Healthy Sleep Habits: Sleep Cues

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Sleep cues are so very important when timing naps correctly. I have a post with my list of sleep cues and a post with the Baby Whisperer’s sleep cues. Now time for Weissbluth’s sleep cues.

As I have mentioned in the past, a baby will not display every sleep cue on a list. Also, your baby might have her own unique cue not included on any list, but my guess is among these three, you should be able to find what your baby displays. This list is found on page 63 and page 71 in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child:

  • Decreased activity
  • Slower motions
  • Less vocal
  • Sucking is weaker or slower
  • Quieter
  • Calmer
  • Appears disinterested
  • Eyes less focused 
  • Eyelids drooping
  • Yawning
  • Less social (smiling less and a lack of engaging you)

The above list is a list of signs your baby is ready to go to sleep. Now for a list of cues that signal your child is overly tired:

  • Fussing
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Irritable
  • Cranky

If you study the three posts closely, you will notice there are things Hogg and I list as cues that Weissbluth lists as  over-tired cues. You will also noticed Hogg says baby will get fidgety while Weissbluth says baby moves less. Welcome to baby life šŸ™‚ Your job is to figure out where your baby falls in these ideas. 

My Children

Now for the sleep cues of my children. 

Brayden: Brayden’s sleep cue was easy and ever the same: fussiness. Newborn on up, it was fussiness. As he grew into a toddler, this moved into him being naughty when he was tired. He still at age five gets emotionally upset when he is tired.

Kaitlyn: Kaitlyn was one of those “cue-less” babies. At about two months, she dropped her signs. She was about a year before she started giving me hints again. So I had to judge her waketime on her naps. If the naps were good, I knew her waketime was right. Even today, she doesn’t show any sign of needing sleep until she is very overly tired. She will be up 3 hours past nap time before any classic cue comes out. We have pretty much always had to be clock people with Kaitlyn’s naps.

McKenna: McKenna had classic “seven-mile stare” described by Hogg. She would star off into space when she was ready for a nap. Now at 19 months, if she is ready for a nap, she comes looking for me and wants to sit in my lap. 

Your Turn!

Please share the sleep cues you relied on for your children.

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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book,Ā The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on theĀ AboutĀ page. Follow her onĀ Facebook,Ā Pinterest, andĀ InstagramĀ for more tips and helps.

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  1. Alex
    November 18, 2010 / 5:27 PM

    from about 8 weeks to 3 months, my son would yawn and stare – easy! then he decided to switch it up and stopped yawning šŸ™‚ these days, at 5.5 months, his sleep cue is some combination of slowing down, tired eyes, and starting to fuss.

  2. A Wee Irish Family
    November 18, 2010 / 5:49 PM

    DD had very few noticeable sleep cues until she was 3.5 months old, then she started to sigh. She'd sigh really deep, and then start to yawn. I had to get her down by the 3rd yawn or the nap was AWFUL! Then she started to rub her right ear and her nose when she got tired. Lately it's been a combination of ear/nose rubbing, sighing, yawning, and thumb-sucking. (She's also starting WW26, so her waketimes are a bit shorter than they were a week ago. So if I miss her earlier cues or ignore them, thinking she can stay up longer, she'll start to get cranky.)

  3. jrjones5876
    November 18, 2010 / 6:19 PM

    My now 21 month old used to start sucking her thumb. Now she just starts whining when she gets sleepy. Sometimes she wants to sit in our laps. My 6 month old will start yawning.

  4. Dawn
    November 18, 2010 / 6:45 PM

    My 8 month old DS will get a bit fussy. That's when I go change him and get him ready for nap time. Once on the changing table he starts rubbing his eyes. This is his tell tale sign! If he doesn't eye rub, I may keep him up for a few more minutes of quiet activity/holding

  5. D & H
    November 18, 2010 / 9:09 PM

    Fussiness/crankiness has always been my baby's sleep cue. Also, he gets slap-happy: the more giggly he is at any little thing, the more tired he is. Now at age 9 months, he will also rub his eyes and wants held or attention from mommy/daddy if he is getting tired.

