Drowsy but awake means putting your baby to sleep in her crib before she’s sleeping soundly. Here’s how to spot if your little one is drowsy and tips for mastering the skill.

Let’s assume that your bedtime routine looks something like this:

You give your little one a warm bath, sing her a lullaby, and nurse her until she falls asleep. Then, carefully and quietly, not to wake her up, you place her in her crib and tiptoe away.

However, three hours later, she’s up, and she’s upset. 

And the cycle repeats itself for weeks. 

Desperate, you started talking to other parents and reading a bunch of articles that told you something about putting your baby to sleep “drowsy but awake.”

But, what does “drowsy but awake” actually mean? Does it mean eyes closed or just relaxed? 

In this article, I’ll explain what drowsy but awake means and tips for how to do it right.

What does drowsy but awake mean?

Drowsy but awake means putting your baby to sleep in her crib before she’s sleeping soundly. 

Putting her down when she’s drowsy and not asleep will teach her a fantastic skill: sleeping independently

Rocking her to sleep or letting her fall asleep in a swing may feel warm and comfortable, but when she wakes up and finds that you’re not there, she will get upset. 

But by putting her in her crib while she’s drowsy, you’re teaching her to fall asleep independently and soothe herself back to sleep when she wakes up at night. 

Keep in mind that leaving her drowsy in the crib means that you may hear a few cries and fusses, but don’t rush to pick her up and nurse her to sleep. Give her some time, and she’ll soon learn how to fall asleep on her own.

Drowsy But Awake

How to spot if your baby is drowsy? 

When your baby is drowsy, she’ll show all the common sleep readiness signs. 

She will:

  • yawn
  • rub her eyes
  • fuss or cry
  • pull her ear

When you notice these tired signs, it’s time to reduce stimulation and get her ready to sleep in her crib.

When should I put my baby down drowsy but awake?

You can start right after your baby is born or introduce it even if you’ve been nursing or rocking your little one to sleep for a few weeks or months. Keep in mind that the drowsy but awake method works best for babies not older than four months. Older babies should be put to sleep awake and not drowsy. 

How do you practice drowsy but awake?

Be consistent with your bedtime routine.

Whether it’s a warm bath and a lullaby, or a massage and a story, a bedtime routine can prepare your baby for a good night’s sleep. At the same time, it gives her consistency and safety, knowing what’s to come. 

Your little one will know that when you dim the lights and start reading a story, it’s time to go to dreamland.

Some days, you may feel like skipping your bedtime routine, but don’t! Often, it’s parental inconsistency that prevents children from sleeping more healthily. Choose a bedtime routine that works for you and stick to it.

Create the ideal room environment.

Here are a few tips for making sure your baby’s room is conducive to sleep.:

  • Keep the room at an ideal temperature, which is 68-72°/19-21°.
  • Create a womb-like sleep environment by getting a sound machine and playing some white noise. 
  • The quality of sleep is much higher in a room that is dark. Consider getting blackout curtains if your nursery gets plenty of light during the daytime. 

Follow an age-appropriate baby sleep schedule.

Striking the right balance between awake and sleep is beneficial to babies.

Every baby has a different sleep pattern. Your job is to understand your baby’s sleep cycle and bring it in conformity with the suggested guidelines. These sleep and wake cycles can also assist in providing sleep training to your child. 

sleep and wake cycles baby sleep

Make sure you’re doing it at the right time.

If your “put her down drowsy but awake” method seems not to be working, make sure you’re doing it at the right time. Your baby might be too tired or under-tired. If she’s too tired, she might cry a lot or be hyperactive. On the other hand, if she’s under-tired, she may seem more playful, happy, and smiling. 

Separate eating from sleeping.

You want to avoid letting your baby fall asleep while you’re feeding or rocking her because you want her to figure out how to put herself to sleep.

If she’s used to falling asleep while nursing or being rocked, she’ll expect that every time she wakes up.

To break this habit, you should try to separate eating from sleeping by moving the feeding to the beginning of your bedtime routine or your nap. 

Wait a few minutes before responding to her fussing.

If she starts to cry in the middle of the night, don’t rush to her room. Wait for a few minutes—she may soothe herself back to sleep. 

In case she continues to cry, go to her but avoid turning on the lights, picking her up, or playing with her. Offer verbal reassurance, pat her gently on her bottom, rub her head, scratch her back, or hold her hand.

If the crying persists, there might be something else that’s bothering her. She may be hungry, wet, or feverish.

Don’t give up too soon.

Consistency and dedication are key in teaching your baby how to sleep independently. Even if she cries and wakes up at night at first, by remaining consistent, she’ll learn what you’re trying to teach her. And in no time, you’ll have a calm and relaxed baby capable of putting herself to sleep and soothing herself when she happens to wake up in the middle of the night.