Starting sleep training is tough, but is the most important step you’ll take. Doing the sleep training is a lot of work, but it’s so worth it once you start seeing results!
But finishing sleep training? Is it always clear when you are done sleep training? As surprising as it might seem, the answer is no. Success in sleep training, like so many things in our lives, is a continuum; one family’s “done” is another family’s “still working. Knowing when sleep training is finished depends so much on your expectations and what your initial goals in sleep training were.
For some parents, sleep training is simply letting the baby fuss a few minutes and then voila: she sleep 10-12 hours a night! 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, they might use cry it out and in 2-3 nights, everyone in the family is 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 into a groove, we start to see improvement, we feel encouraged, and then….the baby gets sick. Or cuts a tooth. Or goes through a sleep regression. The setbacks can be numerous.
So, given all this – how do you know when YOU are done for good with sleep training?
How Do You Know You’re Done Sleep Training?
For some of you, it will be obvious when you are done because you (AND your baby) will be well-rested. If you have temporary setbacks, your baby will likely bounce back to normal quickly. But what if you’re weeks into sleep coaching 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 doesn’t make a peep for 10-12 hours (or if they wake for feedings and fall right back to sleep without a fuss), you most likely just have a baby who unwinds a little before sleep. In other words, you have a baby like Nicole’s! Here’s how she describes her experience:
“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 cries hard for about 10 minutes, then settles down, it’s still possible you are at a stopping point. This might be as good as it gets for the time being. It doesn’t mean you’ll always have to face 10 minutes of loud crying – that will likely fade over time. It just means that this is as good as you can expect it to be for now. Nicole herself struggled with this initially, when she was sleep coaching her oldest son:
“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 child is crying hard for more than 10 or 15 minutes and you have been sleep training for more than a week, most likely you have a lingering problem. And what exactly that problem may be depends on your child’s age, in our experience.
- In babies, this problem is probably overtiredness and you need to bump bedtime EARLIER. Nicole experienced this:
“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 mean overtiredness OR what I’ll cal “undertiredness” (that is, your toddler is not tired enough to fall asleep), depending on the toddler’s schedule and temperament. Unfortunately, without knowing the specific details, it’s difficult to know which one it is. The good news, however, is that you can usually solve these problems by shifting your toddler’s bedtime. 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, and you may need to bump bedtime back accordingly. If she recently transitioned to fewer naps, the opposite may be true: she may be overtired at bedtime, which would mean you need to go with an earlier bedtime for awhile.
Now remember, there are many times you might have setbacks, and while these might feel like sleep training failures, they aren’t. Sleep training “speed bumps” are normal and happen to everyone. But in general, if things haven’t improved in 2-3 weeks of sleep training, regardless of the method you use (closer to 2 for crying methods and 3-4 for no-cry), you might need to do one of the following:
- Re-evaluate your chosen sleep training method. It’s possible that you need to take a different approach.
- Think about the timing. Did you start sleep training during a good sleep training window, or did you start at a less-than-ideal time?
- Re-evaluate your family’s schedule. Could sleep training be failing because your schedule has been a little too hectic to allow the kind of consistency you need to see results?
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If you’ve tried sleep training on your own without success, you are not alone; many, many parents struggle to get their babies and toddlers sleeping well. What you may need at this point is an expert to help you through the sleep training process. Connect with one of our expert consultants today; she’ll craft a Personalized Sleep Plan™ just for your baby, walk you through every step of sleep coaching and schedule-making, and provide detailed answers to your most pressing sleep questions.
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