How to Help Your Baby Sleep Better – 8 Best Sleep Cues

Is your baby a tough sleeper who has difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep? Welcome to the club of moms who fail to read their infant’s sleep cues! Luckily for you, there is a way out of this club…

Once you master reading your baby’s sleep cues, you will more easily put him to bed. What’s more, he will stay in his bed for long stretches of time, which means more quality sleep for everyone in the house.

How to tell if your baby is tired? There is a “sleep” window during which your baby has shown you they are tired and need some rest. It is very important to read those signs and put him to bed before this window has closed. If you fail to read your “baby tired” cues and the window closes, your baby gets overtired. This makes putting him to sleep a mission (almost) impossible!

How to Help Your Baby Sleep Better – 8 Best Sleep Cues

Decoding baby cries and noticing signs that your newborn is tired is easy when you know exactly what to look for. That’s why we’ve listed for you the 8 best sleep cues (and what they mean): 

  1. Yawning

Yawning is the universal tiredness cue for newborns, older babies, toddlers, bigger children, and even adults. It is one of the easiest signs to see in a grown-up man as it is a clear (and sometimes loud) action.

When newborns and babies yawn, though, it might be tricky to tell if they are yawning or just making a funny face. As a rule of thumb, the earliest yawns are the most difficult to decipher. If you think you’ve seen a yawn but you are not sure it was one, continue watching your child. When you see the second one, be sure it’s a sign that your infant is getting tired. 

  1. Eye rubbing

Eye rubbing is a baby sleep signal that almost all babies give their parents. It is caused by the feeling of discomfort your little one gets in his eyes when it’s time for him to sleep. He may be rubbing his eyes with his fist or trying to poke them with his fingers. Either way, it is a sure sign it’s time to settle your bundle of joy to sleep soon. 

  1. Ear pulling

Ear pulling is another very common baby sleep cue. If you catch your little one pulling his ears, rubbing them with his fist, or scratching them with his nails, he is most probably showing you he is tired and needs some rest. Some babies also rub their nose or their face on their shoulders… In all of these cases, it’s a signal of baby tiredness. 

  1. Frowning/looking worried

It’s only natural that when your little one is tired, he feels physical discomfort. Since he is too young to know what causes this discomfort (let alone tell you about it), the discomfort is literally written on his face. He looks worried and often frowns (instead of giving you those adorable smiles). He will sometimes even wrinkle his forehead as if he is contemplating something.

These facial expressions of tiredness are often accompanied by behavioral changes as well. When he is tired, your little one will turn his face away from you and lose interest in toys and interacting with you. 

  1. Arching backward

This is one of the most common newborn baby sleep cues. It means your baby needs sleep and wants to be put down so he can fall asleep. Arching backward often comes hand in hand with involuntary arm and leg movements. Once this phase is over, your baby will usually calm down and relax his body in an attempt to fall asleep.

  1. Losing focus

Losing focus is one of the best signals that it’s time for your baby’s (pre) nap routine. This cue is accompanied by fluttering eyelids, blankly staring into space, and showing no interest in toys and games he usually enjoys. He may try to open his eyes wide in an attempt to get his focus back again or bury his face in your chest.

  1. Whining

When your baby starts whining, it’s a late tired sign. If this is the first sleep cue you notice, you must have missed the earlier signs like yawning, eyes rubbing, losing interest, etc. It is very important to act fast as what starts as a soft cry will inevitably turn into an inconsolable deafening cry fiasco if you don’t do anything about it.

As soon as you hear the first whining sounds, put your baby to sleep as soon as possible. Otherwise, the sleepy window closes and the overtiredness hell breaks loose. And you don’t want to go there. 

  1. Finger sucking

Finger sucking is a sleep signal for many newborns and younger babies. If your baby starts sucking his thumb around naptime or bedtime, he is probably trying to self-soothe so he can go to sleep. Alternatively, he may reach out for his favorite soft toy or a loved blanket and hug/caress them gently. When you see this happening, be sure your little one is ready to go to sleep.

 A few words on overtiredness

The above baby sleep cues and signals are a hint for you that the best time for putting your child to sleep has come. Once your little one gets to the next phase, he is already too tired to go to sleep under the best circumstances.

The most usual signs of overtiredness in your baby are crying, fussiness, crankiness, clinginess, and, ultimately, fighting sleep as if his life depends on it.

This means more effort on your side to put him to sleep, frequent wake-ups at night, and overall poor sleep quality. It’s a vicious circle as a baby that hasn’t had a good night of sound sleep will probably be overtired in the morning, making it even more difficult for him to fall asleep the next day. 

Important note

Your baby’s sleep cues will change as he grows so you shouldn’t expect the same sleep cues to be at hand from infancy through toddlerhood and childhood. What’s more, each baby is unique and no two babies show the same set of tiredness and sleep signs. There are even babies who have their own unique sleep cues that no book/article has ever listed before. That’s why it is important to be alert and find out what signals your baby is giving you and figure out what they mean.

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