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Successful Sleep for Your Baby Begins with Catching the Sleep Cues


Successful Naptimes and Bedtimes Begin with Catching the Sleep Cues

Developed by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka Ed.D.

If it feels like your baby or child “fights,” sleep, the real problem may be that you have innocently missed the window for sleep – a window that may be a mere fifteen minutes wide.  This is especially true if you are waiting until they are crying or arching before attempting naptime.

There are three levels of sleep cues.

Level one is the point at which infants zero to nine months of age most easily fall asleep. Level one cues are subtle, and understated, like a glance away, or a slight frown but once you recognize them, they are a blatant indicator your baby is ready for sleep NOW! For children ten months and older level one cues indicate, Heads up. I’m getting tried. Stay tuned, for the first level two cues.

Level two cues are more obvious. The yawn, eyerub, stumble, or seeking contact with you. The key with level two cues and hitting the sleep window is to respond to the FIRST eye rub, or yawn. Do not wait for the second or third.

Level three cues are loud, and blatant and indicate an overtired child. By the time your child is crying, arching, or can’t settle a surge of adrenaline has been released. It now may take forty-five to ninety minutes before your baby or child is able to fall asleep – if at all.

There’s a challenge with catching your baby or child’s cues at level one and two. You are putting a happy child down for nap. Observers may think you are misjudging your child. You may even question yourself. Trust your instincts. Hit that window and your little one will be asleep within a maximum of 25-35 minutes. And just as importantly they’ll go down without it feeling like a fight.

While each child’s sleep cues will be unique, here is a chart to help you begin to identify your child’s cues.

 The 3 Levels of Sleep Cues

Level one Level Two Level Three
 Red around the eyes  Yawn    Cannot Settle                 
 Slight sagging of the cheeks  Little irritable  Nothing is right
 Glazed, dull look  Rubbing eyes and ears   Crying
 Slight slowing of motion  Roots and seeks comfort    Arching
 Sllight drooping of eyelids  Looses coordination, falls  Thrashes
 Change in skin color, pallor  Bored, seeks stimulation  Screaming
 Looks away from you  Lays head down  Hyper/frenzied

Shifts from smooth to jerky movements

 Frustrated, but not crying   Falls apart


As children grow and develop sleep cues change. At three months a glance away is the critical moment. A glance away at nine months is I’m getting tired, but I’m not quite ready for sleep. Watch and continue to learn as your child grow and develops. Once your little one is asleep set your alarm for 20-30 minutes and take a power nap! Life is so much better when everyone feels rested.

For more information about sleep cues and successful naptimes check out my book, "Raising Your Spirited Baby".

Available on Amazon

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