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What To Do When A Drowsy Baby Won’t Sleep

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If you’re one of those people who is lacking sleep because of your baby, you’re not alone. You may have even read some of those “how to get your baby to sleep through the night” books in hopes of turning your situation around. That information isn’t necessarily “wrong.” It’s just that unique sleep situations require unique solutions.

Additionally, the solutions are also dependent on the age of the baby. (If you’ve got a newborn, things are handled a little differently, so you’ll definitely want to start with my Born to Sleep: Newborn Sleep Success Toolkit.) 

Most information about baby’s sleep uses the word “drowsy”. The standard advice is to put your newborn down drowsy, but still awake. The thought here is that they essentially teach themselves to fall asleep on their own. In most cases that works, but sometimes it just doesn’t. Every child is different.

So what do you do when it doesn’t work?

Start by thinking of sleep as a journey. You start at point A, which is awake, and the goal is to get to point B, which would be asleep. But as most things in life go, it’s not about the destination itself, but the path you take to get there. It’s the journey that needs to be repaired for your child to start sleeping well. 

If your child is past the newborn phase (about 4 months and up), the goal is to have them learn to make the journey from wide awake to asleep on their own. Without rocking, soothing, singing, or the desperate car ride around the block at 2 AM. Sleep happens in cycles, so when a child ends a cycle and starts stirring during the night, they can easily take that journey from Point A to Point B on their own. 

A lot of times, if a baby is used to being rocked, soothed, or fed to the point of drowsiness, they won’t be able to get from the awake point to the sleeping point by themselves. They’ll expect a caregiver to come back into their room and help them along. And because we want them to sleep, that’s what we do. Which makes them expect it even more.

As the expression goes, this routine gets really old really quickly. It’s frustrating at best, and poor sleep for adults can be just as detrimental as poor sleep for babies. Babies need restful sleep to grow and be healthy. You may no longer be growing, but your brain and your immune system definitely function much more efficiently if you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.

For those babies having a hard time falling asleep from point A, you need to have a careful bedtime routine that ensures your baby never actually enters the phase of drowsiness before getting into their crib for the night. 

How do you know if your baby is drowsy?

Determining drowsiness can be tricky. Sometimes drowsiness isn’t drowsiness at all, but actually the first stage of sleep. Here’s what to look for:

  • Zoning out, or what we often call “staring into space.” If you notice your baby looking off into wonderland while not really looking at anything, this can be a sign of drowsiness. To avoid this, talk to the baby, gently tickle them (for many babies this works best on their feet), or remove your baby from the bottle or breast before returning them to feeding again. 
  • Heavy blinking. This is one we all do when we’re drowsy – our blinks become heavier and slower because our eyes just want to close. Make sure that your baby is alert. The easiest way to keep them alert is to talk, sing, or interact with them. 
  • Closing their eyes for minutes at a time while eating. Just like before, keep stimulating your baby to ensure that they don’t become drowsy from eating.

In a nutshell, if you ensure that your child is alert and awake through their bedtime routine, they will be more ready to start the sleep journey from point A to point B when they get into their crib.

Initially, your baby may not like the idea of staying alert during the bedtime routine. While it may not seem like it at the time, it’s actually a really good sign. It means that your baby was relying on you to help them fall asleep, and now you’re teaching them to do it on their own. Babies adapt to things quickly. Within a couple of nights, your child will be able to make the sleep journey without your help. 

If your baby has an issue with drowsiness or any other sleep challenges, let’s get a conversation going! We’ve worked with hundreds of families teaching their babies to become independent sleepers. Book your free call today!

Contact Tender Transitions

If you have any questions about these guidelines and why they are important for your family, please reach out.

Or if you’re struggling with getting a full night’s sleep and are worried about moving your child into their own room, we can help. We’ve worked with hundreds of families to create a smooth transition. A transition to a new room or the restorative transition of teaching your child to become independent sleepers. Book your free call today!

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