Sleep Training Boot Camp, Part Six: Handling Sleep Setbacks


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BOOT CAMP, PART SIX: Handling Sleep Setbacks

Handling Sleep Setbacks

Boot Campers, you have come SO FAR! Can you believe we’re already at part six of our seven-part series?! For those of you who have been sticking with us this month, and doing the hard work of sleep training – keep it up! You’re almost there! And don’t forget, if you’re feeling discouraged, or if you had to give up because your sleep coaching plans just weren’t working, don’t despair – we can help!

We hope that, at this point, that you are starting to see some improvements in sleep. Sure, things may not be perfect yet – in fact, you may still be a long way from perfect! But ALL progress is good progress. 🙂

Today, we’re taking a look at some of the most common sleep setbacks that parents face. Don’t forget that, even when sleep coaching is done, and when your baby or toddler’s sleep is exactly where you want it to be, there will still be setbacks you have to contend with. Specifically, the most common sleep setbacks we see parents struggling with include…

These are all things that can disrupt sleep in a big way – and the disruption can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. So, how can you cope with these setbacks?

Vikki is back to share some tips with us, and to tell us a little bit about the sleep setbacks she’s faced, and how she’s coped. Let’s hear more!

Handling Sleep Setbacks: Vikki’s Sleep Training Story

The Meldrums 2013_4-3My little Lyla Kathleen is not a good sleeper. While today she is a dramatically better snooze artist than she was before I started working with The Baby Sleep Site®, there are still struggles. I think there always will be. I have come to terms with the fact that she’s just never going to be a kid that chooses to go to sleep when she’s tired. Throw in a growth spurt, getting sick, or some teething, and the baby food really hits the fan!

After about eight weeks of following my Personalized Sleep Plan™ and working with Jen, our sleep consultant, little Lyla Kat was falling asleep on her own for naps and at bedtime, and was sleeping through the night about five days a week. This was a dramatic improvement from the previous ten months of nightly tear-streaked faces (hers and mine) and intense whisper fights with my husband about what to do with our exhausted child. I was overjoyed. Jubilant. Euphoric. My baby had peace. I got sleep. Life had reached a new normal that included gobs of glorious slumber. It was amazing. Until it wasn’t.

After weeks of going to sleep so well and sleeping through the night most of the time, at 2 a.m. one morning, I heard a little cry. Then I heard a big scream. I went through the checklist: diaper was fine; temperature in the room was fine; no apparent injuries or indications of being sick or having teeth pain. We had recently weaned from nursing, and I thought maybe she was experiencing some separation anxiety. Maybe she just needed momma. It was kind of sweet. It took an hour to get her back to sleep. I decided it was a hiccup and laid down with a smile, happy I got a little extra time with my girl.

I was not smiling the next night when 2 a.m. rolled around and it happened again. And again the next two nights. Was this separation anxiety or “I just don’t want to sleep”-iety? Was there a lurking tooth? I had no idea, and Lyla wasn’t talking.

I had this horrifying fear that her newfound ability to sleep was only temporary. Or worse, that my child was untrainable and she would be awake the rest of her life. Please note I was very tired. While I was being slightly dramatic, the feeling of failure was very real. She had been doing so well. We’d worked so hard and come so far. Where did we go wrong? I had a pit in my stomach, and I kept thinking, now that sleep training is a failure, where do we go from here?

Sleep Setbacks Do Not Equal Sleep Failure

The Meldrums 2013_4-29After my initial freak about those middle of the night wake-ups, I took three deep breaths, and realized that Lyla’s waking up didn’t mean all our work was lost. It meant something was hindering her from utilizing the tools we taught her, and my job was to get her back on track.

Here’s what I’ve learned since then: when Lyla has “sleep weirdness” as a result of teeth, growth, general fickleness, etc., her disrupted sleep usually lasts about a week. It took a few episodes for my husband and I to realize this pattern. Once we did, though, it helped us stick to our sleep rules, because we knew it was temporary. And after she worked through whatever was causing the disruption, if we stuck to the training, her improved sleep habits returned.

