“Did you know? According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborn babies need up to 14-19 hours of sleep daily. They only wake up for a couple of hours to eat.”

While this may seem like a lot, you don’t have to worry about your baby sleeping all the time, as apparently, that’s what babies are supposed to do! So, this is how it works: babies need enough sleep for their body and brain to grow and function. While staying awake can help in brain development for these babies, it can also make them tired. So being awake for just a little while can exhaust the baby and make them sleepy again. 

And this is a never-ending cycle.

To promote healthy sleeping habits in babies, it’s important for a parent to recognize their sleep cues. If you have a better understanding of how, why, and when newborns sleep, it will become easier to plan your day accordingly.

Why Is It Important To Identify Your Baby’s Sleep Cues?

The best way to get some long and effective naps for your baby is to pay attention to the baby’s sleep cues. Your baby will give you sleepy cues when he is overworked, tired, or ready for a nap. From a little stare to a big yawn, you need to look for the smallest cues to find out if your baby needs sleep.

Each baby has different sleep cues, and as a parent, you must be able to discover your baby's unique cues. You might find it hard to detect these cues in the beginning weeks as your baby is busy sleeping, if not eating. However, when your baby stays awake longer than usual, you will start to notice more of these cues.

Most parents make the mistake of waiting until their kids are tired and cranky before putting them to bed since they consider these signs to be indications of a baby’s tiredness. But there are a few signs or cues that your baby shows before it becomes fussy and starts crying. Most of the time, crying is the baby’s last resort, and you shouldn’t wait till that to put your baby to sleep.

As a new parent, it’s important to learn the right ways and techniques when it comes to your baby’s sleep time, as it can impact the sleep hours of both you and your baby. When you pay attention to sleep cues, it means that you are listening to your baby and giving them what they need. And ultimately, a happy baby leads to happy parenting!

The 60-90 Minute Sleep Rule

If you are new to the concept of sleep cues and would prefer a direct and straightforward method to detect an overtired baby, you can follow the 60-90 minute sleep rule during the first few weeks. 

This is a general rule of thumb when it comes to understanding your baby’s wake windows better. A baby's wake window is the period of time between naps when they are awake. A newborn's usual wake window is between 60 and 90 minutes. Your baby will sleep better and longer if you aim for full, age-appropriate wake windows.

Remember, the younger your baby, the shorter the wake window. For example, a newborn may want to fall asleep just 30-40 minutes of staying awake! This can extend up to 90 minutes when your baby is around 6-9 months.

Knowing your baby’s wake windows can help you easily understand and look for sleep cues. Learning more about these can turn out to be a game-changer for you!

Some Common Sleep Cues You Should Look Out For!

Now that you know what sleep cues are and why they are important, let’s look at some of the most common ones you should be aware of.

The “I’m tired” cues

  • Avoids visual contact
  • Keeps zoning out and drifting off
  • Not as social as usual
  • Flushed and rosy appearance of the eyebrows
  • Lower voice volume
  • Loses interest in getting entertained
  • Slowed activity level
  • Calmer than usual

The “overtired” cues

  • Big yawns
  • Jerky limb movements
  • Keeps rubbing eyes
  • Touches face often
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Tugs at their ears

The “need a nap now!” (final) cues

  • Tightened fists
  • Being cranky and fussy
  • Frantic crying
  • Clingy behaviour
  • Rigid body
  • Throws tantrums/pushes you away
  • Curved back

And remember, your baby will not demonstrate every single one of these sleep cues. Your baby’s brows can become flushed without them zoning out or losing interest. Or the baby can become instantly fussy without rubbing her eyes and face. Some babies can show signs that aren’t listed above too! 

As a parent, the more you observe your baby, the better you can understand them.

10 Tips For New Parents To Help Babies Sleep Better

To help you understand and detect these sleeping cues, we’ve got some tips for you! Make sure you follow these tips to communicate with your baby better.

1. Establish a Nap Routine For Your Baby

Since newborns don’t have a well-developed circadian rhythm, they tend to stay up in the middle of the night, and you can’t entirely fix this, atleast in the first few months. However, you can reduce this behavior by establishing a standard nap schedule for your baby. 

