Will Sleep Training Make Your Baby Inflexible?

Will Sleep Training Make Your Baby Inflexible?

When you are getting up a million times each night with a sleepless baby, and suffering through microscopically short naps, you probably feel like you would do anything (A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.) to get your baby sleeping through the night and taking long, restful naps. But there are parents out there who are a little nervous about starting sleep training – and not because they are nervous about trying it, or because they aren’t sure their babies are ready.

They are nervous about sleep training making their babies inflexible.

Specifically, some parents are concerned that if they create predictable sleep schedules, and institute strong bedtime routines, then their babies will no longer be able to ‘go with the flow’ and catch a nap in the car, for example, or go to bed later than usual during a special occasion, or sleep in a pack-n-play at grandma and grandpa’s house.

This is a good question, if you think about it, and one that we think is worth answering!

Sleep Training Impact Depends on Your Baby’s Temperament

First, let’s be clear about something: sleep training most likely will not change your baby. Cry-it-out probably will not change your baby’s personality; neither will sleep training in general. Remember, your baby is born with certain temperament traits; this is why some babies are more relaxed and go-with-the-flow, while others need consistency and routine. Your baby’s inborn temperament traits will have much more to do with how flexible she is than anything you do (like sleep training) or don’t do.

Sleep Training May Make Your Baby More Sensitive To Schedule Changes

That said, it’s true that sleep training can, in general, make babies more sensitive to disruptions to your normal sleep schedule and routines. For instance, if you have been sleep training for a few months, and your baby has become used to napping twice per day, at the same time, in his crib, then it will probably be tough for him to miss one of those naps, or to catch the nap in the car.

Same for bedtime; if you have been sleep training for awhile and have a constant bedtime each night, you may notice that your baby isn’t able to stay up much later, or to fall asleep somewhere else at bedtime.

Finally, if your sleep training has been successful, you have no doubt gotten your baby used to her sleeping environment. That can make it a little difficult to travel with your baby; you may notice that your baby has a hard time falling asleep in a different room, or in a pack-n-play.

But keep in mind that ‘tough’ is relative in all of these scenarios. How ‘tough’ each of these is depends entirely on your baby’s temperament. Intense, persistent babies will react strongly to any change in the schedule – but that is true both before and after sleep training. More relaxed, easy-going babies may put up a little fuss to disruptions (which they may not have done prior to sleep training), but it likely will not be as ‘big’ a fuss.

Baby Sleep Training: Most Parents Find The Benefits Worth It!

So, what’s the bottom line? It’s this: sleep training will not fundamentally alter your baby’s personality or temperament. However, it will make your baby accustomed to certain routines and schedules. After months of following a certain schedule, or sleeping in a certain way, it’s not surprising that most babies will react at least somewhat to changes in those schedules and routines. However, how strongly they react depends on innate temperament traits. Intense babies will probably have big (and loud!) reactions, while easy-going babies put up a smaller fuss.

Is it worth it, then? That’s the question for some parents, particularly those who are on-the-go types and like to have flexibility from day-to-day.

We certainly can’t answer that question for you. After all, you are the best judge of what’s best for your baby, and for your family! What we can say, however, is that every parent we have worked with would say that it is definitely, definitely worth it! For them, sleep training put an end to sleepless nights and non-existent naps, and gave them their lives (and their sanity!) back. Yes, it can mean that your baby is a bit less flexible in responding to schedule changes than she once was, but our well-rested parents would tell you that the nights of uninterrupted sleep are worth it! 😉

Plus, remember that if you prepare for schedule disruptions in advance, you can likely alleviate some of the stress to your child, and help him through it. Check out some of these articles on how to prepare for and deal with “schedule-busters”:

Nicole’s Note:
“I honestly can’t remember EVER getting an e-mail saying ‘I wish I hadn’t sleep trained!’ On the contrary, I most often hear ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?'”

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6 thoughts on “Will Sleep Training Make Your Baby Inflexible?”

  1. I agree with Rachel. My daughter, now 5 1/2, has gotten better at sleeping hotels 2 or 3 times a year, it wasn’t easy when she was a year old. Now she falls asleep in a few minutes with no fuss.

    Temperament can be applied to adults, too. I can sleep just about anywhere, falling asleep minutes after my head hits the pillow and not waking up until morning. My husband never sleeps well in unfamiliar places, and wakes constantly throughout the night at every little noise.

    • @ Andrea – Awesome comment! This is so true – temperament and personality both have a great deal to do with how we sleep. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. @ Melanie – likewise! All three of my kids sleep much better at home, in their own beds, than they do anywhere else, so in that sense they’re ‘inflexible’ to some degree. However, since (as you point out) we’re at home the vast majority of the time, it’s fine by me!

    Thanks for commenting, Melanie! 🙂

    @ Rachel – oh, good point about age! Yes, that’s very true – older kiddos are generally more adaptable because you can reason with them, and help them understand their new surroundings better. Not true for babies 😉 Also, thanks for your insights into time zone changes! Very helpful. I haven’t done much traveling across time zones personally with my kids, but lots of our readers do, so this is a really nice insight.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Rachel! 🙂

    @ Rhianna – what a great perspective! This is a kind of the other side of the coin – in your case, it sounds like sleep coaching actually helped them learn to fall asleep in different places and be a bit more adaptable, which is fantastic! And I can see how that might be the case. So glad to hear that The Baby Sleep Site was helpful to you in coaching your little ones to sleep better 🙂

    Thanks for sharing a bit about your experience, Rhianna! 🙂

  3. I have a 3.5 yr old boy and an almost 2 yr old girl. I began sleep training when they were each 5 months old, with the help of the Baby sleep site! Both are good sleepers. However, my son has a much harder time with transitions than my daughter. My daughter will sleep almost anywhere if she is tired. My son has a difficult time sleeping in new situations, like a hotel room. We were on vacation recently and he did not fight bed time or fuss, but he did lay awake for 45 min before falling asleep the first night. The second night was easier for him. But, he sleeps fine at home, and grandma’s, because he is used to it, and occasionally the car. Though, neither of mine sleep well in the car and they never have! I would say, overall, sleep training has helped them to be able to fall asleep even in different places. We have a predictable routine for nap and bed time and they each have a special blanket to sleep with so I think it actually makes it easier to put them to bed in places other than home.

  4. We trained both our girls and now we have an almost 3 year old and a 1.5 year old and who sleep so well. We are on vacation and havs taken vacations before with them and I absolutely agree with the temperament comment though I also think age plays a factor. Our older one used to put up a huge fuss when we changed her routine. Now that she is older, she can handle disruption better. I’ve found that for a vacation with no time zone or 1 time zone change, it takes about 24-48 hours fir them to get used to the new places. For bigger time zone changes, it takes longer because they have a header time dealing since there are more changes.

  5. I always think about this (or blackout shades or white noise or anything that *could* make my baby less adaptable in certain situations) that I’d rather my baby sleep well the 95% of the time that I’m home and deal with the 5% when it comes rather than struggling 100% of the time!

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