How to use the “drowsy but awake” method

This article is part of New Kind’s postpartum doula’s best sleep tips.

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You may have heard of this before (and maybe you thought it sounded impossible!) but this is how you’re going to build new sleep associations for your baby. It takes some time and patience, but it’s the very best way to help your baby learn how to sleep independently. 

You can start practicing this method as soon as the baby is born, and we recommend doing it at least a couple times per day by the time your baby is 4 weeks old. Your goal is to get to the point at which you’re putting your baby down drowsy but awake for all naps and nighttime sleep. 

How to get started: 
  • Watch for sleepy cues: quietly staring into the distance, avoiding eye contact or interaction, pulling of the ears, hiccups, rubbing eyes. Fussiness is usually a sign of being overtired -- we want to catch their cues well before they reach this stage. 
  • When your baby is showing signs of sleepiness but is still calm, gently place your baby in their bassinet or crib.
  • If they wake right away, do your best to soothe them, then place them back in their crib or bassinet. 
  • When creating this new habit, results won’t be instant, but try to stay committed. With a little time, and patience, your baby will learn that they can fall asleep all on their own. baby just cries every time I try to put her down “drowsy but awake!”

If the drowsy but awake method is feeling more like “drowsy but screaming,” here are some troubleshooting tips. Remember that this is a new skill you and baby are developing, and it will take time to get good at it! 

  • Ease into it. No matter how old your baby is when you start, ease into it gradually. First, just try it for the first nap of every day, which is usually the easiest nap for most newborns. Work your way up to trying it multiple times per day.  
  • Try putting your baby down sooner -- when he is calm and relaxed but not close to falling asleep. 
  • Create a pre-sleep routine and use it for every nap to start building those new associations. An example is: diaper change, swaddle, sing a song and rock, sound machine on, baby in crib. Remember, you don’t need to rock him to the point of dozing off. 
  • Practice “the pause,” waiting about 30 seconds when she wakes or starts crying before before picking her up. Sometimes they will settle on their own if you give them the chance.  
  • Try remaining by baby’s side when you put her down. You could also put a hand on her chest and gently rock her to see if that soothes her or pick her up for a snuggle when she needs it. If she’s no longer calm and she’s brand new to this method, feel free to scrap it and try again tomorrow! One of our goals is to reduce your stress, not increase it. 
  • Finally, know that you’re not doing anything wrong, and your baby is not a “bad sleeper.” The newborn phase is tough, and many days the best strategy is to do whatever necessary to get through the day with your sanity intact. 


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