Why Consistency Is So Important During Sleep Training

Why Consistency Is So Important During Sleep Training

Based on lots and lots of experience in working with parents over the years, we here at The Baby Sleep Site™ have found something to be true: when used with consistency, the right sleep training method can work wonders for a baby’s nighttime sleep problems, or a toddler’s persistent sleep issues. The two key words in that statement? ‘Consistency’ and ‘Right’.

Finding the Right Sleep Training Method

It’s important that you find a sleep training method that works for both you and your baby. Not every sleep training technique works for every baby, or for every parent. The Pick-Up-Put-Down (PUPD) method advocated by Tracy Hogg, for instance (a method in which you pick up your baby when she’s fussy and put her back in her crib to sleep when she’s calm), works well for some babies. Others, however, get totally overstimulated by being picked up so often and end up becoming increasingly upset.

Or take some of the cry-it-out methods. Some parents report that cry-it-out techniques helped their babies overcome their sleep problems in a matter of days. But other parents have let us know that cry-it-out methods simply do.not.work with their little ones. What’s more, some parents feel uncomfortable using cry-it-out techniques. In those cases, cry-it-out is not a technique that will work for their babies, since it’s not a technique that works for them as parents.

The right sleep training technique is one that works for both your baby and for you and is one that you can commit to doing. This means that, when considering sleep training techniques, you’ll need to take into account both your baby’s temperament and personality, as well as your own parenting philosophy.

Remaining Consistent in Sleep Training

If it’s important to find the right sleep training method for your baby, then it’s downright critical to remain consistent in your sleep training. This is so key, but it’s something that a lot of parents struggle with.

And that’s understandable. Some sleep training techniques require a lot of patience and a lot of time before they start to produce results. The fading method, for example (in which you slowly do less and less of the “work” to put your child to sleep, and your child does more and more) can take a while to start working. It demands a lot of patience on the part of parents. In cases like this, it can feel hard (or maybe impossible) to stay the course and remain consistent.

Other parents find it hard to stay consistent because of the way their babies or toddlers react to sleep training. Most of you know this first-hand by now, but it’s worth emphasizing: sleep training will almost always involve at least a little bit of crying. It doesn’t have to be full-blown cry-it-out, by any means, but even the gentlest techniques often involve a minimal amount of crying. And since no parent enjoys the sound of their child in distress, it can feel excruciating to remain consistent while your child fusses or cries.

But here’s the thing: sleep training won’t work unless you’re consistent. This goes for other aspects of parenting too, doesn’t it? Like discipline, for example. Let’s say you’re trying to teach your baby not to touch electrical cords. (A very wise thing to teach!) Imagine if you spent three days strictly enforcing your new “don’t touch electrical cords” rule, only to give up on day four and not say a thing when your baby grabs the lamp cord with both hands and starts tugging. This is confusing for your baby. Why was it wrong one day but fine the next? As a result of this mixed message, he won’t learn the “don’t touch electrical cords” lesson nearly as quickly as he would if you’d been consistent in enforcing the rule.

The same is true for sleep training. For instance, let’s say you’ve been rocking your baby to sleep for months now, but want to wean her from that sleep association. For the first three days, you rock her for a few minutes before naps and bed, but then put her in her crib while she’s still drowsy but awake. This is a great start! But if you give up on day four, and rock her straight to sleep for naps and bed, you’re sending your baby a confusing mixed message. This kind of inconsistency will totally set you back in your efforts to help her learn to sleep through the night.

Why Is Consistency So Important During Sleep Training?

Why is consistency so key? Because people (both children and adults) need plenty of time and space to practice a new skill. And in many ways, that’s what sleeping through the night is for your baby or toddler – a new skill. Think about the times you’ve had to learn something new. You probably made lots of mistakes in the beginning, and felt frustrated. But over time, you figured it out. Now imagine if, just a few hours or days into your learning process, someone had stepped in and taken over, and started doing for you the very thing you were learning to do yourself.

It reminds me of a time in college, when a friend of mine was learning to drive her new car. It had a manual transmission, and she had only ever driven an automatic. A well-meaning mutual friend took her out for a lesson, but after a few hours, he couldn’t handle it anymore! The grinding of the gears, the stalling out on hills. Finally, he made her pull over so he could drive the car back to campus himself.