I realized through this process that setbacks are temporary, but sleep training is for life. I didn’t need to make any huge changes or come up with a new strategy. I just had to comfort my baby and reinforce our training. I went back to the plan and the sleep rules, and Lyla, thankfully, went back to sleep. The “fix” for these setbacks was to stay consistent. Remind baby and yourself of the sleep rules. If they aren’t working, like we talked about with naps in the last post, find what works. Update the rules to reflect what your baby needs long-term, but don’t make hasty changes that only solve for the short-term.

Whether your baby is a good sleeper that just needs some fine-tuning, or is a chronically awake little person, like my little bean, there will be setbacks. But remember: SETBACKS DON’T MEAN FAILURE. Even after you’ve found the sleep training approach that works for you and baby, stuff comes up. For us, since training, there have been litanies of slumber-altering situations, including never-ending teething (her pediatrician calls her “Jaws”), the end of the binky era (RIP Pinky the Binky) and, of course, when I stopped nursing.

Sometimes you know or can guess what causes the disruption. Or, especially when they’re too young to talk, it’s a total mystery. But work the steps. Stick to your rules. Keep your sleep routine as normal as possible. If there is a temporary cause to the disruption, no need for a wholesale change in approach. With sleep training, it’s not about big huge flailing moves to get the desired result. It’s about small, specific choices to help direct baby back to the path to sleep.

So, my fellow sleep-seeking parents, please know that even the best sleeper (born or taught) will have times when they struggle to siesta. But a setback does not mean sleep training failure. It means helping baby use the sleep tools even when his/her baby mouth hurts or their internal sleep clock is a little off. Get back to our routine when you can, and baby will, too!

Help For Handling Sleep Setbacks

Isn’t Vikki full of good advice? It’s key to keep her main point in mind when sleep training: sleep setbacks don’t mean sleep training failure! It’s best to stick to your plan, to try and continue fostering good sleep habits, and to just get through the rough patch as best you can.

Of course, that’s sometimes easier said than done, right? Some “rough patches” can be particularly rough! If you find that you need help navigating sleep setbacks (or if you just need help with sleep coaching, period!), I hope you’ll consider a sleep consultation with one of our expert sleep consultants.

Browse our list of sleep consultation packages here.

Once you purchase a package, you will immediately receive access to our Sleep Helpdesk, where you can upload your family sleep history form, connect with your consultant, and get started on your journey to better sleep!
Boot Camp550

What’s your plan for handling setbacks, boot campers?


<--Boot Camp Part Five: What You Need To Know About Nap Training

Boot Camp Part Seven: Celebrate Success (No Matter How Small!)–>

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5 thoughts on “Sleep Training Boot Camp, Part Six: Handling Sleep Setbacks”

  1. @ Krystal — oh, this is SO normal. No worries there – I think most babies do this at some point or another! For one thing, he may very well be smack in the midst of the 8/9/10 month regression ( This is also a peak time for separation anxiety ( Finally, it sounds like you may have a little ‘mom as sleep association’ going on. Some babies do have a sleep association surrounding one particular caregiver (usually mom).

    No special advice, except to hang in there and do your best to stick to normal routines, and to avoid creating any new sleep associations. It may also help if you let someone else (Dad, Aunt, etc.) put him down for sleep times for awhile.

