This is a question I get ALL THE TIME!
I feel like as a new mom I was always hearing the advice to put my baby down to sleep drowsy, but when I actually tried that, all I got was tears and frustration.
Why should baby go to sleep drowsy but awake? This is recommended because it teaches your little one how to fall asleep independently! Teaching baby how to do this will help when baby is trying to fall asleep and when baby wakes up between sleep cycles.
Did you know that we all wake up during the night? As adults, we typically don't notice or remember this even happening. But, when a newborn wakes up, typically we know because he or she will start crying. Babies do this because they've just completed a sleep cycle and are now in need of something (food, diaper change, play/awake time, snuggles from mom/dad, etc.) As baby gets a bit older and is able to sleep for longer stretches through the night, these wakings and cries could still be due to the above, but it also can be baby telling you that he needs some help getting back to sleep!
By teaching your baby to fall asleep on his own, he will start to learn how to put himself back to sleep after waking between sleep cycles. Putting your baby down drowsy but awake gives him the chance to practice!
So, now you're wondering - how do I actually do this?! Here's what you need to focus on:
- Make sure that your baby appears calm and relaxed. If he's upset and crying to begin with, chances are when you put him down, he'll be even more upset!
- Look at your baby's eyes. Are they doing that fluttering, opening/closing thing? If they are, you need to wake baby up a little because that's actually a sign that he's in the first stage of sleep! (This is typically the mistake that many parents make because although your baby looks awake, he's not).
- You really shouldn't have any confusion about whether your baby is awake or asleep. If you put your baby down after he's already in that first stage of sleep, chances are he will either wake up crying when you try to lay him down, or he'll wake up again in about 30-40 minutes after one sleep cycle.
What about toddlers? I got a question about this recently during my weekly Instagram Q&A. One mom asked: "Tips on putting 20-month-old down in crib, drowsy? Cries every time we try."
Simply put, trying to put a toddler to sleep drowsy but awake will NOT work. I'm sorry, it won't. The reason is that, likely, your toddler is used to being put to sleep the same way each night. If, suddenly, you change things up and expect them to drift off to sleep by themselves, it's just not going to happen!
Toddlers are aware of change and, for the most part, don't like change (that's why they love when we read the same book over and over or watch the same movies/shows over and over). If you are making a change to their routine and expecting them to fall asleep on their own when they're used to getting help, they're going to protest. If you're working on teaching your toddler to fall asleep on their ow, you'll benefit more (and have fewer tears) using a more age-appropriate approach.
Practicing drowsy (relaxed) but awake is perfect to start with a baby around 6 weeks old. You can even continue working on this with a baby who is a few months older. If you have a newborn and want to start trying to put him down drowsy (calm) but awake, that's great! If your baby accepts it, even better! But, if your baby gets upset and starts to cry, don't force it. No need to be firm with a newborn, this is the time to soak up the snuggles and give them lots of comfort. Think of this as practice for developing healthy sleep habits.