Drowsy but Awake: Navigating Sleep Transitions for a Peaceful Bedtime Routine
Are you confused by drowsy but awake?
Drowsy but awake—a phrase often echoed in parenting advice, akin to 'food before one is just for fun.' While widely mentioned, its true meaning can be elusive. How drowsy is too drowsy, and how sleepy is too sleepy?
Many parents share their experiences of being advised to put their newborns down drowsy but awake, only to face crying and uncertainty. What happens next? Attempting the same with older babies sometimes leads to confusion, as they may prefer being held to sleep after being put down awake.
What is drowsy but awake?
Drowsy but awake means that your baby is settled and a little bit sleepy, but not asleep. The idea being if your baby goes down awake then their will more likely to go back to sleep after they wake from a sleep cycle.
The goal of going to bed awake and either fully self-settling or being settled when they’re newborns has been proven over and over to be a game changer when it comes to how long your baby will sleep. But this can be hard to achieve, and this is where drowsy but awake has stemmed from.
Why is drowsy but awake confusing?
The confusion arises from how sleepy/drowsy, and how awake?
If you put an older baby down too sleepy they’re likely to develop a hold to sleep association and continue to wake throughout the night, and if you put a newborn down too awake and don’t follow through with any settling, they’re likely to cry and not sleep.
Parents are left thinking, this isn’t working!
The other conflicting stage is once your baby is old enough to self-settle it can be a real struggle to even make them become drowsy in your arms. They tend to fight you, and need to be quite over tired before they are even receptive to being put down drowsy.
What age is drowsy but awake applicable for?
Once we know it can get tricky to settle an older baby who can self-settle, we can look at who drowsy but awake can for. To be honest I would keep this as a strictly newborn strategy, and then follow through with some hands on settling in the cot if they cry once you place them down.
If this strategy is working well for you, try to move more towards awake and less drowsy as your baby moves from 6-12 weeks. This will allow your baby to gradually start to naturally learn those self settling skills.
Is there a better option?
For the older babies, most definitely! Once your baby is old enough to self-settle, work towards a good pre sleep ritual that is predictable and long enough to help your baby transition from awake to knowing its nap time. This ritual should be calming and low stimuli to encourage sleep, but shouldn’t assist your baby in becoming drowsy.
The skill we are working on with older babies is putting them into their cot calm and ready to sleep, but they are learning to feel that feeling of being tired and then giving in to the wave of drowsiness in order to lie down and self-settle.
Calm – drowsy – asleep
When they are newborns, we can help with the drowsy in our arms, and the asleep in the cot. Once they are old enough to self-settle, we just help with the calm and they learn to put themselves to sleep.
Beyond drowsy but awake….
Giving your baby the gift of being able to get themselves drowsy and then off to sleep unaided by you is amazing. You really are giving your baby the gift of good sleep for the rest of their lives. Research shows the sooner our babies learn to get themselves off to sleep, (age appropriate of course), the less sleep regressions we face, the less night wakes we both experience, and longer overall sleep in 24 hours. It really is a no-brainer, leaving the drowsy but awake behind when your baby heads away from those newborn months is guarantee at better sleep.
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the Block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education.
Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
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