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Understanding “Drowsy But Awake”

on Wed, 05/03/2017 - 17:21

If you have read books and articles focused on getting children to sleep, you would have stumbled upon the term, “Drowsy but Awake”.  It is the optimal state that children will need to reach in order to practice self-soothing skills to put themselves to sleep at bedtime and in the middle of the night.  When I hold sleep workshops and classes, I often get questions about what “drowsy but awake” looks like.  In general, you would want your child to be drowsy enough to fall asleep soon after going to bed, and awake enough to practice important self -soothing skills.  “Too awake” or “too drowsy” can make bedtime or the middle of the night challenging.   How "drowsy but awake" is exactly displayed will differ from child to child.  The following tips will help you get a better read on when your child has reached his “drowsy but awake” window.

1. Keep  a Log
Sleep logs are very helpful in finding patterns to your child’s sleep. Record what time you child fell asleep and what behaviors he displayed right before, and during, putting himself to sleep.  When going by memory, it is hard to recall details. Keeping a sleep log for at least a week, for naps and bedtime, can reveal clues to the times of the right “Drowsy But Awake” window. 

2. Observe your Child’s Behavior
Although clock times are helpful, sometimes your child’s behavior is a more powerful indicator of “Drowsy But Awake”. Some common themes children display when nearing their window are, eye rubbing, tugging on their ear, yawning, or slowing down in play or activity.  However, be warned that each child is different, and some of these behaviors might be signs that your child has passed the drowsy window into a more alert “second wind” state.  For example, a yawn might indicate that they have passed the 'drowsy but awake" stage into their “second wind”.  Observations, combined with keeping regular sleep logs, can make it easier to find the right window.

3. Tweak Naptime and Bedtimes
In general, 7- 8pm is a good bedtime range for young children. However, sometimes this can be outside of the "drowsy but awake" window for some kids.  If your child has had a very poor nap day, you may have to put him down earlier for bedtime. He might be too drowsy to make it to his usual bedtime.  If your child went to sleep within 5 minutes at bedtime, he might have been too drowsy and may wake up in the middle of night. If your child is too awake at his standard bedtime, due to a late nap, you may need to put him to bed slightly later.  Tweaking nap and bedtimes by 15-20 minute intervals can help find the right Drowsy But Awake window.