby’s cry and differentiate between “hanger” or “pick me up” cry from “need to sleep more” cry. If the crying increases, becomes intense and stays intense, do help the baby to calm down and get back to sleep. Pick her up and rock  her for a while and then put her back in the crib.

If the baby wakes up in a short while,

Try not to stimulate the baby too much. Keep the lights dim, have everything ready in the room, like diapers, wipes, change of sheet and clothes etc. Try to calm the baby by putting your hands gently on her so that she knows you are there, make quiet, rhythmic, soothing sounds If nappy change is required, try to do it quickly and quietly without engaging the baby too much . If the baby is hungry, feed her in the bedroom in a dark, quiet environment

Sometimes, making a baby sleep diary would be helpful in understanding the baby sleep patterns and assessing when the baby is tired and needs to sleep. Recognizing the signs of tiredness and putting the baby to sleep well in time will prevent you from a lot of fuss and save a lot of you patience and effort. Also, the baby will sleep peacefully and get up full of energy.