Pick up any book about baby sleep or read any website, including this one, and the instructions are to put your baby down “drowsy but awake” in order to teach your baby how to sleep and stop waking up at night or nap longer during the day. But, what does “drowsy but awake” actually mean? Does it mean eyes closed or just relaxed? This article will paint a picture about the ideal drowsiness to help your baby or toddler sleep better.
Drowsy, But Awake Definition
In a perfect world, you’d soothe your baby to the point of being calm, relaxed, and eyes closed. You’d lay your baby down, she repositions, flutters her eyes, briefly looking at you leaving the room, and drift off into peaceful sleep.
Of course, this doesn’t always work very easily.
For some of your babies, they go from wide awake to asleep. There is not much of a “drowsy” state with your baby. In this case, your “drowsy, but awake” would be somewhere in the calm state, but not with eyes closed. He may appear wide awake, yet content enough to not be moving around and crawling, walking, or playing.
How Hard Should You Work on Drowsy, But Awake?
In a perfect world, we’d get our babies drowsy every single time we put them down for sleep, but is this really realistic? Is that a good idea? How hard should we work at this ideal state?
In my opinion, when you are first sleep training, you will want to have your baby as calm and relaxed as possible before you start teaching her a new routine or skill. However, I do not recommend you take soooo long getting to the ideal state of “drowsy, but awake” just to put her down.
First, if you are teaching her a new routine, she is likely to perk up and wake up a bit anyway, once you lay her down. You don’t want to spend an hour and then watch it come undone in a matter of seconds.
Second, you don’t want your baby overtired, which will work against you. If you work for 30 minutes pushing her past her comfortable awake time, she is likely to get more upset, faster, and resist the new routine even more.
Third, work at it a long time and you have to redo it each time she cries, unless you are doing controlled crying or cry it out, anyway. In that case, you are really just dragging out the inevitable. If you are doing a no-cry sleep method, you still don’t want her to be overtired by the time she is laid down.
Ultimately, your goal is to create a consistent bedtime routine or nap time routine and stick to it. If you have an age-appropriate baby sleep schedule, your baby should be content at the end of your routine and over the course of weeks, you should be able to have your baby less drowsy and more awake (depending on your baby’s temperament) as she gets better and better at falling asleep. While my eldest son (who inspired this site) always resisted nap time for 5-10 minutes, his younger brother got to the point where you could say “nap time”, put him in his crib, and walk out. He’d play for about 10 minutes and fall asleep. It was seriously that easy, but it didn’t happen overnight. It did take time and consistency to get to that point. They both just have different personalities.
When you are first sleep training, I recommend spending up to 10-15 minutes getting your baby “drowsy, but awake” and then cut it off (I don’t mean the whole routine is this long, I mean just the soothing portion). If he isn’t drowsy with your soothing methods, make sure you are trying sleep at the right time. Too tired might look like lots of crying OR hyper-activity. Under-tired can be playful and happy, smiling up at you, rather than getting sleepy. Cute, but not ready for sleep.