Develop Sleep Cues

Sleep cues can help children to fall asleep and fall back asleep. q?_encoding=UTF8&ASIN=B00143UZCA&Format=Once an association is formed, you can use sleep cues to encourage your child to go back to sleep. You can also form sleep associations around a toy, such as one with a warm glow that sings gentle lullabies. You can then teach your child to turn on the sleeping toy when needing to settle or resettle to sleep.

You can try to build an association between a certain tune, humming, or certain words and sleep. I examine the research behind these tactics, and steps to achieve a successful association in this podcast episode:
Which is a compilation of these blog posts:

In summary, to form an association between sleep cues (such as a certain tune) and sleep:

Figure out when your child is most ready for sleep. You can do this via the free sleep-mapping course.

During your usual settling practices:

  • Play your sleep cues, just before your child’s eyes droop and body relaxes.
  • Use your sleep cues with a variety of settling techniques (not just a single settling technique).
  • Continue this, unaltered, for a couple of weeks
  • At the same time introduce substitutes for the comfort provided by hugging or feeding (e.g. a firm wrap – listen to the podcast above for further examples)


  • Introduce your sleep cues after a calming bed routine, as you pat your child in his or her sleep-space.
  • If your child doesn’t fall asleep in his or her sleep-space despite the sleep cues, only use your cues in the sleep-space once a day, or once every two days, so that you retain the association.
  • Continue to use your cues no matter where your child is falling asleep.
  • Once your child is falling asleep in his or her sleep space after the cues more often than not, you can use these cues every time you settle your child in his or her sleep space.

Please add your experiences with these approaches in the comments below. Let us know how long you tried it it for. Please provide the age of your child when you tried it. If it worked, please share the effects you saw. If it didn’t work, why do you think it didn’t work in your case?


  1. Nicole Weeks

    My son loves the seahorse above, my daughter loves the pony. I hear them both turn them on at night, and settle back to sleep without my intervention – not always, but often (Zander has been doing this since about 2, Beth is 18 months old).

    My attempts to pair the sleep toys with sleep deliberately have not been very effective, but after many nights of bed-routine, bed/cot, sleep with the sleep toy, I believe my kids now find them comforting. They are not allowed to have their sleep toys outside of their cot/bed.

  2. Nicole Weeks

    “She calms down when given her swaddle, allowing her to be calm enough to fall asleep (ideally).” (Mother of 14 month old Girl tried this for about 35 weeks and found it did help)

  3. Nicole Weeks

    “He finds and uses his toy to resettle sometimes, and when we give him his toy and put him in his sleeping bag he knows it is time for bed” (Mother of 6 month old boy tried this for about 12 weeks and found it did help)

  4. Nicole Weeks

    “He doesn’t like going to sleep and can’t self settle so cues don’t offer assistance” (Mother of 9 month old boy tried this for about 16 weeks and found it didn’t help)

  5. Nicole Weeks

    “My son does not want to go to sleep. The cues make him aware that he is going to be put in the cot and they start him off.” (Mother of 7 month old boy tried this for about 24 weeks and found it didn’t help)

    • Nicole Weeks

      If an association formed, but that meant your son began to protest and fight because it indicated that it was sleep-time, it suggests that the sleep cues may not be associated with the sensation of falling asleep, but with more negative aspects of bed-time, like being put down, or Mum or Dad leaving.

      Perhaps try a new sleep cue, and try to only use it when your child is comfortable, happy, and about to drift off to sleep (where-ever that is). Do this at least 10 times before trying the new sleep cue in a situation when you are less sure that your son will fall asleep.

  6. Nicole Weeks

    “The song and words I used worked at first, but over time she realised that these things meant that I was going to put her in the cot, so she began to get more agitated when she heard them. This is despite her generally falling asleep pretty calmly when I used them.” (Mother of 13 month old girl tried this for about 10 weeks and found it didn’t help)

  7. Nicole Weeks

    “We’ve always sung the same song and had the same toy. I’ve listened to your podcast on this and it was interesting and helpful. We did implement the techniques. Unfortunately in the last month it doesn’t have the same effect. She doesn’t use the toy.” (Mother of 8 month old girl tried this for about 32 weeks and found it didn’t help)

  8. Nicole Weeks

    “Have tried to introduce comfort muslins with my smell on it. She never showed much interest in them. I could try for longer I suppose. Perhaps I could find a toy she was more interested in, but I am not keen on her getting attached to something that I might need to replace and not be able to.” (Mother of 10 month old girl tried this for about 1 week and found it didn’t help)


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