25th Sep 2020

When it comes to newborn sleep, jerky limbs, frowning faces and lots of yawning are common cues that your bub is in need of some shut-eye.

Every baby’s sleeping pattern and habits are unique. But, one thing that’s fairly consistent across the board is that it can be challenging to decipher what your little one wants and when.

By understanding common baby sleeping cues, you may feel better equipped to comprehend your little one’s silent communication.

Of course, if you have any concerns about your child’s sleep or their health, talk to your health professional.

Why Do Babies Use Sleep Cues?

Before your little one can talk, babies use behavioural cues to communicate what they need. So, when you start to see them performing their sleep cues, it may be time for you to start getting them ready for bed (1).

When you’re still getting to know your newborn, their sleep cues may be tricky to spot. Eventually, as you spend more and more time with them, you should be able to identify when they’re signalling for some slumber.

What Are Some Common Baby Sleep Cues?

Over time, it’s likely your child’s sleep cues will evolve and change as they grow. While they continue to develop, their signals for sleep may progress with them, meaning there might be some more learning for you as a parent in understanding when they’re tired. Adjusting your routine as their sleep cues change can be more common as your child grows older.

Newborn Sleep Cues:

If your newborn baby is ready to drift off to dreamland, they may exhibit the following sleeping cues:

  • Pulling at ears: A non-verbal cue that they are signalling for something, like sleep (2)
  • Yawning
  • Jerky leg and arm movements
  • Frowning or looking worried
  • Sucking on fingers: may mean your baby is trying to find a way to settle (3).
  • Rubbing eyes: this can be due to their eyes becoming ‘heavier’ as they are growing sleepier
  • Fluttery eyelids, losing focus or staring into nothing as they tire

Baby Sleep Cues (3+ Months):

  • Clinginess
  • Becoming bored with toys
  • Fussiness with food
  • Becoming quieter and not enthused with playing
  • Clumsiness
  • Grizzling

As your little one continues to grow, they may continue to show some of these sleep cues to signify tiredness while not exhibiting others.

It’s important to remember that each child is different. If you have any concerns about your child’s sleep or their health, talk to your health professional.

What’s The Difference Between Sleep Cues And Hunger Cues?

Although some signals (such as yawning) may be obvious indicators that it’s time for a nap, there are some behaviours that could also communicate your bub is hungry.  For example, grizzling or crying may mean your child is tired, but could also indicate they’re hungry.

To try and differentiate between the two, you may find it useful to analyse your bub’s last few hours. If they’ve been fed within two hours, they’re likely to be tired (3). If you’re unsure, offer a feed and if they only take a little milk and are still unsettled, that may be a sign they’re ready for some slumber (3).

Although these cues are common signs of tiredness or hunger in newborns, if you have any concerns about your child’s sleep or their health, talk to your health professional.

Creating A Calming Environment

If your little one is showing signs of tiredness, it can be useful to prepare them for sleep by reducing stimulation around them. You may find the following tips useful for lulling your bub off to sleep:

  • Taking your child to the room where they usually sleep
  • Putting their toys out of sight
  • Talking in a calm, quiet voice
  • Dimming the lights in their sleep environment
  • Giving your baby a warm bath or massage
  • Holding them in your arms until they’re drowsy, then placing them in their cot while still awake

As babies can’t speak yet, the ways that they tell you they want something can be a bit of a mystery. As you get to know their sleep cues, you may be able to tell when they need a slumber before they become overtired.

If you have any concerns about your little one’s sleep habits, talk to your health professional.



  1. (n.d.). Sleep 0 – 3 months. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Aug. 2020].
  2. Understanding Baby’s Cues & Tired Signs Crying after 3 months. (n.d.). [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Sep. 2020].
  3. Raising Children Network. (n.d.). Tired signs in babies and toddlers. [online] Available at:

What's Next?

Have you found this information useful? If so, you may enjoy the following:

How To Put Your Baby To Sleep Safely

How To Create A Child’s Bedtime Routine In 5 Simple Steps