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

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Usually, people wait for the baby to get fussy and tired, to put them to bed. They think that it is the sign that the baby is ready to sleep. Actually, fussiness and crying suggest that it is a little too late to put the baby to sleep.

A baby gives some signs or cues that they are sleepy, just like they give cues to show that they are hungry. And these cues come before they become cranky and start crying. Through this MomJunction post, we help you identify some simple sleeping cues of babies and give tips to regularize your little one’s sleep cycle. 

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.

In the very initial days of a baby’s life, it is difficult to identify the sleep cues as they are sleeping most of the time. They only wake up to eat and when they poop. As the baby grows in age, you begin to understand their requirements, habits, and sleep patterns.

Each baby has a different sleeping need and different sleeping patterns. Give some time to yourself to be familiar with your baby’s sleep needs. Note down their cues so that you can act on time.

What cues does your baby given when they feel sleepy? Let us know in the comment section below.


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

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