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What To Do When A Drowsy Baby Won’t Sleep

Just about every sleep book on the market talks about the word “drowsy.” If we're working with newborns, for example, many books state that the goal is to put your newborn down drowsy but awake. And in most cases, that works just fine, but sometimes it doesn't.

I'm here today to talk about when it doesn't.

If we've moved beyond the newborn phase, let's say with a baby aged four months and up, drowsiness can actually become a loose prop association. Let's think about it this way: sleep is a journey, and if you are at point A, which would be wide awake, and are trying to get to point B, which is asleep, how you make the journey becomes important.

It’s that journey that we need to fix in order for our child to start sleeping well. The goal is to have the child learn to make that journey all on their own — or independently, we like to say — so that when they have a naturally occurring wake-up during the night, they can make the journey back to sleep easily and on their own.

In some cases, if we help our baby into the journey by getting them drowsy with either rocking or feeding, etc., then when they have a naturally occurring wake-up sometime in the night or during a nap, they won't be able to get back to sleep from point A to point B. They will want you to come back into the room and help them get started on the journey.

Why this becomes problematic for both baby and parent is that for your baby to return to sleep, you will need to assist them at least part of the way, which becomes frustrating on both sides. That’s why the goal is to teach the baby how to fall asleep from point A. The only way to do this is to be very cautious in your bedtime or nap time routine that your baby is not entering into the drowsy phase.

So what does drowsiness look like?

Drowsiness can be tricky to read because in some cases, what you would consider drowsiness could actually be the first stage of sleep. So here are some things you want to keep an eye on.

  1. Zoning out, or what we often call “the seven-mile stare.” If you notice your baby looking off into space, this can be a sign of drowsiness. The best way to avoid it is to talk to your baby, tickle your baby, or remove your baby from the nipple or the bottle before resuming feeding again.

  1. Heavy blinking. Make sure your baby’s eyes look alert and are not blinking heavily. This can be a sign of drowsiness. The best thing to do to avoid this is to talk to your baby, sing to your baby, or give your baby a little tickle to keep them alert.

  1. Closing the eyes for several minutes at a time while having the bedtime feed. Again, you want to make sure that your baby’s eyes stay alert and open through the entire feed.

The goal is to make sure the baby remains alert and wide awake through the entire bedtime routine and goes into the crib ready to start the sleep journey from point A.

You might notice that your baby does a little bit more protesting all of a sudden. This is a good sign that your baby was actually relying on you to help them into sleep in some way and they are struggling slightly with the process of going from start to finish all on their own. But don’t worry — the good news is that within a couple of nights, the baby will be able to make the journey independently and will start sleeping all the way through the night!

If you'd like to chat more about your baby’s sleep challenges, I'm more than happy to offer a complimentary Sleep Evaluation call to see if we can get to the bottom of your struggles!

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