Blog Post 9-Drowsy Signs

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain,
A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep.

Sleep is serious business.  If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial, from the point of view of the United States of America Department of the Army.  A major point, emphasized by the Army, is that more sleep produces more benefits for Soldiers.  Also, more sleep produces more benefits for children.  Even small amounts of extra sleep help (Blog Post 6).  At every age! 

In addition, “Leaders [Parents] also ensure that the sleep-wake schedule conforms as closely as possible to the brain’s natural circadian rhythm to optimize both duration and quality of sleep. 


The brains in babies and young children produce drowsy periods followed by sleep during the day and in the evening. Watch for drowsy signs before your child falls asleep. Drowsy signs are your signals to start soothing your child to sleep for a nap or for the night. Begin to soothe your baby to sleep as soon as your baby starts to become drowsy.  Healthy sleep occurs when the sleep period is in synchrony with the occurrence of the brain’s output for sleep during the day and the night.  The drowsy state is an in-between state: not fully awake and not fully asleep; it is similar to twilight (not fully day and not fully night).  Like twilight, drowsiness is a transition with a beginning and an end (Blog Post 8).

When you soothe your well-rested baby to sleep at the beginning of the drowsy period, because the baby’s brain is naturally drifting into a sleep state:

            ·  It is easier for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep.

            ·  No crying occurs before your child naturally falls asleep.

If your baby is over-tired because of a too late bedtime or naps not occurring in synch with daytime brain outputs for sleep:

            ·  It is difficult for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep.

            ·  Crying occurs before your child falls asleep.

Often, starting the soothing process to sleep at the beginning of the drowsy period will prevent sleep problems in the first place and solve sleep problems if they are present.  Also, a sleep solution might include moving the bedtime earlier because just a few extra minutes of nighttime sleep makes a big impact (Blog Posts 6 through 8).


            As your young child enters the drowsy period, your child begins to move away from an alert, engaging, calm, and relaxed state. 

Early, as the drowsy period appears, your drowsy signs are:

                        ·  Appears less animated.

                        ·  Becomes quieter.

                        ·  Appears less interested in toys or people.

                        ·  Sucking strength is weaker or slower.

                        ·  Yawning.

            These behaviors are most noticeable when your child is in a quiet and relaxed environment, for example, when being read to.  These behaviors might be absent when you anticipate a sleep time from past experiences and soothe your baby to sleep at a clock time that is in synch with the brains sleep output. These behaviors might be present but not be noticed if you are distracted by looking at a digital screen or on a phone call.  These behaviors might be “masked” if your child becomes hyperalert in a stimulating environment as a busy mall or when placed in front of a television or screen-based media device.  

            Try to begin soothing to sleep early, before you notice changes in the eyes which occur later in the drowsy period:

                        ·  The eyes become less focused on the surroundings.

                        ·  The eyes appear glazed over, staring, not as sparkling.

                        ·  Your child seems to look “through you”, not at you.

                        ·  Drooping eyelids.

                        ·  Long or slow blinks.


            Fatigue signs occur when your child is over-tired or short on sleep.  For example, the bedtime is too late. Or, the duration of the soothing to sleep was too long and the prolonged soothing efforts interfered with the rising sleep wave and prevented an easy transition to sleep.  Fatigue signs occur as your child is becoming overtired, moving toward an irritable or tense state:

                        ·  Rubbing the eyes.

                        ·  Less able to entertain himself.

                        ·  Less cooperative.

                        ·  Drooping of the head.

                        ·  Slightly “wired”.

                        ·  Pulling the ears.

                        ·  Mild fussiness, irritability, moodiness, whining, crying, cranky, clingy, peevish.

                        ·  Easily upset, frustrated, short-fused, rough around the edges.

Older children might be oppositional, defiant, uncooperative, angry, aggressive, or complain of headache or stomachache. 

Adults might complain of depressed mood, mental fog, inability to concentrate, lack of motivation, or a sensation of just going through the motions, like a robot, without much feeling or sense of vitality.

Sometimes a child appears to have no drowsy signs and instead, immediately “crashes” into fatigue signs.  This is most likely to occur in an infant with colic under four months of age or a baby or child who is very short on sleep at any age.  The sleep solution is to first record the usual interval of wakefulness that usually occurs between an awakening from a sleep period and the appearance of fatigue signs.  Next, watch the clock and plan ahead to begin your soothing to sleep 10-20 minutes sooner than that usual time interval, even though no drowsy signs are apparent.  Even this slightly shorter interval between naps and before night sleep can produce a major benefit (Blog Posts 6 through 8).


            Beginning soothing to sleep as drowsy signs appear make the transition to sleep easy, without your child crying.

            Beginning soothing to sleep as fatigue signs appear make the transition to sleep difficult; your child may cry before falling asleep.


            The suggestion is to video your baby or child making the transition from an alert-awake state to a drowsy state to a sleep state.  Then, you might be able to see more clearly the development of specific drowsy signs in your own child to get a better handle on when to begin soothing to sleep.  Perhaps this would be a week-end project as it probably would involve two people.

            The invitation is to post your video online and include a link in the Comments section for this Blog.  Any observations or comments from you would also be welcome.  There is no video online showing this transition!  So, the first posted link will be making internet history.  Sharing your video online offers the opportunity for other parents to sharpen their focus on their own child’s drowsy signs.  Also, perhaps, I will notice items that might be helpful to share with viewers.



·  Watch for drowsy signs.

·  Respect your child’s natural sleep rhythms.  Blog Post 8.

·  Encourage an early or earlier bedtime (even a slightly earlier bedtime may produce better sleep.  Blog Post 6) especially at 6 weeks.  Blog Post 7.

∙ Recognize that a healthy brain requires healthy sleep. Blog Posts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

One thought on “Blog Post 9-Drowsy Signs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s