Ask the Experts: Drowsiness cues

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A: Watching your baby for drowsiness cues will help you […]

A: Watching your baby for drowsiness cues will help you learn to recognize when she is ready to sleep. Parents often doubt or miss the signs because they think that the baby has not been awake long enough to be tired yet. But if you follow these clues, your baby will get the rest she needs, and sleep will settle into a predictable rhythm. Drowsiness cues are subtle and include:

  • The first yawn
  • Slowing down and becoming less active or vocal
  • Droopy eyes or face
  • Staring our into space
  • A long slow-motion blink

When you see these signs, start your soothing-to-sleep routine. When you miss drowsiness cues, your baby can become overtired. This causes the body to release adrenaline, making matters worse. Your baby might appear to have a lot of energy because the adrenaline causes her to fight sleep, and she’ll have trouble both falling and staying asleep. Signs of overtiredness include:

  • Rubbing eyes
  • Becoming cranky or fussy
  • Crying
  • Burst of energy/looking weird
  • Spastic movements (i.e., batting face, pulling hair)
  • Seeming tired but unable to settle
  • Bedtime protests

If your baby is chronically overtired, it can be hard to find drowsiness cues to follow. If that’s the case, note how long your baby has been awake when you first start to see signs of overtiredness, then start her sleep routine 15 minutes earlier than you normally would for her next nap.

—Janet Krone Kennedy, PhD, author of The Good Sleeper: The Essential Guide to Sleep for Your Baby (and You)

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