Catch the Sleepy Cues - Sleephaven Sleep Consultation: Helping Tired Families Sleep

You all know what it feels like when you are overtired: you collapse into bed, your eyes close out of exhaustion … and your mind kicks into top gear. Is that not the most frustrating experience? When this happens, you have missed your “window” for sleep, and your body moves into survival mode.

The same applies to your little one. Your baby will have optimal awake periods, and then his body will need to recharge through sleep. When your baby is up too long between naps, or too late before bed, you can easily miss his sleep window. His brain then releases more “alerting” hormones into his system (designed to help him stay awake). You know he’s tired, and he feels out-of-sorts. But try as he may, he can’t go to sleep. It seems to take at least 45 minutes before those additional hormones are used up. Or, if he does manage to get to sleep, his sleep is fragmented and he wakes frequently through the night or too soon from his nap.

Learn to read the sleepy cues. Catch what I call the “sweet spot” for sleep. Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Sleepless in America, describes 3 levels of cues:


Level 1 Sleepy Cues

  • Red around the eyes
  • Averts gaze
  • Glazed look
  • Slight slowing in play
  • “Locking in” on an object


Level 2 Sleepy Cues

  • Rubbing eyes
  • Yawning
  • Seeks contact/ nuzzling
  • Stumbling
  • Laying head down
  • A little irritable


Level 3 Sleepy Cues

  • Wild
  • Silly
  • Crying or screaming
  • Arching or flailing
  • Resistant
  • Can’t fall asleep


Don’t wait until you are seeing Level 2 or Level 3 sleepy cues before moving into bedtime or naptime routines. Try and catch your child as he shows the more subtle Level 1 sleepy cues.  Get him to bed while he is still happy. You may need to simply shift bedtime or naptime earlier by 10 or 15 minutes to catch his “sweet spot” for sleep.

Sleep well!


Margot Byer
Sleephaven Sleep Consultation
Helping Tired Families Sleep
… in Edmonton, Alberta and beyond!