    Hope this helps, Krystal – best of luck to you! 🙂

  2. I love coming to the Baby Sleep Site and seeing an article that seems to have been written specifically for me and my family right now.
    Sleep set-backs has basically become the norm around here for the past month. My son just turned 9 months and has definitely regressed. We had done sleep-training at around 5 months and he took to it quite well. He was only waking to eat (which I’m fine with) and putting himself to sleep for naps, bedtime and the occasional nightly waking. It was awesome!
    Then at around 7 1/2 months he learned to sit up on his own. This meant that at those nightly wakings he would sit-up and stay up not knowing how to get back to sleep . That lasted for about a week. Then he learned to stand. … This was worse.
    Long story short, at this point it’s snowballed into standing, plus teething issues, plus he just dealt with Roseola last week; So now what we have is a super clingy 9 month old who must nurse at anytime of day when he sees Mama which naturally has taken over our bedtime routine.
    I’m totally clueless as to what to do. It’s very strange because Dad can still put him to sleep quite well without SC crying for milk. His Aunt can also play with him throughout the day happily. But it’s specifically when he sees Mom does he decide he needs to nurse and can’t fall asleep on his own . He’s very persistent and will fight me on this so since he was sick so recently I’ve been choosing my battles and just nursing. But I’m thinking very soon things need to change. Any ideas?

    (sorry for the length)

  3. @ Katharine — hmm…sounds like you’re handling this well, although I can see why you wouldn’t want the 4 or 5 a.m. waking to become a habit! It sounds like feeding her is working, in the sense that she’s feeding and then going back to sleep, so…maybe a little growth spurt? I would try slowly weaning off that feeding, and then get to the point where you maybe check in on her if she wakes early, but don’t offer a feeding.

    Hope that helps! Best of luck to you, Katharine!

    @Kylie – do you think starting solids could be making her reflux and vomiting worse? It’s not uncommon at all for sleep to get a little crazy right around the time you start solids. It’s a fairly big leap for a little one’s digestive system to go from digesting JUST breastmilk or formula to suddenly processing all kinds of new foods. So tummy trouble could be to blame.

    I hope that helps, Kylie – good luck! 🙂

  4. Hi there, I’m having same problem as Katharine actually & would love to hear some ideas. My little girl (dd#2) is 6.5 months old. She’s slept through a number of times since 4 months but most of the time wakes around 4.30-5.30am staring at the monitor or grizzling. If I give her a half feed she goes back to sleep till 7ish. If I leave her or try to resettle she ends up in tears until I feed her. I’m not sure that she needs the feed as when I give her the other half of the feed upon waking she’s not very hungry, and she always has a big dreamfeed at 10pm. But since I have a toddler in a nearby room it’s just easier to feed her atm to save waking him up at that time in the morning. She’s getting approx 3 – 3.25 hrs of naps per day & I aim for approx 11.5-12 hrs overnight (say 7-6.30). Any ideas why she might be waking at this time? Ie habit? We did sleep training with her a few months ago so she self settles & resettles really well… just not sure what’s going on at this time in the am!!?? The only other issue which could be related is she has really bad reflux & vomits a lot, so she does lose a lot of her feeds. She isn’t great with solids which we’ve just started at 6 months – taking it very slowly. Would love to hear thoughts!!!
    Thanks! Kylie 🙂

  5. Thanks to all the great help I got from the Baby Sleep Site books, my baby has been sleeping through the night (approx 7 pm to 6:30 am) since 7 months old, and she was taking 3 naps (+ or – an hour each for a total of 2.5-3 hrs). She’s just a week shy of 1 year old now, and all of a sudden for the last week or so she keeps waking up at 4 or 5 am and won’t go back to sleep by herself like she usually does. I go feed her and then she puts herself to sleep for another 2 hours. This started happening on the heals of two things: 1. Two weeks of fussy eating and refusing almost all food. She’s back to eating again, but still not drinking as much milk. 2. We switched her from 3 naps to 2 about two weeks ago. She couldn’t stay up more than 2 hours at a time without getting fussy through 11 months. She finally started getting a little pissed about the third nap, so we slowly increase wake time from 2-3 hours, and she seems to be doing better with it and still getting 2-3 hours of nap time, but now we have this night time issue.

    This is clearly one of these set backs, but I’m not sure what’s causing it and I’m worried that it’s the beginning of a bad habit! Not sure what might be causing it and what I might do differently. Any thoughts?

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