Some of you might be thinking, “How is my baby supposed to “tell” me they are tired if they can’t verbally communicate yet?”. That’s a good question and I have the answer. Your baby communicates that they are tired through nonverbal sleepy cues. Sleepy cues are signals that baby’s/toddler’s use to communicate to us that they are tired. Today I want to point out what these sleepy cues are, and how you can use them to know when to lay your baby down for sleep.
What are your baby’s sleepy cues?
There is a long list of sleepy cues that your baby may display to tell you that they are ready for sleep, no two babies are the same… the difference is whether or not you know and can distinguish them. I have so many clients that tell me that they didn’t even know that babies had sleepy cues and, to be honest, I didn’t at first either. It’s not something the doctor tells you when you leave the hospital after having your baby, so how else would you know unless you did your research. Due to this lack of knowledge, parents wait until their baby is showing the obvious signs of being tired and that usually is when the baby is super fussy and inconsolable (a.k.a an overtired baby). When your baby is fussy and inconsolable, it’s most likely long past due for your baby to be laid down for sleep- making it difficult. That’s when I typically hear that common phrase, “my baby fights sleep”.
To lay your baby down peacefully and with less fight, we want to watch for the more subtle sleepy cues. Below you will find a chart with sleepy cues that your baby may be presenting. You will also see that it is separated into three columns labeled, sleepy, nap now and overtired.
While all the cues listed below are sleepy cues, the goal in understanding sleepy cues and specifically your baby’s sleepy cues is to catch them early! When they are subtle and when your baby is “hinting” to you that they are beginning to get sleepy. Every baby’s sleepy cues are a little different and your baby doesn’t necessarily have to present all the sleepy cues to be ready to nap! It could just be one or two. For instance, Jude ALWAYS has started to “zone out” when he is getting tired. I always use that as my cue to start getting him ready for a nap or bedtime. Your baby’s cue may be completely different and that’s fine!
How do you use your baby’s sleepy cues to know when to lay your baby down for sleep?
My professional recommendation for catching your baby’s sleepy cues early is to set a timer at the beginning of their wake window. For instance, if your baby is 3 months old, their wake window range is 30-90 minutes. When your baby wakes up, start a timer for 30 minutes. When that timer goes off let that be your signal to start watching your baby more closely for those subtle sleepy cues that you see under the column “Sleepy”. Once you start seeing cues, let that be your signal to start preparing your baby for sleep. The key here is not to wait until your baby is fussy and inconsolable to lay them down (overtired). Waiting until this point makes it very difficult for your baby to fall asleep and generally ends with a lot of tears. We want to avoid that by catching those cues early and getting your baby laid down before the overtired phase. One of my favorite sayings that I have created over time is, “The best baby to lay down for sleep is a tired but happy baby.” This is achieved by catching your baby’s cues early, not late.
Now that you know what sleepy cues are and know how to use them to you and your baby’s advantage, start practicing! Combining your baby’s sleepy cues and wake window is how you can start creating that more predictable schedule that you may be longing for. Watching the sleepy cues and the wake window are ways to help prevent getting your baby overtired. To learn more about what it means for your baby to be overtired read this blog.