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How to Tell if Your Newborn is Tired

Your newborn is a unique person and will present you with a very individualized language. However, there are many similarities among babies. The majority of newborns signal tiredness in similar ways. Let’s talk about some of these common signals to give you a guideline as you begin the process of learning to read your baby’s language. Once you get through the first few months, you won’t need a list of any kind as you will learn how to read your baby better than anyone else in the whole entire world. But in the meantime, knowing what things to look out for can speed the translation process.

Signs that your baby may be tired:

  • A lull in movement or activity: calm, slower movements

  • Quieting down, making fewer or simpler sounds

  • Losing interest in people and toys

  • Looking away from you

  • Appearing glazed or unfocused; staring off in the distance

  • Limp, relaxed face and jaw

  • Fussing or whining

  • Eyes open wide and unblinking or slow, long blinks

  • Rubbing eyes, ears, or face

  • Not settling down in your arms, squirming

  • And, of course, yawning

Other factors that include tiredness:

  • Being awake for one to three hours

  • Last sleep session was disrupted, and your baby woke up before ready

Signs that your baby might be overtired:

  • Fretful crying (which can also indicate hunger)

  • Arching backwards or going rigid

  • Flailing, jerky, uncoordinated movements of arms and legs

  • Chin down, head nodding loosely

  • Drooping eyelids, slow blinking, eyelid fluttering

  • Dark circles appearing under the eyes; eyes appearing red or bloodshot

Other factors that can indicate overtiredness:

  • Being awake for more than three hours 

What to do when your newborn is tired

  • Get familiar with your baby’s unique sleepy signs, and put your baby down to sleep, rock her, or nurse her to sleep - right away, the moment she seems tired. Your reward will be blissful, easy sleep.

Newborn Happily Awake Span

How do you help your newborn to be happier, sleep better, and be more peaceful? Respect your baby’s Happily Awake Span!

The length of time that your baby is awake from one sleep period to the next will have a powerful impact on her temperament and behavior. It will also affect how easily your baby falls asleep and how well she sleeps, so it is a very important consideration.

Newborns shouldn’t stay awake for very long:

  • The natural span of awake time is very, very short for a newborn baby and gradually increases over time. Newborns can only stay happily awake for 45 minutes to an hour or two at the most.

  • At about three months of age, some babies still need a nap every hour or two, but some can be awake as long as three hours, if they are routinely sleeping well at night and getting food, long naps.

  • By six months, most babies can stay awake for two to three hours. However, most newborns - good sleepers and frequent-wakers alike - do best with short awake spans interspersed with plenty of naps.

I call this the “happily awake span” because your baby can stay awake longer, but typically if she does, she’ll be unhappy - fussing and crying and working herself up so much that it’s hard for her to fall asleep, yet hard for her to stay awake. It’s an unpleasant situation for babies and their caregivers, too!

Long awake times can be detrimental to your newborn:

  • Studies show that young babies who typically have long stretches of awake time during the day (more than three consecutive hours) appear to have more disjointed sleep and shorter sleep stretches. So make sure your newborn isn’t staying awake past the time when she demonstrates her unique signals of sleep.

  • If your baby has been awake beyond this “happy awake span,” you have likely missed some sleep signals, and your newborn is overtired. An overtired baby will be fussy and find it hard to sleep, yet won’t be able to stay happily awake either.

  • And the more overtired your baby gets the more he will fuss and cry, to the point of being unable to turn off his frustration long enough to fall asleep, until he eventually wears out. This becomes a pattern that can disrupt sleep, growth, and temperament.

Short awake periods = Happier baby

If you want your baby to be peaceful, to cry less and sleep better, keep one eye on your baby and one eye on the clock. Perhaps even set your phone to buzz as a reminder that sleep time should be near - then watch for those tell tale tired signs. Don’t let your newborn stay awake for too long at a time and sleep will come peacefully for her at the right times.

Elizabeth is a mother of four, and author of the bestselling No-Cry Solution series on topics such as sleep, discipline, picky eating, and potty training. She is known worldwide as the voice of practical, respectful parenting. Check out her latest book available to purchase on Amazon, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns. For more information, visit

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