yawning baby
Ievgeniia Shugaliia / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Here's How To Tell If Your Baby Is Really Ready To Go To Sleep

The signs are there.

Getting enough sleep is crucial to an infant's development so it's important that parents be able to tell when a child is ready to take a rest. But it's not always easy to decipher the differences between, say, hunger, sleepiness, gas, and general fussiness. Misread a baby's behaviors and you and your infant could both end up totally exhausted, not to mention incredibly frustrated. Luckily, the professionals tell Romper there are some sure signs that mean your baby really is sleepy.

And we’re not talking exclusively about the truly obvious indicators here. Most logical people (even sleep-deprived parents) can guess that if a baby is rubbing its eyes, cranky, or yawning, it’s likely in need of a rest. But what about other signs? Incessant crying? Not eating? Fidgety behavior? Are they just gassy? Do they need another bottle? Should you do tummy time? Do they just need sunshine? The questions (and possible answers!) are endless. The good news is, however, that the experts we spoke to agree that this whole sleepiness determination situation gets easier as you get to know your child better. In fact, one day you may just look on your child resting comfortably in the land of nod and think “maybe I’ve got my kid’s whole sleep thing figured out.” Maybe.

The Top 3 Most Usual Sleepy Signs

As mentioned before, fussiness, yawning, and rubbing the eyes are all key indicators that a baby is sleepy, says Dr. Peter Kim, a pediatrician with Facey Medical Group in Valencia, California. Not only are these the signs that your baby is sleepy, he adds, they’re red flags that “it's gone too far” — meaning babies are overtired and settling down will be even more difficult — and that the baby should already be tucked in.

When There's A Change In Behavior

“The first thing is that every baby is different, so it's really important to be patient and give yourself grace, and monitor what times the baby is getting sleepy and the things that they're doing just beforehand,” says Dr. Joannie T Yeh, MD, FAAP, Member Pennsylvania Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics. If your baby's happy demeanor is shifting, that might be an indication they're wiped out and need a rest. But as she said, each baby is unique so you'll have to observe them closely to figure out your own child's cues.

Ahmad Radziman / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

If Your Baby Tugs On Their Ear

“Babies often tug at their ears when they’re tired,” says Dr. Yeh. Of course, this same move can also be an indication of an ear infection, so be observant to ensure you’re picking up on the right clue. One of the easiest ways to spot the difference is to see if your baby has a temperature, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Continued fussiness that just won't quit is also a sign that a child is more than just sleepy.

If Your Baby Fall Asleep After A Brief Feed

Dr. Kim says often when sleepiness is mistaken for hunger, this can further disrupt a baby’s sleep cycle and confuse parents all the more. “If the baby is cranky and mommy feeds it, they love it, but this is not hunger, right, because baby was tired,” says Dr. Kim. The problem is the baby will doze off from just little bit of milk in its belly but wake up actually hungry just an hour later because it wasn’t really hungry to begin with... the baby was, in fact, tired. When this happens, the problem becomes now the baby is actually hungry, but it hasn’t gotten good rest. And so the cycle goes over and over if you read the sign for sleepiness wrong.

If Your Baby Isn't Getting Their Recommended Amount Of Daily Sleep

A good sign that the behaviors you're noticing do mean that your baby is sleepy is if overall, they're not getting enough sleep. Dr. Yeh tells her patients to refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics hourly sleep recommendations for babies:

Infant (4-11 months old): 12 to 16 hours sleep
Toddler (1-2 years old): 11 to 14 hours
Little Kid (3-5 years old): 10-13 hours

Do the math. If your kiddo isn’t clocking in enough hours, the might be why they’re acting funny.

Still not sure what’s going on with your baby’s sleep cycle? Then reach out to an expert. You can rest easy knowing that “there's no question that's too silly or too simple or unimportant to ask,” says Dr. Yeh.

For more sleep guidance, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep Recommendations.


Dr. Peter Kim, MD, pediatrician at Facey Medical Group

Dr. Joannie T Yeh, MD, FAAP, Member Pennsylvania Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics