13 Baby Sleep Cues: How to Identify Them And Tips To Put Baby To Sleep

check_icon Research-backed

Image: Shutterstock


It is important to identify baby sleep cues to help them sleep better. You will find it difficult to put an overly exhausted baby to sleep, or they might wake up more often in the night. A common mistake most parents make is waiting for the baby to get tired and fussy before putting them to bed, as they think these as the signs that the baby is ready to sleep.

However, before hitting crankiness and crying, the babies give subtle cues to show they are sleepy, similar to the cues they show when hungry. So identifying and designing bedtimes based on these cues can make it easy for you to put your baby to sleep. Read on to know.

What Are The Common Baby Sleep Cues?

Here are some of the sleep cues a baby shows before they get overtired and fussy.

  1. Yawning is one of the first few signs of a sleepy baby (1).
  2. The baby rubs their eyes and pull or rub their ears (2).
  3. Less activity or movement is a common cue. Exhausted babies might show reduced playfulness.
  4. Babies usually stop making the usual playful sounds and become less vocal.
  5. They seem disinterested and less interactive with their surroundings. It might also be difficult to keep them engaged.
  6. Weak sucking is one of the common cues of a sleepy baby. They may be too tired to suck.
  7. Eyes of the babies seem less focused, and they tend to look away when you stare at them (1).
  8. Redness around the eyes is commonly seen in sleepy babies.
  9. Drooping eyelids are also noticeable.
  10. Babies also exhibit their sleepiness through the jerky movement of hands and legs.
  11. They smile less than usual.
  12. Some babies suck thumb or fingers when they are sleepy. It is a way to self-soothe.
  13. When babies are extremely sleepy, they might become cranky, fussy, and irritable and might end up crying if not put to bed (3).

When babies sleep after they are extremely cranky, they may not have a good quality sleep. The baby would wake up often or sooner and remain irritable or cranky.

How To Identify Your Baby’s Sleep Cues?

A baby’s sleep cues may go unnoticed in the early days. However, you will eventually learn to identify them. We give you a few tips to help you identify the cues and improve the baby’s sleep schedule.

  • Pay close attention to your baby to identify his or her behavioral changes. Most babies become a little silent and less active before getting fussy and cranky. Identifying the correct time will help you put your baby to sleep faster.
  • Notice the baby’s sleep pattern every day and understand their wake-time length. Most babies have a fixed schedule of the number of hours they can be awake and be playful before they feel sleepy again.
  • Document your baby’s sleeping cues. Make notes of how your baby reacts and acts when he/she is sleepy. It will help you remember the changes in the baby’s behavior and set sleep patterns accordingly.
  • Note down the number of hours your baby sleeps every day and also the time duration your baby can tolerate happily between two naps. Try to follow these leads to achieve a good sleep schedule for your baby.

If your baby shows sleeping cues, then it is recommended to put the baby to bed as early as possible to avoid extreme tiredness and irritability.

Tips To Put Your Baby To Sleep After Identifying Cues

Once you learn to identify your baby’s sleep cues, it becomes easier to decide the right time for the baby to nap. Following these tips might help you put your sleepy baby to bed.

  • Babies thrive on routine. Establish the nap time routine for your baby.
  • Dress the baby in comfortable clothes according to the weather.
  • If your baby is hypersensitive to sound and light, then keep the baby’s crib in a dark and quiet room.
  • You can either pat, rock, cradle, or swaddle the baby to sleep. Once the baby is older, you may encourage them to sleep on their own by laying them in their crib when they are partially awake and sleepy. This is very important to prevent habit formation where you as parent become the “it” for your baby to fall asleep.
  • Make sure that the baby’s diapers are changed, and the baby’s stomach is full before putting them to bed. It can help them achieve uninterrupted and longer sleep.
  • Try and establish a bedtime routine for them. Singing some nursery rhymes at bedtime might help the baby establish a correlation between the rhyme and sleeping. For older babies, bedtime stories might help them establish a routine.

It’s difficult to recognize a baby’s sleep cues in the early days because they sleep most of the time and only wake up to eat and poop. However, you may better understand their needs, routines, and sleep patterns as they become older. Although each baby has different sleeping requirements, yawning, drooping eyelids, and less activity are some common baby sleep cues. After you identify these cues, help them get ready for bed by dressing them in comfortable clothes, swaddling them, and ensuring the crib is in a dark and quiet place.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Infant Sleep; Columbia University Department Of Neurology
2. Sleep in Infants (2-12 Months); Nationwide Children’s
3. Children and Sleep; Sleep Foundation Organization
The following two tabs change content below.

Dr. Elna Gibson

(MBChB, MMed, Paeds)
Dr. Elna Gibson is a general pediatrician. She did her MBChB and specialization as a pediatrician in South Africa at the University of Pretoria. She obtained MMed Pediatrics (masters) with distinction in 1993. As a young specialist, Dr. Gibson spent some time in the Netherlands, and then settled in the Vaal Triangle where she has practiced for 25 years. She... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. She also holds a certificate in lactation counselling from iNational Health... more