  6. snydsy33
    November 18, 2010 / 11:07 PM

    Sorry, not related to this post. I have a 2.5 year-old dtr. She has been a great naptaker for a very long time. Over the past few months, she has started waiting to poop until naptime. She is not potty trained although we've started, but she has a 5 month-old sister and a recent surgery which have delayed training. She has always pooped once-a-day, usually just after lunch. I could almost always get her to go before nap, but now she won't. And then she wakes in mid-nap to go. Then I have to get her and change her diaper because she will yell for me or get into her diaper, or just not sleep. It's driving me crazy! I've tried putting her on the potty before nap, and she'll sometimes pee, if she needs to, but never poo. Anyway, weird situation, but I'm at a loss.Thanks,Rhonda

  7. Jac
    November 19, 2010 / 12:14 AM

    It's funny how sleep cues can change. For the first 8 weeks of DS life he would yawn and become fussy so I knew it was time for a nap however from 2 months on he became disinterested and stopped smiling and interacting as his nap cue. I was very confused when his cues suddenly changed but very quickly worked it out and we were back on track.

  8. Kelly Grant
    November 19, 2010 / 1:46 AM

    Staring and rubbing her nose. However, she doesnt have many cues anymore and oh it can make things challenging!

  9. A Barr
    November 19, 2010 / 6:06 AM

    My 5 month old starts sucking her thumb. But sometimes I just go by the clock and it will work better, because the thumb sucking could be a late clue.

  10. snydsy33
    November 19, 2010 / 2:38 PM

    My 4-month-old gets fussy. She used to yawn pretty early on, but now she won't usually yawn until I'm rocking her and she's on her way to sleep. She rubs her eyes too, but this is an overtired cue for her, I think.

  11. Megan Lubbers
    November 19, 2010 / 2:44 PM

    My first never really had any sleep cues. My second is pretty easy to read. I have to wait until he's fussy and doing his sleep pose as I like to call it (he sucks on his right arm and puts his left hand up by his ear), or I wont get a good nap out of him!

  12. Katherine
    November 19, 2010 / 4:37 PM

    My oldest had the best sleep cue–her eyebrows would totally turn red. Funny, right?? I knew instantly that it was time for bed every time. I loved it. My second is completely by the clock. I don't know until I am laying her down and the thumb goes in.

  13. Ryan & Amber
    November 21, 2010 / 4:04 AM

    My daughter's almost 14 mos., and she showed the classic sleep cues until about 4/5 months. Since then and even now, she'll give us a yawn and rub her hair. She gets fussy if she's overtired, and now when she wants to nap, she will come up to us and lay her head against our legs for a moment.

  14. Plowmanators
    December 1, 2010 / 7:08 PM

    Thanks everyone for adding your sleep cues!

  15. Plowmanators
    December 1, 2010 / 7:11 PM

    Rhonda,One idea is to try feeding her foods in with breakfast that can speed up a bowel movement.Another idea is to be sure to have independent play each morning period. My kids all poop during independent play still. Another idea is to offer her a special treat of some sort if she poops before her nap.Finally, figure out the best environment for her pooping and try to create that before the nap.Good luck!

  16. Katie {My Paisley Apron}
    May 25, 2011 / 6:40 PM

    One of ours is kinda strange so maybe worth sharing – when our baby (now 3.5 months old) gets tired, or tired of an activity, she spits up. Not every time, and it doesn't always mean naptime right away. But it's actually kind of reliable in our case. If she's starting to spit up and naptime could be approaching… it's definitely naptime!

  17. Plowmanators
    June 13, 2011 / 11:10 PM

    Very interesting Katie! Thanks for sharing that!

  18. Unknown
    December 8, 2012 / 5:03 PM

    As a first time mom with a 5 wk old I'm trying to make sure I don't keep her up too much or little after feedings. Until this week, I used to ere on the side of too long probably. I'd set her in her bouncy after she ate & let her decide when to sleep on her own. Usually she'd cry & I'd just ignore her. Hmm. I'm trying to be better this week. I've started putting her in her crib for all naps (is that too much??…where else could I put her) & also swaddling her because her arms/legs were keeping her awake. I'm trying to follow her cues although I don't know yet what HER cues are. I've just been waiting for yawns & they usually happen soon after I feed her, around the time she's looking at me while pooping. I wait till she's handled her business, change her, and put her down again. I'm worried I'm putting her down too soon because sometimes it's 45 min since she woke up last. Thoughts?

    • Katherine
      September 14, 2018 / 12:50 PM

      I’d love to hear an answer to this because my 6
      week old son will yawn right after nursing as well. Even though he just woke up about 30 maybe 45 minutes before. This doesn’t seem like a long enough wake time for a 6 week old??

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