I’m often providing advice on how to help your child learn self-soothing skills and depending on the age of your baby you will either do this by putting them down drowsy but awake or completely awake and aware. By doing this you avoid sleep associations – things they feel they need to help them fall asleep – like rocking, feeding or patting.

A baby with good sleep habits will be able to put themselves to sleep at bedtime and nap times and be able to sleep long periods without help to get back to sleep. This doesn’t mean they won’t wake up for night feedings, but after the feeding is done, they’ll be able to get back to sleep with no help.

Drowsy but Awake

This is a technique reserved for a newborn baby (up until 4 months of age). As much as possible, it is important at this age to be putting your baby down drowsy but awake because this starts to teach them some of the skills required to fall asleep independently. Once your baby is showing sleep cues – like eye rubbing, jerky movements, zoning out and yawning – you start your naptime or bedtime routine. At the end of the routine you can hold or rock your baby to get them to the point that their body is body, they have droopy eyes, but are 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 the first stage of independent sleep skills in the early months.

You can do this same method at bedtime and during daytime naps. You may find to begin with that falling asleep this way is easier at bedtime and the first nap of the day, but with practice it will becone easier each and every sleep period.

At 6 weeks of age newborn babies hit an important milestone – they are able to follow cues and make connections! This means it is a key time to start giving them opportunities to put themselves to sleep, if you haven’t started before then. Remember that a little bit of low-level fussing in the crib is okay they are just working this sleep business out, 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, this is a good time to start putting them down awake and aware. This means you’ve followed their regular sleep schedule (or seen their sleepy cues) before doing the soothing bedtime (or naptime) routine and putting them in their own crib completely awake. This means no droopy eyelids or anything like that though. They are calm and ready for sleep but completely aware of the whole process. Once you put them in their crib fully awake their job is to 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 (that are very normal) 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 middle of the night. They will also likely need that help at nap time and to return back to sleep after a short nap. How a baby falls asleep at the beginning of the night/nap sets the scene for how the rest of their sleep will go.

Now you may ask, but my baby will cry and protest if I put them down awake and aware? This can be normal for a baby that is used to having help to fall asleep. This is whwre you may which to use one of the common sleep training methods out there to teach independent sleep skills. The method you use can be purely up to your preference and what you feel comfortable with. And if you’re not sure which to pick, talking to a sleep consultant can help.

With both drowsy but awake and awake and aware methods of putting oyur baby down at sleep times, it can be important not to rush to them when they wake up – either overnight or from a shorter nap. In the newborn period give them a minute to see if that wake up was just a short cry and then they fall back to sleep. This helps prevent you from startibng a sleep association. Of course, if they need a feed, don’t hrsitate to provide it to them. After the newborn period you can leave them a little bit longer when they wake up to see if they will fall back to sleep on their own. This is the best way to encourage longer stretches of sleep because they are practicing transitino through sleep cycles.

The key to success, whether you are using the drowsy but awake or awake and aware method is to make sure that you have the timing of sleep right. In the first months of life a baby’s wake windows (up to one hour). And then as they grow those wake windows get longer. An overtired baby at nap or bedtime will find it harder to fall asleep independently, have short naps and wake more often overnight. Whereas a generally well rested baby who’s wake windows are in line with their age and development will be able to sleep for longer periods both during naps and overnight. As they say, sleep begets sleep. So make sure you get the timing of sleep right, as well as the enough sleep in a 24-hour period. (link to IG guide)

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.

Learn when and why to use both drowsy but awake and awake and aware when you put your baby to bed.

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