Whether you decided to “dive right in” and begin sleep training after a particularly exhausting night or you spent weeks planning your approach to sleep training, sometimes sleep training just. doesn’t. work! What in the world is wrong!? We’ve worked with tens of thousands of families from around the globe and through this experience we’ve discovered:
The Top 5 Reasons Sleep Training Might Not Be Working
Without further ado, here they are:
1. You’re missing your baby’s Goldilocks Zone
When you try putting your baby to sleep is often the most important factor in how easily they fall to sleep. Some sleep experts, such as Dr. Richard Ferber, advise parents to tire their children out before sleep training and put them to bed later than usual. This can be a huge mistake, especially when done for more than a day or two. Babies and toddlers tend to cry much harder and longer when they are overtired. Imagine if you were learning to sew. If you were physically exhausted from a long day and kept awake hours after your usual bedtime, how patient would you be when your sewing machine jammed and you kept making mistakes? Most of us prefer to try new things when we are “fresh,” rested, and in a relaxed state. Your baby or toddler learns best when they are well-rested, too!
If you’ve been keeping your baby or toddler up past their usual bedtime in hopes they will “wear out quickly” during sleep training. This could be the reason sleep coaching isn’t working! The same is true for keeping your child awake and intentionally skipping naps throughout the day. Sleep begets sleep and a well-rested child is going to be much more patient while learning more independence with their sleep. Need help setting your child’s schedule and finding her Goldilocks Zone, or the ideal time for her to sleep? Try out our baby and toddler schedule maker!
2. You’re using the wrong sleep training method for your child
Sometimes, the best sleep coaching method for you isn’t the best fit for your baby. For example, some parents are uncomfortable leaving the room or even not touching their child as they fall to sleep. But, that doesn’t always mean their child has the same preferences. Believe it or not, some children are actually too distracted or stimulated by their parent(s) hovering over the crib and shushing the entire time. The opposite can also be true – the baby or toddler may need a lot of soothing and a parent nearby, but mom or dad may prefer to wait outside the room between checks.
Another instance where parents sometimes try the wrong method is when a baby is very young and still needs a very gentle and gradual transition to falling asleep on their own. Different methods work better for different ages, not to mention temperaments! Not sure which method may be better for your child based on their age or temperament? Take our temperament quiz. You can also review our cheat sheet on the 5 most common sleep training methods.
3. You’re not being consistent with sleep training
The first night of sleep training went “OK.” You stuck it out and your baby fell to sleep on their own. Go you! The next night…. Well, let’s just say you had a long day and couldn’t follow through with the plan. It happens! Many times parents “bite off more than they (or their baby) can chew” when it comes to sleep training and try to tackle all the problems all at once. Understandably, this can leave even the most committed parents fried and desperate. And, what happens when we’re exhausted? We bend the rules.
If you started out very committed to the fact that your toddler would no longer be allowed to join you in bed at 3:00 a.m. but after 4 nights you said, “OK, maybe just this once” it’s likely that you’re sending mixed signals. With any big “job” it’s important to break down your ultimate goal into small, manageable pieces so you can see your progress and have enough energy to finish. Sleep training works best when you take a steady approach and stay consistent with one method long enough to see results. Is consistency your biggest challenge? Here are a few more tips for how to remain consistent while sleep coaching.
4. You’re starting at the wrong time of day
For many parents, naps are their main source of anxiety. If your baby or toddler refuses naps or cannot be put down without waking up, you may feel naps should be the primary focus when sleep training. What many parents (and even some “experts”) don’t realize is: naps are the HARDEST place to start! Our drive to sleep is strongest at bedtime and the environment is also much more conducive to peaceful sleep. So, if your child has difficulty with nights AND naps, it’s usually best to work on bedtime, first. Once your child has a solid foundation and has had some practice falling to sleep when at bedtime, then you can begin teaching them the more advanced skill of falling to sleep independently at nap time too.
5. You’re not confident in the plan
Babies are SMART! If you’re wavering in your decision to sleep coach or are uncertain you’ve got a solid plan in place, your child is likely to pick up on your hesitation. Thankfully, this is usually an easy fix! If you haven’t already, spend some time evaluating your child’s sleep issues, what you’d like to achieve through sleep training and when’s the optimal time to begin. As your child’s “coach,” it’s important for you to feel confident your baby or toddler can learn to sleep well.
Need help creating your sleep plan? Our team of compassionate and knowledgeable Sleep Consultants can help you create a Personalized Sleep Plan® for your baby or toddler. We’ll take into account your child’s temperament, your parenting philosophy and goals, and give you a detailed, step-by-step plan for getting your child to sleep through the night and take restorative naps.
Hopefully, now that you know the top 5 reasons sleep training might not be working, you’ve discovered the hidden piece to your child’s sleep puzzle!