Is it always clear when you are done sleep training? Not for everyone, unfortunately. Success in sleep training, like so many things in our lives, is on a continuum and what is success for you might not be for someone else. It also depends on your expectations and what your goal is from sleep training.
For some parents, sleep training is allowing their baby to fuss a few minutes and voila, they sleep 10-12 hours a night
ad nauseum luckily for those parents. 😀 For other parents, it won’t be quite as smooth. They might take 2-3 weeks using a no-cry sleep training method and then have a baby who pleasantly sleeps 10-12 hours per night or parents might use cry it out and in 2-3 nights, they are also sleeping through the night.
Still, there are the few of us who don’t fall into either camp. We struggle on and off for the better part of
a year 2 years however much time it takes. We get on a path that starts to work and then baby gets sick. We start seeing some improvement and baby gets teeth. Our toddler has a language explosion, starts to walk, or begins to use his imagination and starts to have nightmares, and we fall back once again. We have a new baby and our 2 year old stops napping, but is a mess before bedtime. The setbacks can be numerous.
How do you know when you’re done?
For many, it will be obvious when you are done because you will be well-rested and, most importantly, so will your baby. You may have temporary setbacks, but your baby bounces back to normal quickly. But, what if you’ve done cry-it-out and your baby is still crying every night? What do you do? Does that mean it didn’t work?
As a general rule, if your baby fusses or cries lightly for 5-10 minutes, drifts off to sleep and you don’t hear a peep for 10-12 hours (or just for feedings and they go right back to sleep), you most likely just have a baby who unwinds a little before sleep. When my baby was in a good place, he would often unwind, not so much by crying, but almost moaning or humming himself to sleep. I think it’s possible that a stranger might think he was crying or fussing, but I knew him best and I know he wasn’t crying (we had plenty of experience to know the difference, unfortunately). He would sleep well at night (possibly with a feeding or two, depending on age) and there was a time that I’d go in too early in the morning where he’d be “talking” and would fuss at me for coming in too soon (I would have bet you a million dollars that wouldn’t happen!). Most importantly, he was very happy in the morning with a good night’s rest.
If your baby is crying hard for 10 minutes, then settles down, it’s still possible you are at a point that it’s going to be as good as it gets for the time being. We have been at this stage, too, unfortunately. We went through a time my son would cry hard for 5-10 minutes, we’d go in and re-settle him and he’d go right to sleep. It was a little frustrating, but fairly easy to deal with. Knowing him today, no doubt it was the same reason as now that he just didn’t want the day to end, even though he was exhausted.
If your baby is crying hard for over 10 minutes (I am generalizing — you know your baby best) and it’s been longer than a week of sleep training, most likely you have a lingering problem. In babies, this problem is probably over-tiredness and you need to bump bedtime EARLIER. Even after sleep training, my son would get over-tired and over-stimulated and cry and cry at bedtime some nights “for no reason”. He was fed, dry, etc. and was just T-I-R-E-D! It was very very frustrating. We couldn’t really soothe him all the way to sleep every time (though we’d go down that road, too) because that led to our 3 hour rocking marathons every. single. time. or worse, waking every so many hours for re-rocking / re-soothing. We were still basically at the best place we could be at the present time. We tried with everything we had to keep bedtime early enough. Even now, he will get cranky when he’s tired, but insists “I’m not tired!” and then promptly falls asleep 5 minutes later, literally.
For toddlers, crying at bedtime or resisting a bedtime could be over or under-tired, depending on the toddler’s schedule and temperament. Unfortunately, without knowing the specific details, it’s difficult to know which one it is. In general, if your toddler was going to bed fine and all of a sudden started fighting the routine, you might consider she needs longer wake-time before bedtime. If she recently transitioned naps, you might need to consider less.
There are many times you might have setbacks, but in general, if things haven’t improved in 2-3 weeks, regardless of the method (closer to 2 for crying methods and 3-4 for no-cry), you might want to re-evaluate your chosen method to get your baby or toddler to sleep.