Why Sleep Training Failed: 3 Reasons Your Baby or Toddler Isn’t Sleeping Well After Sleep Training

3 Sleep Training Fails
Sleep training is work, yes, but it’s work with a purpose. As many of our clients would confirm, the payoff of sleep training – a peacefully-sleeping baby or toddler – is well-worth all the work involved in getting to that point.

But what about those times when there is no payoff? What if you put days and days of work into sleep training, only to continue experiencing night wakings and erratic or missed naps? Talk about frustrating!

If it seems like sleep training has failed in some way, you are most likely dealing with one of two factors:

  • a sleep “speed bump”, like a sleep regression, an illness, etc.
  • incomplete/unfinished sleep training

What Failed Sleep Training Looks Like

First, though, before we get into exactly why sleep training seems to have failed you, let’s examine more carefully what “failed” sleep training actually looks like. Now, be advised, persistent sleep problems can take many forms, but most of the parents who contact us report the following problems that seem to persist even after sleep training is supposed to be done:

  • Bedtime goes fine, and there’s initially a nice, long, uninterrupted stretch of sleep, but then your child starts waking, and it gets harder and harder to get him back to sleep.
  • Bedtime goes fine, most of the night goes fine, but your baby or toddler is up for the day between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., and you can’t figure out why.
  • The start of a nap goes fine, but your baby wakes too early, which throws off the start of the next nap.

If any of these problems are plaguing your home – even though you’ve done all your sleep training due diligence – then you are no doubt feeling like sleep training has failed you.

Sleep Training Failure That Isn’t Actually Failure At All

Keep in mind, however, that sleep challenges which persist after sleep training may have little to do with the sleep training, and more to do with your little one’s physical state. There are a number of factors that, while perfectly normal and developmentally appropriate, can disrupt sleep in a big way. And if your sleep training happens to overlap with any of them, it can certainly feel like sleep training isn’t working, when in fact sleep is falling apart for an entirely different reason.

Here are some of the most common sleep “speed bumps” that may disrupt your child’s sleep and make you feel like your sleep training efforts are collapsing:

  • Sleep regressions – during a sleep regression, your baby or toddler is going through a pretty significant developmental leap. As a result, sleep usually nosedives. This is one reason we recommend not sleep training during a sleep regression. However, if a regression sneaks up on you, it can seem like the sleep training that was going pretty well has suddenly stopped working. Watch for sleep regressions to happen around 4 months, 8-10 months, 18 months, and 2 years of age.
  • Illness – There’s just no way to account for this one, parents! When your child gets sick, you can bet that sleep will get wonky, even if it had been improving before the illness.
  • Teething – Considering babies teethe for what feels like a solid 2 years, and considering that teething can seriously disrupt sleep, it is understandable that teething can be a real source of sleep drama!
  • Growth spurts – during a baby or toddler growth spurt, your child’s sleep patterns may seem to change a bit. Most children sleep more during growth spurts, but also wake more often due to hunger.
  • Sudden and abrupt schedule changes – if there are life factors that are interrupting your usual day-to-day schedule – say, the birth of a new baby, an extended vacation, moving to a new home, etc. – then your baby’s sleep may suddenly fall apart.
  • Common toddler transitions – if you have been potty training your toddler lately, or transitioning her to a big kid bed, then it’s possible that sleep will go a bit crazy as your toddler works on these new challenges and skills.

In the case of any of these sleep speed bumps, solutions vary. For sleep regressions, illnesses, and growth spurts, just wait out the sleep problems; they should resolve on their own. For sudden schedule changes, try to get back on track ASAP. For common toddler transitions, you can either stick to the transition and deal with the sleep challenges (which will resolve once the transition is done), or you can stop the transition and wait until your child is a bit older.

3 Reasons Sleep Training Seems To Have Failed

If sleep training seems like it’s not working, and if it’s not due to any of the reasons listed above, then you may have one of the following problems on your hands:

  1. You’re still putting your child down at bedtime or the start of a nap with a pacifier. Now, don’t get me wrong – pacifiers can be great soothing tools! But, according to our team of consultants, the pacifier is also a hidden sleep association. If you are doing everything right – putting your baby down awake, transitioning away from sleep associations, etc. – but your child still isn’t making substantial progress, then it’s likely time to wean your child from the pacifier.

  3. You’re laying your baby down at the start of a sleep time slightly awake (but mostly asleep). This is understandable – drowsy but awake can be tough to decipher, after all! But as part of your sleep training, you need to work towards laying your baby down completely awake. If you are still putting your baby to bed mostly asleep, then you still have more sleep training work to do. Remember, it’s key that your baby learns to go from being awake to asleep without your help – once she can do that, she can put herself back to sleep when she wakes briefly between sleep cycles, which will mean much longer stretches of sleep (and ultimately, sleeping through the night!).

  5. You’re feeding your baby as the last step in the bedtime routine. If your baby has a strong sleep association with feeding, then feeding your child right before you put him down for sleep may be inadvertently reinforcing this sleep association. Even if you’re not feeding him to sleep, it may be that the feeding is happening too close to sleep.

    *BONUS REASON* You stick around in your child’s room while she falls asleep. Now, I’m calling this a bonus reason, because it isn’t true for everyone. However, if you used a gentle approach to sleep training that involved you staying in the room at sleep times, then this may be at the root of your problem. Some children are able to fall asleep while mom and dad are close by, but then when they wake between sleep cycles and see mom and dad gone, they can’t go back to sleep.

