• Janelle Kent

Wake to Sleep - One baby's magic might be another's nightmare

Updated: May 23, 2019

Who can use the wake to sleep strategy?

If your baby is not waking out of hunger, discomfort or sickness, then s/he may be waking habitually and could benefit from the wake to sleep strategy.

  • If you are unsure if it is habitual, take notes for a few days to rule out any other issues that may be causing the wake-ups.

What is the wake to sleep strategy?

Wake to sleep is a technique that is used to reset a child’s habitual pattern of sleep awakenings. The Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg, is most often cited as the supporter/creator of this strategy but sleep advocates and coaches use it worldwide.

With the wake to sleep strategy you are helping baby get through the sleep cycles to extend sleep periods.

When can the wake to sleep strategy be used?

There are 3 times you can typically use the wake to sleep strategy:

  • Habitual early morning awakenings

  • Habitual night awakenings

  • Extending short naps (45min or less)

How should the wake to sleep strategy be used?

In the middle of the night and for early morning awakenings you will want to rouse your little one 1 hour beforethey typically wake.

  • You are trying to bring them to a semiconscious state so that they restart the sleep cycle without completely waking


  • Ease them through the transition from light sleep (REM)


  • When you rouse them, you are gently making them stir, not waking them up.

  • Look for some movement in their extremities (usually hands, feet, legs and even their heads may move)

  • Listen for a possible change in breathing pattern

  • Even just a twitch can be enough for some babies

* Give this method at least 5 consistent days of rousing them before they wake on their own to decide of the strategy is actually working.

For naps, you will want to rouse your little one around 30 minutes into sleep or 10 minutes before they usually wake (these two times often overlap for catnappers).

  • Deciding to wait 30 minutes into the sleep cycle or 10 minutes before they wake will depend on how short a napper you have. The idea is that you catch them just prior to their transitioning through the first sleep cycle and before s/he wakes completely from the sleep cycle.

  • In cases where parents want or need to avoid beginning a sleep prop association (like patting back, pressure etc.), you simply rouse them and then leave.

  • In other cases, you may want to pat their backs for a while, or apply gentle pressure to their backs to keep them from popping awake.

  • These 2 methods can be very time-consuming and can lead to sleep prop dependencies so you need to be very careful. You could find yourself patting a back for 20 or more minutes to ease little one through sleep cycles and then having to do it for months if baby decides that s/he “needs” this to stay asleep.

  • Only go in once to extend a nap. After the nap has been extended that one time, you shouldn’t repeat the strategy again during that nap cycle.

Extra things to consider and troubleshooting

  • If rousing doesn’t stir baby at all after about 30-60 seconds of trying:

  • Do it again

  • Do it again and be a bit more vigorous if necessary

  • This is one of the toughest parts of the wake to sleep strategy, as you really won’t know what is too little or too much for your baby until you try to rouse him/her.

  • It is usually more effective to try lightly rousing before getting really enthusiastic about it.

  • A light touch is often enough for most, but there are some little ones who will require more

  • Timing is everything with wake to sleep, which is why it can be nerve-wracking to try.

  • If you go to rouse baby but s/he fully wakes up:

  • Try going in about 5-10minutes earlier to catch him/her in an earlier stage of the sleep cycle.

  • If there are multiple awakenings at night it is best to work on one at a time.

  • Once baby is out of the habit of waking at that first worked on time, then move on to another habitual waking time.

  • Make sure you are timing things by when baby falls asleep for naps, not when you put baby to bed. A video monitor obviously makes this easier to do but you can do it without one.

  • Sometimes baby gets on track but something happens and they slip into habitual awakenings again. You may have to use the wake to sleep strategy again to get things back on track.

  • Baby wakes up habitually...diligent and committed use of the wake to sleep strategy stops this...baby starts to wake habitually again...wake to sleep strategy stops this again. The hope is that it will work for good the first time, but we all know babies aren't that simple!

It is my sincere hope that after ruling out hunger, discomfort or sickness that the wake to sleep strategy eliminates your little one’s habitual awakenings. Use this strategy with caution though as it isn’t always the magic trick that we hope for. However, if you are consistent, committed and there aren’t other sleep issues that could be causing the awakenings this may be the answer you’ve been looking for!

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