Drowsy But Awake Explained

Sarah Ong Blog, Sleep Shaping Leave a Comment

“What is this ‘put down the baby drowsy but awake’ thing? It never works!”

Lots of parents ask me this in their effort to try to teach their baby to self settle. Well, ideally, putting down drowsy but awake is when you soothe your baby until he is calm, relaxed with eyes closed and then as you lay him down, he wakes just a little and then drift off to sleep.

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That would be in a perfect world. Let’s face it, it doesn’t always work this way.

Depending on how much help your baby needs to go to sleep, for example if he is breastfed or rocked all the way to sleep, you can’t expect him to accept being put down awake the first and only time you try it. Say, if your child is patted to sleep, then the transition to no patting is a lot easier and faster as opposed to a baby who is feeding or rocked to sleep in your arms.

It is important to understand that there are gradual steps from a baby who is sleeping in your arms, to putting him down wide awake to fall asleep on his own.

For a baby who is nursed to sleep, mom could first work on unlatching when baby is drowsy and get him used to falling asleep in your arms without the boob in mouth. This is called the Pantley Pull Off method and works well for babies between 4-12 months.

For a baby who is rocked to sleep, mom could work on slowing down on the rocking for the baby to get used to falling asleep in her arms with no rocking at all.

Then mom could try to put the baby down and pat him to sleep with lots of reassurance and voice soothing – singing helps too.

Next is to get the baby used to sleeping with just mom’s hand firmly on him with no repetitive patting. After that, take the hand away and use lots of voice soothing. Finally, the baby is sleeping with mom’s presence in the room with no assistance such as nursing, rocking, patting, or singing.

If the parent’s goal is to have baby fall asleep on his own – perhaps mom has another older child to attend to and can’t wait for baby to fall asleep – then mom would move a few feet away from the cot for the baby to fall asleep with the distance. Next, mom moves to the door inside the room, then outside the room within sight, then finally out of sight. This is called the Sleep Lady Shuffle method and works great for children aged 6 months and above.

So drowsy but awake can mean differently to different parents. Some just want the baby to fall asleep being patted, others want the baby to fall asleep independently without assistance or props.

The pace that you take from one step to the next really depends on your philosophy with sleep, whether it is suitable with your baby’s personality and age, how well your child adapts to the pace and the level of urgency you want to achieve your goals.

I have helped parents who want to move up the steps very quickly while others would like to take it slow, one step at a time. There is no right or wrong pace. One thing that must be implemented is consistency of how you put your child to sleep when you have moved up the pace in order to see improved sleeping habits.

Frankly speaking, it took me about 5 months or so. From a co-sleeping toddler who was nursing all night to sleeping on her own after I leave her room. Well, she was already sleeping through a few weeks into our sleep work but I enjoyed staying in her room until she fell asleep. I could have left the room a lot earlier but I chose to stay and watch her sleep. 🙂

What was your journey like getting your child to lie down “drowsy but awake”?