This is a question I get asked a lot when I’m meeting with my families. It's not always obvious when a child is getting tired, and frankly, sometimes our babies’ emotions seem like a huge mystery! Here's how to recognize "sleep signs" so you can get your child to bed BEFORE they become overtired!
Do you recognize yourself in the question below?
"Help! Why can’t I recognize my four-month-old’s sleep signs? No yawning, no eye rubbing. He seems to go from quite happy to very upset in a split second and then it takes forever to settle him down and get him to sleep."
Usually when someone refers to “sleep signs,” commonly known signals that the child is tired, they think of the baby yawning and perhaps rubbing their eyes. However, some signs you may not be aware can include nose scrunching and ear pulling, really anything that has to do with touching the face.
I had a family whose child kept rubbing her nose and she looked tired. After explaining that nose rubbing can be a common sign of tiredness, the family was quite surprised, as they had been thinking that the baby had allergies.
It’s easy to miss or misunderstand some of the signs of fatigue, but if your baby is doing any number of rubbing or pulling at their faces or ears, they’re definitely tired. Don’t wait for a yawn.
The Confusing Signs of being tired
Babies who are tired seem to go from happy to upset at the drop of a hat. Frustratingly enough, babies can be quite good at hiding their fatigue, so by the time we figure it out, they have been tired for a while and are teetering over into being overtired. Sometimes when they start to have feelings of being tired they’ll push through those feelings with perhaps more active play and maybe even get a little hyper. They’ll kick into “overdrive” and almost become a bit manic and seem really, really alert.
This is where parents get really confused about whether or not their child is actually tired. A tired baby does not always look like a tired baby, but they presenting several different clues as to whether they are tired or not. Checking out the Overtired Series right here can help explain some of the top signs of a child being overtired and what parents can do to help.
That squirmy baby, the one who isn’t content to sit on your knee, or doesn’t want to stand up, will arch their back, crawls around very quickly, laughs one moment and cries the next is a tired baby and ready for sleep.
If it’s pretty typical that your child is happy one second and crying the next, you might have to keep more of an eye on the clock that you do on your baby. A four-month old can only handle about an hour and a forty-five minutes of awake time. If they woke up at 8 a.m., then by 9:45, they’re most likely ready for a nap.
Calm and Content is the Perfect Time
Even if they’re calm and happy and not showing any “sleep signs,” I like to suggest that it’s better to put them down too soon rather than too late. Sometimes the calmer the baby goes down, the faster sleep comes and it becomes an easier transition for them.
Keeping an eye on your child’s individual sleep signs, along with the clock for those who don’t show any clear signs, will definitely help you avoid experiencing battles around your child’s sleep, as well as help your child not veer into the realm of being tired all of the time.
If you having struggles reading your child’s sleepy signs and need help developing a plan that meets your child’s developmental and sleep needs, sign up for a call to talk with me about what’s going on with your baby and we’ll get you on the path to better sleep!
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.