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What is 'Drowsy but Awake'?

Updated: May 18, 2023

As a parent, you've probably heard the advice to put your baby down "drowsy but awake." But what does that really mean? And how do you know if your baby is too drowsy or too sleepy? These are common questions that many parents have, and it's important to understand what this advice really entails. In this blog post, we'll explore the concept of "drowsy but awake" and provide some tips for making it work for your baby. So, if you're a parent looking for some guidance on this topic, read on!

As a parent, you may have heard the term "drowsy but awake" and wondered what it means for your baby. Essentially, drowsy but awake refers to a state in which your baby is calm and slightly drowsy, but not yet asleep. The idea is that if your baby is put down to sleep while still awake, they are more likely to be able to fall back asleep on their own after waking up during a sleep cycle. Research has consistently shown that teaching babies to self-settle or be settled when going to bed as newborns can greatly improve their sleep patterns. However, achieving this can be challenging for many parents. This is where the concept of drowsy but awake comes in - it provides a middle ground that can help your baby learn to fall asleep on their own while still feeling comfortable and relaxed.

Why is it confusing?

It can be confusing to know when to put your baby down for sleep. The confusion often arises from trying to determine how sleepy or drowsy your baby should be, and how awake they should be at bedtime. If you put an older baby down when they're too sleepy, they may develop a habit of associating sleep with being held and wake up frequently throughout the night. On the other hand, if you put a newborn down when they're too awake and don't follow through with any settling, they're likely to cry and have trouble falling asleep. It's important to find a balance between sleepiness and wakefulness that works for your baby's age and individual needs.

You may also find yourself in a confusing situation where you feel like your current methods of getting your baby to sleep are not effective. This can be especially challenging when your baby reaches a stage where they are capable of self-settling, but still resist becoming drowsy in your arms. You may notice that your baby fights your attempts to get them to sleep and only become receptive when they are extremely overtired. This can be a frustrating experience for parents, but it's important to remember that every baby is different and may require different methods to help them fall asleep.

What age is Drowsy but Awake appropriate for?

For parents who are struggling to settle their older babies who can self-settle, the drowsy but awake strategy may seem like a viable option. However, it's important to note that this strategy is best suited for newborns and may not be effective for older babies. If your baby cries once you place them in the cot, it's recommended to follow up with some hands-on settling.

If the drowsy but awake strategy is effective for your newborn, try gradually moving towards settling them while they're more awake than drowsy between 6-12 weeks. This will help your baby to naturally develop self-settling skills over time. As a sleep consultant, I aim to provide informative content to help parents make informed decisions about their babies' sleep routines.

Are there better options?

For older babies, there is certainly a better option! When your baby is capable of self-settling, it's important to establish a consistent pre-sleep routine that is long enough to help them transition from being awake to recognising that it's time for a nap.

This routine should be calming and low in stimuli to encourage sleep, without actually causing drowsiness. With older babies, the goal is to teach them how to calm themselves and be ready for sleep when put in their cot. They need to learn how it feels to be tired and then let themselves give in to the wave of drowsiness in order to lie down and self-settle. The process involves transitioning from a state of calm to drowsy and finally to sleep.

For newborns, we can help with the drowsy by holding them in our arms, and then placing them in their cot once they're asleep. But as they grow older and more self-sufficient, we can simply assist with creating a calming environment and let them gradually start to learn those self-settling skills on their own. This strategy helps babies become better sleepers and more independent.

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