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  • Writer's pictureAnnika Brindley

"Drowsy but Awake" - The Myth About Getting Your Baby To Sleep Through The Night

Cry baby laying on white sheets

By the time a baby is three months old, many parents have already read or combed through multiple baby sleep books in search of answers to the perplexing question of; how on earth to get your baby to sleep through the night.

These how-to-sleep books often give helpful advice, but the advice is also wildly conflicting. The least conflicting advice often is the most confusing as most tell parents that they must get their baby to a state called "drowsy but awake."

You have probably spent hours rocking, bouncing, feeding, and shushing your baby, trying your hardest to get her to the "drowsy but awake" promised land you have read about in books.

"Drowsy but awake" is the land where babies sleep, rainbows shine, and cartoon birds surround your head, chirping their music as you skip through a bed of beautiful daisies. Sadly, there are no daisies or birds. The truth about being "drowsy but awake" is that it is a fairytale and a typically unattainable state.

Thinking that you have to get your baby to a "drowsy but awake" state for you to get her to sleep through the night can leave most feeling defeated and inadequate as a parent.

Parents often feel they can only get their overtired screaming baby to sleep in their arms, mainly after jumping through multiple hoops of rocking, feeding, etc., and sweating profusely, and that the "drowsy but awake" goal is downright frustrating.

When they think you may have finally arrived at this coveted state, their baby is already fully asleep. The sleep state of "drowsy but awake" lasts for only a nanosecond.

This race to the nanosecond is not worth the sweat and tears as it is not the best practice to get your baby to sleep through the night. Reaching this state will get you the results you desperately seek; consistent sleep.

It is time to shift the idea of "drowsy but awake" and replace it with the concept of "relaxed but awake." Relaxed but awake is the best state for your baby to be in before going to bed when you decide to start sleep training.

If your baby is under twelve weeks old, go ahead and try and put your baby down "relaxed but awake." However, if your baby has reflux, colic, an undiagnosed dairy intolerance, or has not mastered feeding yet - that practice may not work and often backfires. Don't worry. You do not want to hang your hat on that practice or judge yourself.

Why is it essential that your baby goes into her crib awake and not too drowsy?

Your baby needs to learn how to put herself to sleep and self-soothe at the beginning of the night. If she masters this bedtime skill, she will have the skills to take care of all her subsequent nighttime wakings and put herself back to sleep.

If you do the work of self-soothing for her at bedtime, like rocking her to the point of being on the cusp of falling asleep, "drowsy but awake," she will ultimately need you to do the work of soothing her back to sleep at each waking.

Your baby's wakings are normal; it is how we address the wakings that become the most significant issue. Human beings wake through the night as a way to survive as a species.

We wake, scan our environment and make sure everything is the same as when we went to sleep. When we wake in a different environment, our brain becomes alert to the change at hand and wakes us up more to investigate what is going on.

Your baby must have her night wakings in the same environment that she fell asleep in, and most importantly, she must be able to re-create how she fell asleep at the beginning of the night. A baby wakes up at night AWAKE, not "drowsy but awake."

If you are practicing good sleep habits with your baby, remember to try "relaxed but awake." It will take some of the pressure off you, and you will be teaching your baby with clear and consistent messaging.


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