Text reads: Understanding your baby's sleep cues (image shows sleeping baby in crib on his or her belly)

Baby Sleep Cues & How to Understand Them

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Understanding your baby’s sleepy cues are one of the best ways to prevent an overtired baby and promote healthy sleep habits. If you’re struggling to find the right amount of awake time for your newborn, keep on reading for the best ways to understand baby sleep cues during those early months of infancy.

As a mom of two, baby sleep was probably one of the hardest challenges to face. Why? Because taking care of a newborn baby is hard enough when you’ve never raised a child before.

Then, try doing it when you’re chronically sleep deprived, those two just do not mix well together (at least, not for me).

I remember reading countless articles and Instagram pages from pediatric sleep consultants to learn new tips such as the best time to put my baby to sleep, how to recognize tired signs, when to know my baby will need longer naps, and literally so much more.

Thankfully, after two babies, I learned a thing or two through my practical experiences and the pediatric sleep experts I was fortunate enough to work with. If you’re ready to stop feeling like a zombie who has no idea when to put your baby to sleep, I’m going to shed some light to help you better understand your baby’s sleep cues.

First, if you’re having a hard time understanding your baby’s sleep cues, setting a good routine, and helping them fall asleep, Taking Cara Babies can help! Imagine setting your baby down to rest and they actually fall asleep. That’s the magic you can experience with Taking Cara Babies!

Baby Sleep Cues that Indicate It’s a Good Time for Sleep

The thing that can be confusing about sleep times and baby sleep cues is that, just like adults, they start off feeling a little tired and then when the cue gets missed, it will build up until you eventually have an overtired baby.

This is why it’s so important to pay close attention to signs of sleepiness for your baby.

Common Baby Sleep Cues That Indicate Your Baby is Getting Sleepy

  • Looking away
  • The Quiet Stare
  • Red or Flushed Eyelids

When your baby is beginning to feel sleepy, you will likely see them doing one or all of the signs above. This is when it’s a good time to follow your child’s cues and begin their bedtime routine.

Whether it’s swaddling baby, giving a bath, reading a book, etc…this is the best time to do it.

You’ll have a much easier time getting your baby down for a nap or night sleep when they’re in this stage and not over fussy or making all those overtired jerky movements.

Common Baby Sleep Cues That Indicate Your Baby Is Ready for Sleep NOW

  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Pulling their ears
  • Yawning starts
  • Beginning to whine or fuss

When your baby is showing these sleep cues, it’s a good idea to skip an event or two in the bedtime routine and instead, aim to get them swaddled and into bed quickly.

This is because, when your baby is in this stage, the amount of time you have before they reach being overtired isn’t long.

Signs Your Baby is Overtired (& what to do if your baby is overtired)

Sometimes, it’s just not easy to recognize those early sleep cues. Especially, if you’re a new parent raising your first baby, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

However, if you did miss your optimal time window to get your baby in bed, you may notice they’re now overtired. When your baby is overtired, they may:

  • Become fussy
  • Not want to sleep
  • Have difficulty falling asleep
  • Become difficult to console
  • Rubb their face excessively
  • Start crying
  • Take very short naps
  • Have a lot of night waking after falling asleep

Once your baby is in this overtired state, it might feel impossible to console them and get them down for nap time or bedtime. So, here are a few tips to help new parents soothe their overtired baby:

  • First, calm yourself by taking some deep breaths
  • Turn down the lights or go to a dark room
  • Bump up the white noise machine
  • Baby wear to gently rock and soothe baby
  • Nurse or feed baby to sleep if needed

I remember all too well when my firstborn had his moments of being overtired because I missed the cues. Some parents really have a hard time noticing the pattern because they can be so subtle, it’s no one’s fault.

But I remember those days and nights so well. He would cry uncontrollably and wouldn’t fall asleep until I put him in my baby wrap and nursed him to sleep. Some days, I’d even position him on our bed next to me so that I could nurse him to sleep just so I could get a short break (and yes, we practiced safe bed-sharing methods whenever we did this).

The point being, is sometimes, the best indicator of how to handle your baby’s sleep is your gut. Do what feels right and trust your gut.

Ideal Infant Sleep Schedule (including wake windows per age)

Digital graphic in shades of purple that display total amount of sleep per day baby needs in a list designs. Image also shows clipart of sleeping babies and baby accessories.

You might be wondering, what is an ideal sleep schedule for young babies anyway? Below, you can see a breakdown of ideal wake windows per age for the first year and how much total sleep your baby (from newborn babies to older babies) should roughly be getting per day.

Please note, that these may not work for you, so feel free to take them with a grain of salt and adjust them as needed.

Digital graphic in shades of purple that displays baby sleep wake windows in a list designs. Image also shows clipart of sleeping babies and baby accessories.

If sleep is continually a struggle for you and your baby, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite baby sleep resources, Taking Cara Babies. Their online sleep courses and parenting community were so helpful for my husband and me as new parents. It truly felt like we had support in our back pockets!

And if you’re in the trenches, try to remember, that this difficult season will pass. The best way to get through is to remember you’re doing a great job, get familiar with your baby’s sleep cues to put them in bed at the right time and make sure your baby is consuming enough to eat during feeding time throughout the day.

Which of these baby cues for sleep surprised you? Which ones did you already know about? Leave a comment and let me know!

Read more baby care articles here:

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7 Baby Sleep Cues to Understand if You Want Baby to Sleep

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