Starting to formally sleep train your child is a big deal. It likely means that you’ve experienced some significant loss of sleep that motivated you to make changes in your baby’s routine in the first place, and then you’ve done some research in order to figure out the methods and steps you’ll need to take in order to see success and progress.
When you are starting to sleep train, you are feeling a lot of hope, because you know what your current situation is like, and you hope that it will only improve. But you are also probably experiencing some doubt, because you are unsure whether or not your methods will actually work to improve your child’s sleep.
Having worked with many families, I have observed a few key things that just about every parent experiences. For this blog post, I wanted to share these observations with you so that you can feel even more prepared when embarking on this journey with your own child.
Before diving into the three most common issues I observe, I figure it’s best to define sleep training. In its most basic form, sleep training is simply altering your child’s current habits and routine to make them more structured and more compatible with better sleep.
I liken sleep training to potty training. Your goal is very clear with potty training: you want your child to stop using diapers, and start going to the bathroom in the potty, ultimately without needing your help. This involves some changes to your routine and habit, and may involve some frustration along the way. It certainly involves consistency and repetition, and takes several weeks (and sometimes longer) for your child to really master the skill.
Sleep training is very similar. Your goal, again is very clear: you want your child to learn how to fall asleep so that he or she sleeps well for nighttime and during naps, and again, learning how to do this without needing your help. Just like potty training, sleep training absolutely takes some time, patience, and consistency.
And to be clear: Sleep training does NOT equal just crying it out, or abandoning your child. If done properly, you should be looking at the WHOLE picture, including feeding, timing, routine, environment, etc. So when you put your baby in the crib, or your child in their bed, you should feel comfortable knowing the only reason they may be upset is because you are asking them to fall asleep in a new way… and not because they are hungry, cold, sick, or lonely.
Here are the three things that I noticed just about every family experiences:
1. You’ll probably see some regression along the way.
You’ve started sleep training (or maybe even a formal sleep plan with me). Because you are changing your child’s current habits, the first night is usually the one with the most protest, because your child doesn’t expect what’s coming and is generally unhappy about making changes to a routine that’s been working for them pretty much their entire lives.
The great news is, 99% of the time, the second night is SOO much easier. It usually takes half the time of the first night for your babe to fall asleep, assuming your timing/environment/sleep method all flows well.
And, at least with the families I work with, the third or fourth night is a breeze compared to the first night. Children can adapt to new habits pretty quickly, and they very often take to a sleep plan quite well. Remember that children actually like consistency and routine!
Again, I’m stressing this: this is ONLY true when you’ve got all of the crucial elements in place.
But sometimes, along the way, you may not always see progress. You might have a day where naps are terrible, or one night where baby wakes up multiple times. Regressions are going to happen.
Maybe something was off about the day, or your little one isn’t feeling 100%. Or maybe, nothing is wrong at all, and yet you still have an off day. It happens! The best way to treat a regression is by keeping your existing routine and timing consistent, and starting over the next day.
Sleep training is a bit of a roller coaster, but in general, you should see some obvious progress from where you’ve started!
2. Naps take longer.
As I mentioned above, nighttime tends to get progressively easier with every single passing night. Children fall asleep more quickly, and they wake up in the middle of the night less frequently.
However, naps tend to take longer to come together.
In the evening hours, it’s easier for children to fall asleep, because their melatonin hormone levels naturally increase at this time, which promotes sleep.
This isn’t the case with naps, because of course, they occur throughout the day. It’s bright out, and chances are, noisier as well. Also, there tends to be less sleep pressure for your child to fall asleep.
For those reasons, children just starting with a new routine often find it challenging to either fall asleep quickly for naps, or to stay asleep for long naps.
It absolutely helps when your child has independent sleep skills, an environment conducive to sleep, and the most appropriate time so they are sufficiently tired (but not OVERtired).
However, for some children, especially those under 6 months old, all of those things may be in place, and yet they are STILL only taking 30-45 minute long naps (read more about that in a previous blog post here).
And for other children, you may just need a little more time to see progress. I commonly see that the families I’m working with don’t see naps improve until the second week of us working together. If this is you, don’t stress! Again, be consistent, as much as possible.
3. You might feel trapped in your house… but it won’t last forever.
When starting out on a sleep plan, one of my biggest recommendations is to set aside some time to work on the plan at home. The more time you have to practice your new routine and can control for things like awake times, obviously the better your little one will acclimate.
Three days is a good minimum to set aside, but a week or longer is ideal, especially for children under a year old.
Being consistent is one of the absolute most important ways you can communicate your expectations with your child, so the more consistent you are, the better! It helps them recognize that it’s time to go to sleep when they are napping in the same place every time, compared to being shuttled around between daycare, car rides some of the time, naps at a family member’s house, or in a baby carrier other times.
But, of course, for many people, it is challenging to find this time to set aside. Backing up to a weekend helps, and it’s often easier to take off work on a Friday or Monday to make your schedule work better (this is why that I am often booked for at least one weekend night up to a month in advance!). And if you are a stay-at-home-mom (or dad) then you are even luckier here since you can totally set your own schedule!
If you can, plan ahead. For example, if you know you are prone to feeling trapped in the house, then set aside some fun, age-appropriate activities for your child (like painting water on cardboard or playing in shaving cream… I didn’t say it needed to be expensive!). Also, this may sound obvious, but avoid starting a new sleep plan on any weekend where you have a big event, like a bridal/baby shower, or birthday party, or tickets to a football game.
Give yourself an out, as well. For example, if your babe is taking 3+ naps a day, it’s perfectly ok for that last nap, every now and then, to be a car seat nap or stroller nap.
Remember that your little one’s sleep is so essential to their functioning, and it’s absolutely worth prioritizing. The more time you can devote to practicing their new routine, the quicker they will pick up their new habits, and start meeting your sleep goals.
Plus, once your babe becomes an amazing sleeper, you’ll be able to not only go back to being the social butterfly that you are, BUT you’ll feel confident that you’ll be able to have a full night of sleep that night when you return home.
I hope these three tips to the most common issues have been helpful for you in considering how to best approach starting a sleep plan with your child. If, along the way, you find that you need some help, that’s exactly what I’m here for- to help you find success in sleep.
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