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What is Drowsy but Awake?

Many families are confused by the term drowsy but awake - what does it look like and how awake should their child should be at bedtime.  So let's break it down starting with why your child should be 'relaxed but awake' when they go down for all sleep. 

Why is it so important for your child to be awake when they go down for sleep? 

As you've heard me mention in previous blogs, sleep is learned in stages (click here for more information on that topic) and bedtime is the easiest time to learn how to put yourself to sleep independently.  Therefore, it is a critical first piece of the sleep puzzle if you want your child to be able to fall back asleep during the middle of the night and stay asleep through the early morning hours.

What does drowsy but awake I look like?

Your lil one should be relaxed, have a full belly, a dry diaper, be warm and loved but awake.  This means:
  • their eyes are open
  • they have not fallen asleep with a bottle or nursing
  • they are not 'almost asleep' and they know you are putting them into bed for sleep.
It is also very important that they are nearing the end of their awake window (click here for more information on awake windows) but it has not gone over the time. If they are overtired, you will get lots struggle and crying as they will be too tired to fall asleep easily.   Also, you don't want them so overtired that they crash out at bedtime and there was not even an opportunity for sleep learning. 

MSD Sleep Tip-  it should take your child at least 5 minutes to fall asleep and it could take as long as 20 minutes. If it takes less than 5 minutes, they were too tired , over their sleep window or too drowsy.  Once independent sleeping skills are established they are happy to play in their crib or sleeping space during this time.

The chart below is my scale for drowsy but awake.  Your child should be at a 5 or 6 on the scale when they are being put into their sleeping space.   

How to begin?

Step one, to helping your child learn to fall asleep from a drowsy but awake state is to change your routine.  If you're currently feeding to sleep, move the pre-bedtime feed to the beginning of the routine and feed with the lights on.  We don't want to send the message that we go to sleep eating and get drowsy in the dark.  You should have about 10 to 15 minutes between the end of feeding and putting your child into bed.

Fill that extra time with lots of closeness and low activities such as reading books, singing or walking around the darkened room.  Just make sure you're not cuddling, rocking or singing your lil one to sleep!

Following these tips and steps above are the beginnings of learning independent sleeping skills and a better night's sleep for everyone in your family.

Sweet Dreams!

Written by: Michelle S. Donaghy


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