I’m often providing advice on how to help your child learn self-soothing skills and these two particular terms are bounced around a lot – there is great confusion on when and why you put a baby down drowsy but awake or awake and aware.
Drowsy but Awake
This is a term especially reserved for newborn babies up until 4 months of age. It is important at this age to be putting your baby down drowsy but awake when possible because this starts to teach them some of the skills required to fall asleep independently. Basically you get them to the point of a relaxed body, droopy eyes, but not actually falling into sleep. You then place them in their crib or bassinette and let them do the final stage of tipping themselves into sleep. If you keep practicing drowsy but awake when possible you can potentially make it so that you never need to sleep train. Your baby is learning independent sleep skills from an early age.
At 6 weeks of age is when babies start to follow cues and make connections. So this is a key time to start giving them opportunities to put themselves to sleep. Remember that a little bit of low-level fussing in the crib is okay, but if they start getting upset, you can definitely pick them up and try again at the next sleep time. You are just practicing! And remember: the more you practice the better you get.
Awake and Aware
Once your baby is getting older, by 4 months at the latest, I generally suggest putting them down awake and aware. This means you’ve gone through a consistent soothing bedtime (or naptime) routine and they are calm and cued in that sleep is coming. No droopy eyelids or anything like that though. You then put them in their crib fully awake (not almost dozing off) and they go from awake to asleep all by themselves. Awake and aware essentially means that they are getting no help from you to get to sleep and they are doing it completely by themselves. This is the key to independent sleep skills.
Babies 4 months plus really need to be aware that they have been placed in the crib to sleep so that if they wake up at normal brief awakenings they aren’t startled by different conditions (e.g. they were in mom’s arms but now in the crib) because this can startle them into full alertness when they should be able to just re-position and falling back to sleep.
The thing we need to remember with drowsy but awake is that our babies have already entered into the first stage of sleep. So if we continue to do this after 4 months of age we may find we start a sleep association, where our babies feel like they need that rocking, cuddling or nursing that puts them into the drowsy but awake stage, not only at the start of the night but during the night at brief awakenings. How a baby falls asleep at the beginning of the night sets the scene for how the rest of the night will go.
If your attempts to try teaching independent sleep skills aren’t working, please do not hesitate to reach out. Little Big Dreamers can help you devise a unique sleep plan that is right for your baby and family to help you on the road to independent sleep skills.