“Drowsy but awake”- the gold standard to aim for in the sleep department, right?
If your goal is to maximize your child’s sleep, it’s important to be placing your baby or toddler down AWAKE at bedtime.
How a baby falls asleep initially at bedtime sets the tone for the rest of the night. The purpose of sleep training is to strengthen your child’s sleep skills so that he can fall asleep unassisted. You want your baby to be able to fall BACK to sleep unassisted without relying on a sleep prop. Feeding, rocking, or patting to sleep are the most common examples of sleep props to avoid. See, if a baby relies on something to fall asleep at bedtime, there’s nothing stopping this baby from waking up at night expecting the same type of assistance to fall back asleep.
Here’s a very common situation I see:
The parent puts the baby in the crib drowsy but awake where he’s half-asleep at bedtime. Or perhaps the parent sits next to their toddler and rubs his back until he’s almost asleep. When the baby or toddler wakes up in the middle of the night, the parents begin to implement a sleep training method. Except that this baby or toddler just cries and cries! Why? See, if the child needs to be rocked, fed, or patted to a drowsy state in order to fall asleep at bedtime, he won’t consistently put himself back to sleep in the middle of the night without that same assistance.
But my baby sometimes sleeps through the night! He must know how to put himself back to sleep then, no?
The question to ask yourself is “how strong are your baby’s sleep skills, on a scale of 1-10?” A baby that is vigorously rocked to sleep and then transferred to the crib out cold would be a 1. A baby who goes into the crib completely awake and falls asleep by himself would be a 10. And a baby who needs to be rocked until he’s half-asleep would be a 5.
So a 5 is much better than a 1. But it’s definitely not the 10 we should be aiming for. If a baby’s sleep skills are only a 5, it means that he’ll sometimes be able to fall back asleep, while other times he won’t be able to pull it off without your help.
If your goal is to maximize your baby’s sleep as much as possible and attain as much predictability and consistency as possible, it’s very important for your baby to go down completely 100% awake at bedtime and to begin any sleep training plan at bedtime.
It’s the key to getting yourself an awesome sleeper!