How to Tell If You Have a High Sleep Needs or Low Sleep Needs Baby

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I am a hardcore Babywise mama. I start implementing sleep strategies from birth to help my babies become great sleepers (Click here for my post on how to start Babywise from birth!). It’s not easy: it takes WORK. When you put in all that work, time and effort and then your baby just isn’t sleeping the way you think they should be it’s beyond stressful.

Sleep issues can be frustrating and it can be tempting to just say “I GIVE UP!” I’ve learned over my years of parenting that sometimes there are sleep struggles simply beyond our control. Enter in the high sleep needs vs low sleep needs baby.

When I think back to my first child as an infant I wish I’d known about high sleep needs and low sleep needs. I wish I’d been able to tell myself that Kye wasn’t sleeping because his body simply didn’t need the sleep.

Both types of sleep needs children still NEED sleep, but high sleep needs babies tend to be on the higher end of the sleep spectrum whereas low sleep needs one tend to be on the lower end of that sleep spectrum. Babywise even accounts for this as it provides a range of what is an appropriate amount of sleep at a given age.

I took me until my THIRD child to FINALLY realize and recognize the differences between a high sleep needs and low sleep needs baby. Having that knowledge has made a WORLD of difference.

My third, Tess, is a low sleep needs. I learned not to stress it when she wasn’t napping as well because I knew she would still be happy and content. She dropped naps quicker and is my most flexible when it comes to staying up past bedtime. She can lose out on sleep and still be good to go the next morning!

My fourth, Spear, is a high sleep needs baby. He’s nearing 8 months old and still is sleeping a solid 2 hours for his “cat nap.” Normally I’d be stressing and pushing him to drop it but he’s still sleeping solid for all three naps AND solid through the night and simply doesn’t require the awake time that my lower sleep needs baby required. Dude likes his sleep so I let him have it and will wean down the third nap when he’s ready!

Wondering what type of sleep needs baby you have on your hands? Here are some ways to tell if your baby is high sleep needs or low sleep needs:

Traits of High Sleep Needs Babies


Can’t Handle Long Awake Times


My second baby, Britt, drove me batty because she’d get SO grumpy SO quickly into her awake time. For the first several months of her life she’d literally eat then go to sleep. Her awake times stayed at 45 minutes for so long. She simply couldn’t handle any extra awake time.

While Britt was very grumpy while awake, Spear is very happy while awake yet still doesn’t handle long awake times. At 7 months he typically only stays up for 1 hour and 45 minutes and often times shows signs of being ready for bed even earlier.

Show Clear Signs of Tiredness


A beautiful thing with high sleep needs babies are that they typically have very obvious signs that they are tired and ready for bed. While I’ve had both a happy and a more grumpy personality in my high sleep needs babies: they both have had SUPER obvious signs that it’s time for bed.

Even though often these signs are shown earlier than the “appropriate” time for bed, it’s better to follow the sleep cues and put the high sleep baby to bed earlier rather than push them to be awake longer and then, therefore, cause overstimulation and over-tiredness.

Typically Shift Schedule Due to Ability to Sleep Longer 

Neither of my high sleep needs babies could ever shift schedules due to being able to handle the longer awake times. Typically a baby moves to the four hour schedule when they can handle 2 hour awake times (Ready for the 4 hour schedule? Click here for my tips!).

High sleep needs babies, however, may not be ready for the longer awake time and instead can shift schedules and simply sleep longer. Spear typically goes down for nap at 12:40 and will easily sleep until 3:15. He gets a solid 2 ½ hour nap as appose to the typical 2 hour.

Fussy If woken early or kept up too long


Sleep is crucial for all babies but especially high sleep needs ones. They are the kid where if they don’t have their needed sleep…everyone suffers. When we traveled with Britt as a baby we had to make sure to NEVER skip a nap because she’d be way overtired and miserable the rest of the day (Want my tips for traveling with a baby? Click here for my post!) She was less flexible on her ability to sleep on the go or push naps or bedtime any shorter.

Same goes for waking early…I dread waking my high sleep needs kids up early from naps or before their usual morning wake up time. They tend to be more fussy and grouchy and harder to wake up. I’m sure the teenage years will be interesting 😉 


Hold Onto Naps Longer


As I mentioned Spear is almost 8 months old and still sleeps solid from about 4:30 until 7:00 when we bathe him and then give him his bedtime bottle and he goes straight to bed for the night. The “typical norm” for a Babywise Baby is to having a short-evening cat nap (45 minutes-ish) and then to drop it completely.

Being a higher sleep needs baby though, Spear truly is tired for the evening nap. He sleeps well for it, sleeps well through the night, and sleeps solid his other two naps as well. Kid just loves some sleep.

As a by-the-book type-a type mom this can be stressful and it’s easy to feel like the baby needs to be dropping naps by a certain age when really that’s not the case. It’s OKAY to hold onto naps longer and it’s all about knowing what is best for YOUR baby and their individual needs!

Traits of Low Sleep Needs Babies


Struggles With Naps / Night Sleep


When sleep is high on your parenting list of priorities it can feel like you’re failing when your baby isn’t sleeping. Dealing with early wakings, mid-nap wakings, taking a long time to fall asleep at sleep times. It can all cause stress on MAMA.

