Why We Can’t Rely on Toddler Sleepy Cues

In the early newborn days, there was no need to watch for sleepy cues from your baby. When your baby was tired, chances are, they simply fell asleep. As your baby develops, their stimulating environment can make it harder for them to soundly drift off — they want to see all the lights, hear all the noises, and be part of the fun.

Despite this, babies tend to show “sleepy cues” — signs that they are tired. This may include rubbing their eyes, yawning, or avoiding eye contact. When parents begin to notice these sleepy cues, it’s a great time to put your baby down for a nap by moving into a quiet space or placing them in a swing to help lull them to sleep.

As your child continues to grow, sleepy cues become less reliable. After 6 months of age, sleepy cues can’t be trusted as the sole method for determining whether your child is ready for a nap.

Why? In the video below, I get into the reasoning.

Not many children will readily give up playing with their toys to go take a nap. As they play and run around, they won’t show or communicate that they are tired. And if they do, it will likely be too late — when they are overtired and more likely to have a little meltdown.

All children crave consistency, and if you let your child dictate when they nap, you’re setting them up for an unreliable schedule. Think about your own day: you know when you’re going to wake up, go to work, have lunch, and get ready for bed. Although this may differ day to day, your body has come to expect certain things.

Your children need the same consistency to experience optimal sleep. Wake them up at the same time each day, even if you don’t have plans for the day (chances are they do this already, maybe earlier than you’d like!).

Have your child take a nap at the same time every day. Until 4 years old, children should take a nap. Around 2 years old, many parents drop a nap because of sleep regressions. Some children may not need a nap as they age, but offering quiet time is still important. 

Finally, you want to have the same bedtime routine each night. If you haven’t yet seen the video when I sat down with Alycia from ParentGraph, she talks about the importance of sticking to routines so children know what to expect.

But what happens if you can’t stick to a routine exactly? That’s okay! Life happens.

Remember the 80-20 rule — 80 percent of the time, you want to have a consistent schedule. If 20 percent of the time is a little off, no biggie!

Message me on Instagram: What tips have helped with your toddler’s routine?

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I’m Katie

certified pediatric sleep consultant

Fueled by equal parts caffeine and passion, I spend my days helping exhausted mamas get their babies the sleep they need. 

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