This can improve their sleep, give you more time to plan other activities, and keep both you and your baby active and happy during the baby’s wake windows. 

2. Pay Close Attention

Though this may sound obvious, you must pay close attention to your baby 24/7. You must be available and responsive when your baby is trying to communicate with you through these cues. What particular sleeping habits does your baby have? Do they keep touching their face and eyes often? 

Make a note of what your baby does from the above list, and choose the cue that might be the best indication of your baby needing sleep.

3. Dress Your Baby in Comfortable Clothes

It’s important to dress your baby in warm and comfortable clothing. Clothes can play a huge role in how your baby feels and, ultimately, affect its sleep. If your baby doesn’t feel warm and cozy, it may have trouble falling asleep or sleeping for longer durations. You should pick out clothes for every season and dress your baby accordingly.

For breathable cotton clothes, check out 1st Step’s muslin jhablas (or vests) that will keep your baby warm and comfortable at all times.

4. Keep a Record of These Sleep Cues

Yes, you can probably remember a lot of stuff, but why take the risk? Keep a record of how your baby behaves and reacts when they are tired or weary. It will let you monitor the baby's behavioral changes and modify your sleep routine as needed. Make sure you keep track of the baby’s sleep duration and how long they can stay content in between naps. 

5. Apply the 60-90 Minute Rule 

In times when you feel that you can’t spot any cues or are unsure of how to perceive a cue, it’s always good to resort to the scientific method. As discussed in the blog, the 90-minute rule can help you better understand sleep routines. If your baby has been awake for 60 minutes (30-40 mins for newborns), it’s time for a nap again!

6. Try Not To Be Pushy!

While most parents complain about their newborns sleeping a lot, some might worry about their babies not sleeping as much. If you fall under the latter category, don’t worry. Every baby has a different sleep pattern and shows different sleep cues. 

Babies don't get any more sleepy when you become forceful! It only agitates them, and further leads them to associate bedtime with conflict. Unlearning this might be even more challenging.

7. Keep A Watchful Eye As Your Baby Grows

As babies grow, their sleep cues change too. While you would’ve identified your newborn’s tiredness by looking at their flushed brows and calmer attitude, you cannot always stick to them. Once your baby is a few months old, it can display different sleep cues and require new sleep routines. 

Once you figure out the right moment and constantly look for these transitions, you can put your baby to sleep more easily. 

8. Learn To Move Your Baby to a Crib Without Waking Them

To successfully accomplish this task, observe your baby’s eyes. If your baby’s eyes are darting under their lids, they are in a deep sleep. Wait until their breathing is deep and their muscles are at ease. Keep one hand on their back and the other on their tummy as you ever-so-gently place them in their crib.

Check out 1st Step’s sturdy and comfortable cribs and bassinets to give your baby a safe and uninterrupted sleeping environment.

9. Wait Till The Full Wake Window

As a parent, our goal is to achieve a full wake window without oversleeping your baby. If your baby is showing signs of sleepiness, but there hasn't been a full wake window, try changing his surroundings. Sometimes, a change of environment can help re-engage the baby and hit the full wake window. 

However, if your baby still shows signs of tiredness, give them the nap they need!

10. Finally, go Easy On Yourself

Sometimes, you might get the sleep cue wrong or mistake it for just another behavioral act. However bad you mess up, make sure you are being kind to yourself. After all, you are a new parent and need your time to figure out stuff. Once you keep working at it, you can begin to understand your baby better and respond to its unique needs. 

Understanding sleep cues are a great way to achieve long and effective naps!


Being a new parent is both a rewarding and challenging experience. While you are busy giving cuddles and kisses to your newborn, you also learn a lot along the way. Putting your baby to sleep can be super exhausting if you don’t follow certain sleeping cues and sleep routines for the baby. But now that you are aware of them, this job is much easier than you think!

We hope you found this blog useful and will come back to it in times of need. And to make the whole process of putting your baby to sleep easier, don’t forget to check out some of 1st Step’s amazing baby care products

November 09, 2022 — Aatish Mandot
Tags: Baby Care