But low sleep needs babies typically just don’t need as much sleep. While my high sleep needs babies were often fussy during awake times because they were tired, my low sleep needs babies were typically fussier during times of rest because they weren’t tired.

My two low sleep needs babies were also my worst nappers and took longer to reach sleep milestones like sleeping through the night.

Doesn’t Respond to Sleep Tactics


Not only did my lower sleep needs babies tend to struggle the most with solid sleep, they also were the toughest to get back to sleep when they’d wake early.

Whew. I will NEVER forget the struggle with Tess when she hit the four month sleep regression (You can read how I handled the 4 month sleep regression here!). I tried IT ALL and nothing seemed to really help.

Knowing the Wonder Weeks with a lower sleep needs baby can be especially helpful as they are more likely to be affected by those milestones. Often times the best way to handle a sleep struggle with a low sleep needs baby is just to ride it out until the phase passes!

Easy to Miss Sleep Cues / Sleep “Window”


A big part of the struggle for naps and night sleep with low sleep needs babies is that it’s VERY easy to miss their sleep cues. Since they do tend to be happier during awake times, they often don’t show signs that they are sleepy and ready for bed.

Both my first and third children (Kye and Tess) were low sleep needs and neither of them had obvious sleep cues. I really had to hardcore watch the clock with them both and had to play around a lot with a variety of times of when to put them to bed in order to find their best fit.

Since it is tougher to tell when a low sleep needs baby is tired, it’s so easy to miss that window for good quality sleep. Often times low sleep needs babies are the ones struggling to fall asleep at the start of naps. They are overstimulated and overtired because that sweet spot when they were first sleepy was missed and they got put down for bed past that ideal window of time.

Shift Schedule Due to Ability to Stay Awake Longer


Changing schedules with a low sleep needs baby is often easier and smoother than with a low sleep needs child. Low sleep needs babies can handle longer awake times at a younger age and can drop naps often at younger ages than what is considered “the norm.”

While it’s tempting to drop naps sooner or allow for later nights with a low sleep needs baby, it’s also crucial that just because they can handle less sleep doesn’t mean they don’t still need it. Low sleep needs babies can be tricky in that way! They may always fall in the lower end of the recommended sleep amounts, but it does take more of a conscious effort to make sure they are at that minimum amount.

My oldest is 9 and a low sleep needs child and he’s always asking about moving his bedtime later. He currently goes to bed at 7:30 and can read until 8:00. He wakes up every morning at 6 am. He doesn’t need to wake up that early (his lamp turns on at 6:45 as his wake up alarm) but his body just naturally wakes up at 6 am. No matter what.

While it’s tempting to allow him to stay up later, I explained to him that since he’s waking at 6 and not falling asleep until 8 or so his body is only getting 10 hours of true sleep and that’s the low end of the recommend sleep amounts for his age! (Valerie from Chronicles of a Babywise Mom has a great post about Why It’s Okay if your Babywise Baby Sleeps 10 Hours at Night Here!)


Tends to Wake Happy and Stay Happy if Kept Up Longer

With my first two kids we never really tested their limits. I was pretty rigid with their schedules and even on vacations and such we’d make sure they were in bed on time. When we added our third we were visiting Disney World pretty often. We realized early on that Tess was a low sleep needs baby so we did more with her and were more flexible with her schedule while at Disney at a younger age than we were with our older two.

I LOVE Tess at Disney. Especially on the days where we do a full day at the parks from opening till close. The more tired she is, the more silly and goofy and funny she becomes. She does FINE with a late night. With skipping her nap. With having to wake up early. She’s very flexible because she doesn’t require the amount of sleep that a higher sleep needs child would.

While I wouldn’t do that regularly, it is super handy when we’re traveling that she’s able to go and do and still be happy without having the amount of sleep she’s used to getting at home. 


When a low sleep needs baby needs to be woken early from naps, they typically handle it just fine. They can stay awake later, skip a nap as needed, and are more flexible while still being happy and content.

There are many advantages and disadvantages to both a high sleep needs baby and a low sleep needs baby. Each require sleep, but may require different amounts for different parts of the day. By knowing which type of sleep needs baby you have you can be better equip to meet their needs and give them the best possible set up for their best sleep!

Having this knowledge also allows you to give yourself a break! Once I realized the different types of sleep needs children I have, I felt less pressure to have them fit into this “perfect Babywise mold” that I thought existed. (Which it doesn’t. Click here for my post about the myth of the “perfect” Babywise baby) Each child is different. Each is unique. Each has their own specific needs and challenges and by recognizing that you’re able to relax a bit and not put so much pressure on yourself!

Want to dig a little deeper on the topics mentioned in this post? Here are the links to some of my Babywise posts that I’ve referenced here:

This week is also Babywise Friendly Blog Network Week! We’ve ALL talked about the topic of sleep this week and there are so many awesome posts that have been featured. Be sure to check them all out:

Chronicles of a Babywise Mom: How to Solve Sleep Problems for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Let’s Be Brave: Dropping to One Nap

Twin Mom and More: 7 Ways to Establish Good Sleep Habits from Birth

Team Cartwright: 7 Reasons I Want My Kids Awake After Bedtime

Mama’s Organized Chaos: How to Tell if Your Child is Ready to Drop to No Naps

Christine Keys: 5 Powerful Reasons that Babywise is Effective for All Babies

Wiley Adventures: Continuing Healthy Sleep Habits with Older Children

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