How to know when to put your baby to sleep:
- He/She has been awake for two hours. An infant really cannot handle more than two hours of stimulation at a time. (Somewhere around 9-12 months, this may change and they may be able to last 3-4 hours.) Don't try to keep them awake past two hours in hopes they'll sleep longer when you want them to.
- He/She has been awake for 1-2 hours in the morning. You may notice that he seems fussy within an hour or two of waking up for the day. Often times, babies will need to nap sooner than normal for that first morning nap.
- He/She seems discontent during activities that normally make them happy. A lot of times you can keep a baby relatively happy by rotating his activity during his awake time (swing, then exersaucer, then the floor, etc.). If a change of scenery and activity does not make him happy (and they've been changed and fed), it is quite likely that he is sleepy.
- He/She rubs his face, eyes, or ears.
- He/She yawns.
- He/She becomes extremely wiggly. A baby tends to panic when they get over tired. They are frustrated because they want to sleep but are not being given the atmosphere they need to calmly fall asleep. Think of it this way... when we adults get frustrated, we feel a lot of pent up energy. They are feeling the same thing and start to wiggle a lot (usually accompanied by fussing).
- If he/she is three months or younger, his cry will have a distinctive "owh" sound. The back throat is hallow sounding, sorta like a yawn or an opera singer. Having different sounding cries to different needs is a newborn reflex or tendency, and they will grow out of it at around three months. (For more on this concept, visit dunstanbaby.com.)
How to know when to put your toddler or preschooler to bed:
- Life becomes overwhelming for them. If they can't seem to perform tasks that generally come easy to them, they are more than likely tired. They may become easily frustrated at toys or anything that doesn't quite go their way.
- They begin to "go wild"... getting into things, pestering others, strangely defiant, can't sit still... by this time, they are overtired. They are past the "I feel sleepy" stage and their body has kicked in a huge dose of adrenalin (what we would call a second-wind).
- They start waking up too early in the morning and/or wake up during the night. None of us sleep well when we are overtired or sleep deprived. Our bodies go into survival mode and assume that we need them to stay awake. If your child begins waking in the night or waking early in the morning, it will be easy to assume they just don't need much sleep or that we should put them to bed later, so they'll sleep longer. This will only compound the problem. they don't need less sleep. They need more. A few nights of early bedtime should put them back on schedule. (This process will take longer, if your child has been sleep deprived for a long time.)
I hope these lists will help you identify when your child needs sleep. A lot of times I can get so distracted by the whining and "bad behaviour" that I forget that my child just needs sleep.