In our sleep training analogy, my friend’s driving instructor was like the parent who gets overwhelmed with sleep training, finally saying, “I’ll just take care of this myself” and rocking the baby to sleep. It’s an understandable reaction (no one likes the sound of a fussy baby, just as no one likes the sounds of grinding car gears!), but ultimately, in both scenarios, no one learned anything new. My friend couldn’t learn to drive her new car unless she had the time and space to practice. Your baby can’t learn to sleep through the night unless he has the same.

So think about it this way: when you’re consistent in your sleep training, you’re giving your baby time and space to practice a new skill. The learning process may not be easy. It may involve some crying, and it may take longer than you’d like. But this is how learning often works.

When ‘Right’ and ‘Consistent’ Collide

Here’s the tricky part: ‘finding the right method’ and ‘staying consistent’ might seem to conflict with each other sometimes. For example, let’s say that you’re a few days into trying a new sleep training technique, and it doesn’t seem to be working at all. Your baby is fussy and cranky. She’s not sleeping any better than she was before you started, and you’re at the end of your rope. And you find yourself faced with a dilemma:

“Maybe this method isn’t right for her? Should I give up and try something else? But then again, maybe I need to give it a few more days…I don’t want to be inconsistent…ACK! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!”

This is so, so normal. Here’s our advice: if you’re trying a new sleep training technique, stick with it for at least one whole week. (If you’re sleep training a toddler, you may need to give it two or three weeks.) If at the end of the week, your little one has shown absolutely zero improvement, and is resisting your efforts in a big way, then you can consider trying something new.

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Here’s the thing: it can be hard to stay consistent with sleep training when you’re doing it alone. We’ve found that our clients find it easier to stay the course with sleep training, and to remain consistent with our help. Having a consultant there to answer every question and adjust their sleep coaching plans as necessary makes all the difference! So if you’re struggling with sleep coaching on your own, why not hire one of our sleep consultants to help? It may just be one of the best decisions you ever make!

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7 thoughts on “Why Consistency Is So Important During Sleep Training”

  1. I completely agree with Alison’s comment as I am a new mom as well. We have been trying to sleep train our 10 month old daughter for the last 2 weeks. And while she is sleeping a little better (2 to 3 hours verses 45 minutes to 1 hour), there seems to be so many factors to consider…teething, upset tummy, too hot/too cold. How can you tell if the cries are simply resistance cries verses an issue cry?

    • @ Nita – You’re right, this is tough! If you feel concerned by your baby’s cry, it’s always a good idea to go into the room and check – check for any problems, check for signs of fever or discomfort, do a quick diaper check, etc. However, in the first week of sleep coaching (or maybe two weeks, for particularly persistent children), most crying at nap time and bedtime is going to be a protest at the changes you’re implementing. So while you should always feel free to check on your child, and to make sure that nothing is wrong, most fussing in the early days of sleep coaching has a lot to do with the changes you’re making. This is actually one of the benefits of sleep coaching, in my mind…when your child can fall asleep quickly and stay asleep, and there is no more fussing and crying at bedtime and nap time, then it’s way easier to decode your child’s crying, since there is very little exhausted or overtired crying.

      Hope this helps, Nita! Best of luck to you.

  2. I completely understand that consistency is HUGE. As a first time mom, there are so many things that I’m figuring out. I tried sleep training for two weeks and found it very distressing. It was good at first, but then went down hill. We are in the thick of teething and solid foods with my 8 month old. I felt SO bad hearing him cry wondering if his teeth were bothering him, if he had gas, or if he was too hot/cold, etc. How do you try to stay consistent when there are so many factors to consider? Can sleep training really work if there are so many developmental “hiccups” along the way? Any advice is welcome!

    • @ Allison – great, great question! We generally recommend that when you come to a hiccup, you maintain a base level of consistency while also offering additional comfort as necessary. So, for example, if you were working on sleep coaching using a check and console method (you can read more about different method here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/5-baby-sleep-training-methods-explained/), during a bout of teething or a sleep regression, you may want to actually pick your little guy up during those checks, and spend a few minutes holding him close. This modification allows you to offer more soothing; during ‘normal’ checks, you would just comfort your son with your voice and by patting him while he’s in the crib.

      Of course, if you’ve suspended your efforts for now, it can’t hurt to wait until this regression has passed, and then pick up sleep coaching again around 10 or 11 months.

      Hope this helps, Alison! Best of luck to you 🙂

  3. Thanks, I needed this today. We’re on day three of no nursing to fall asleep. There is some progress 🙂

    • @Mae – Glad we could help! 🙂 Thanks for sharing, and I’m so happy to hear that you’re making so progress on the sleep association with nursing. Keep up the great work!

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