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Tired signs in babies and toddlers (Suitable for 0-3 years)

When you see tired signs, it’s time to reduce stimulation and settle babies and children for sleep. Newborn tired signs include pulling at ears, jerking arms and legs, and sucking fingers. Babies and toddlers show they’re tired by grizzling, demanding attention and not wanting to play.

Tired signs: why they’re important

Children show they’re tired through changes in behaviour. For example, your child might be suddenly irritable, overactive or demanding.

It’s important to look for your child’s ‘tired signs’. These signs let you know when it’s time to reduce stimulation and start settling your child for sleep.

Babies and children need sleep to grow and develop well. Good sleep is also important for their health and immunity.

Newborns: tired signs

Newborns can get tired very quickly. Some are tired as soon as 1-1½ hours after waking. Others can be happy and keep playing without tired signs for two hours or more.

If your newborn is tired, you might see some of the following tired signs:

  • pulling at ears
  • closing fists
  • yawning

fluttering eyelids or difficulty focusing – your baby might even go cross-eyed or seem to be staring into space

  • making jerky arm and leg movements, or arching backwards
  • frowning or looking worried
  • sucking on fingers – this could be a good sign and might mean that your baby is trying to find ways to settle to sleep.

Babies and toddlers: tired signs

At 3-6 months, your baby might be tired after 1½-3 hours awake.

At 6-12 months, your baby might be tired after 2-3 hours awake.

At 12-18 months, your child might be tired if they miss out on a morning or afternoon sleep.

If your baby or toddler is tired, you might see some of the following tired signs:

  • clumsiness
  • clinginess
  • grizzling or crying
  • demands for attention
  • boredom with toys
  • fussiness with food.

Tired or hungry?

If your baby has had a feed within the last two hours and is grizzling and cranky, baby might be tired. If you’re not sure, offer a feed. If your baby takes only a little milk and is still grizzly, try settling baby back to sleep.

Babies cry when they’re tired, hungry, uncomfortable, sick, in pain or just wanting a cuddle. If it’s hard to work out what baby needs when they cry, start by checking that baby isn’t sick or hurt.

Reducing stimulation

If your child is showing signs of tiredness, it’s a good idea to get them ready for sleep by reducing stimulation. You can do this by:

taking your child to the place where they usually sleep
putting toys away
talking quietly and soothingly
closing curtains and blinds
turning overhead lights off – use lamps if you need to
playing music quietly – this will help cut down on background noise.

Making quiet time

Some quiet time before bed in the place where your child usually sleeps will help your child settle to sleep.

Quiet time with your child might include a gentle cuddle, a story or a quiet song.

Your child might need only a few minutes of quiet time before they’re relaxed and ready to be put in bed. If your household is noisy and active, your child might need some extra quiet time before it’s time for sleep.

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