Remember, the bottom line is this: if it seems like sleep training has failed you, you’re either dealing with a sleep “speed bump” that’s beyond your control, or you still have some sleep training work left to do. Either way, don’t lose heart: sleep training really can solve your child’s sleep problems!

Feel Like A Sleep Training Failure? Let Us Help!

Between long night wakings, struggles at bedtime and naps that feel all over the place, baby and toddler sleep challenges can feel overwhelming – so overwhelming that it may be tough to start start solving them! Fortunately, we can help! Our consultants at The Baby Sleep Site® specialize in creating Personalized Sleep Plans™ that are customized to your own parenting philosophy, and that will NEVER make you feel guilty or pressured. Even better, once you have your Personalized Sleep Plan™, your consultant will walk you through each step of implementing it at home – including that first, getting-started step.

Browse our list of consultation package options here.

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12 thoughts on “Why Sleep Training Failed: 3 Reasons Your Baby or Toddler Isn’t Sleeping Well After Sleep Training”

  1. HI! we started sleep training with my almost 8 month old a few weeks ago. It was progressing well, but now we seem to have hit a speed bump where he’s awake from about 10pm- 11:30, when I nurse him. He is also waking early, between 5 and 5:30 and not going back to bed. It sounds like he’s going through the sleep regression, but i don’t know if I should continue with the sleep training or take a break for a few weeks and then resume. How do I know when it’s over and it’s just become habit?

    • Hi @Erin – Thanks for writing, and sorry that you are struggling with your little one’s sleep! I am happy to hear that you made some progress, and we’d love to see that continue! Perhaps you can take a step back to look at your guy’s overall schedule, and see if there are adjustments that you can make there which may help the early waking and insomnia at night. Here is a link to our free sample schedules for 8 month olds:
      Hopefully things smooth out soon! If you need us we’ll be here, so feel free to contact us if you find that you need more assistance!

  2. My son is 14 months old. We did sleep training when he was about 5 months old and it worked perfectly. We could put him down while he was still awake and and he would whimper, but fall asleep quickly. Then we took a week long trip when he was 10 months old, where he refused to sleep in a different crib. He slept with me through the whole trip. Once we returned we fell into rocking him to sleep. Now when he wakes through the night he either wants rocked, or he is continuously checking to make sure I am standing next to his crib. He doesn’t wake often through the night, but when he does it makes for a long night. He also basically refuses to nap unless he is being held. Any advice?

  3. my two year old grand daughter still needs to be held at night in my lap with a bottle to fall asleep and then put down asleep in her crib. How do we break this habbit?

  4. I’m on night 7 of sleep training my 6 month old, doing periodic checks. At night 3, she cried about 17 min., and it’s stayed the same for night 4, 5 and 6. Night wakings have definitely improved, but I can’t figure out why progress seems to have stalled in terms of how long she’s crying. Is that normal?

    • Hi Liz,
      Thanks for visiting The Baby Sleep Site, and congratulations on the progress you’ve made on your daughter’s sleep! I’m sorry to hear she’s still crying a bit at night. Although some babies do decrease crying a little bit every night until they stop, it’s much more common to see a couple nights of no crying, a couple nights of crying, and have it be a little back and forth. As long as you’re seeing progress and she seems like she’s doing okay, you’re probably fine! We have an article with more information about how progress looks in sleep training here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-training-process/ I think that will help you out 🙂 Keep up the good work!

  5. Hi,
    We sleep trained our baby at 6 month using Ferber method, it took just a few night. It improved his sleep for a bit from nursing to sleep and 5 to 8 wakings to being able to put down awake and 2 wakings. Nursing is still the last routine because I feel like he really is hungry because he’s a big boy but doesn’t nurse efficiently.
    Anyway, a few weeks later, all of sudden, it got worse, he increased his wakings again, when I put him down at night he screamed and screamed, doesn’t give up. Could it be that when he got sick so I started comfort nursing him and it ruined the whole thing now?
    If I restart the whole sleep training again, will it work or not because I was inconsistent for a while when he was sick?
    He’s turning 8 month and hasn’t cut any teeth yet, I see no sign of teething though, can it still be teething? If he’s sick or teething, should I do whatever to comfort him or stick to sleep training?
    Thanks a lot in advance.

    • Hi @Sofia, thank you for your comment! I am sorry you’ve been struggling recently with your son’s sleep (and that he was sick). It is amazing how quickly things can unravel with sickness, teething, regressions… so many things could be happening! If you haven’t yet, you may want to download our free ebook with tips on helping your baby sleep through the night: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
      I am not able to determine the issue without looking at your son’s full sleep history, so if you find things are not working and you need specific advise, let us know. Our sleep consultants would love to work with you on this. You can contact us directly at [email protected] and we can help point you in the direction of the package that would work best for you. Hang in there and good luck!

  6. I found that the first night I put her on her room she cried so I decided to leave. She fell to sleep shortly after. It was as if as long as I was there she thought she could cry long enough to make me give in to picking her up. Once I left I watched from the baby monitor and she laid down and went to sleep. After sitting with her for nearly 45 min. She was asleep in less than ten when I left. Interesting. we will see what tomorrow holds.

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