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How to Master “Drowsy But Awake”

Does your baby take forever to fall asleep once he or she is in his crib? Or perhaps, they wake up for no reason at all and then stay up for hours on end. If this is something you are experiencing, then you may want to consider the “drowsy but awake” method to counteract this issue.

So, what is the drowsy but awake strategy, exactly?

Drowsy but awake is the first step into helping your baby get into the habit of falling asleep by themselves. In essence, they learn how to self-soothe and then doze off on their own accord. When this state is achieved, babies find it a lot easier to fall asleep by themselves. And, should they wake up, they may be able to drift off without any intervention for you.

Now, if this sounds too good to be true for your sleep-deprived ears, rest assured it is legitimate. Of course, this isn’t something that happens automatically. Furthermore, it isn’t something that will come into effect overnight, either.

However, if this sounds like a tactic you would be interested in, then you have come to the right place.

The following guidelines will show you how to master the drowsy but awake phenomenon with the least amount of hassle…

Wait Until Your Baby is Ready

The first thing that you are going to have to do is wait until your baby is around six months old before starting this practice. It is only at this age that tots begin to develop their circadian rhythm properly. Thus, it is only at this point that they will be able to respond to various cues that will help them drift off.

If you find your baby isn’t responding to the drowsy and awake method, it could be that you have to hold off for a little longer. When your little one’s sleep patterns seem a little more stable, you can begin the practice once more.

Figure Out Your Perfect Window

For drowsy but awake to really work, you have to pinpoint the point at which your baby is drifting off, but still be conscious of what is happening around him or her. To manage this, you need to be aware of the signs that your baby might exhibit as she begins to wind down.

A few of the signals to look out for include fussiness, eye rubbing, or yawning. Some babies simply begin to quiet down when they are tired and may lose interest in playing or moving about. Once you are able to discern your own baby’s signs, you will know when to get started.

Create a Regular Bedtime Routine

It is important to establish a bedtime routine for your baby. With time, this will teach their body to essentially get itself ready for sleep. In turn, this will set things in motion to help your little one fall asleep relatively quickly.

So, what should your nighttime routine look like? Well, that is entirely up to you and your baby. It should go without saying, of course, that it shouldn’t involve anything too stimulating. Therefore a warm bath, massage, and cuddles are always a step in the right direction.

Regardless of what you do decide to do, make sure to keep this routine. This means that you need to do the same thing every night. You must also carry out these tasks in a particular order. Otherwise, your baby won’t really learn the necessary cues.

Set Up the Right Sleeping Environment

Can you fall asleep in a noisy, brightly lit room? Well, your baby can’t either. If you really want your baby to learn to doze off by herself, then you will need to set up the right sleep environment. Most experts agree that infants should be placed to sleep in dark, slightly cool rooms.

The key here, though, is to set up your baby’s room before they begin to doze off and before you bring them in. So, make it a point to turn off the lights and get the temperature right before you place your little one in her crib. If you try to make any arrangements after that, you will find that all of your efforts have been in vain.

Use Breast Milk as Your Secret Weapon

Many moms use breast milk to soothe their little ones and send them off to sleep. If this isn’t something you are doing, however, you should definitely get started. This is because breast milk produced during the night contains higher traces of melatonin. As you may be aware, melatonin is a substance that helps to regulate sleep patterns and induce sleep.

This is something you should keep in mind if you pump and use a nursing bottle to feed your little one. Always pump at night as daytime milk contains substances that will work to keep your baby awake. Not to mention, it doesn’t have nearly as much melatonin.

Lay Your Little One Down

Now it is time for the moment of truth – you will need to lay your baby down in her crib. As mentioned, it is unlikely that this strategy will work in your favor immediately. So, if your baby begins to fuss or even wake up, don’t stress out. Merely try to calm her down and start again.

Once you have placed your baby in her crib, don’t go out of the room. Your baby needs to feel safe and reassured to be able to doze off. So, simply stay close by so that they can sense you. However, you should only intervene if she really begins to cry or feel agitated.

To simplify the lesson:  If your baby isn’t crying, let’s see what your baby does.  Your baby may surprise you and fall asleep!


So, there you have it, what you need to know to master the art of drowsy but awake. Naturally, you may be wondering how long it will take until your baby latches onto this technique. Honestly, there is no straightforward answer. Every baby is different so there are no guarantees with this strategy.

With time, though, your baby should be able to get the hang of it. And, hopefully, soon enough your sleepless nights will be a distant memory. At the very least, you should be waking up fewer times during the night.

Susie Parker

Susie Parker is founder of Sleep Baby Love and a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute. When Susie's not ridding the world of sleepless families, she loves spending time with her two girls that have given her a ton of real world sleep experience head on.

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