Should I put my baby down “drowsy but awake”?

The short answer: NO.

The idea that one should put baby down “drowsy but awake” and hence “break sleep associations” or “teach baby to sleep on her own” is a pet concept of most sleep trainers. The idea is that, since all babies – like adults – wake at the end of a sleep cycle, they should find themselves in the same conditions that they fell asleep in, otherwise they will cry for those conditions to be recreated. The common example that is cited is: imagine you have fallen asleep on a nice, comfy bed (aka in your parents’ arms, being rocked or at the breast) and then you wake up and find yourself on the kitchen floor (the crib or bed) – would you not be upset? So, babies should not fall asleep at the breast because they will then want it every time they wake and will not be able to fall back asleep on their own.

I find this example very confusing. Here we are clearly saying that the equivalent of the comfy bed is the breast or the parents’ arms. And yet….we want our babies to fall asleep on the kitchen floor??

This is just a fancy marketing gimmick. It sounds logical but it’s based on outdated behaviourist theory – that if you do something repeatedly, the baby will get used to it. We know now that parental soothing is a biological need. Babies cannot “get used to” not having it. What they can get used to is the idea that crying will not achieve anything and so they should experience the stress but internalize it.

Several sleep experts absolutely dismiss the entire idea of “breaking sleep associations”. Firstly, very few babies actually accept the whole “drowsy but awake” thing without protest and some amount of crying. I know that mine would be instantly wide awake if I ever tried anything like that. We would then be back to square one in the soothing to sleep process and baby would then be overtired.

Even if your baby accepts it and manages to complete the falling asleep process on her own, there is no guarantee that he will wake less frequently or that not having a parent-dependent sleep association means they can bridge sleep cycles on their own.

Breaking sleep associations is a form of sleep training. It’s basically trying to teach a baby to “self-settle”, which is unscientific as babies don’t have a developed prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) that would allow this kind of logical reasoning.

I have seen so many parents get so anxious about why their baby isn’t falling asleep drowsy but awake. And it causes babies stress too. That’s because it’s totally unscientific and goes against the basic instincts of both parents and babies. Providing a baby the correct, age-appropriate form of soothing and practicing sleep parenting works much more beautifully and pays off hugely in the end.