When parents update me on their sleep training progress, sometimes it is a little frustrating for them if their baby has a good night one night, then a bad night and some back and forth. I thought it would be a good idea to talk about that in today’s post and why it happens. If nothing else, I know it helps to have realistic expectations while sleep training.
One of the biggest lessons I learned when I was struggling with my own son’s sleep problems is that when the books implied all of our problems would be gone by the third or fourth night, they lied. I don’t think it was intentional, but they must lump a small minority of babies into a group who may be taught to sleep and then sleep well for the rest of their childhood (gross exaggeration there). In my experience (personally and professionally), this is rarely true. I will say that a large majority will have great success (maybe not perfection) in 1-2 weeks.
For some babies, sleep training is a linear progression where each day is better than the last much like the baby going up the stairs in the picture here. Most of the time that might look like two really rough nights followed by an okay night, then the next night and most nights after those first three are decent. The baby may have an off night due to teething, illness, or sleep regression, but jump right back into the swing of things afterward. These babies are usually highly adaptable (some might use the term “easy”).
Many babies, in my experience, don’t generally improve in this way during or after sleep training. For these babies, the sleep training process is more like a roller coaster. You might start to go up, then come down, and then go through some twists and turns (especially during teething or after illness). Part of the thrill of a roller coaster is not knowing what’s coming next, but when you are sleep training, this leads to frustration and the feeling that you might be doing something wrong. You are likely sleep training a tortoise, rather than a hare.
So, why are some babies taking you for a ride on a roller coaster?
My mom has been a smoker for most of her adult life. She has tried to quit many times. My older brother even quit for a whole year and then one cigarette led to another and another. My father-in-law had triple by-pass surgery, but still can’t seem to give up yummy-too-rich-for-heart-problem foods. Have you ever tried to break a habit such as smoking, eating a whole bag of chips at a time, or biting your fingernails? Have you ever tried to develop a new habit such as exercise 3-4 times per week or floss every day?
Breaking habits take time, commitment, and consistency. Remember my brother who quit smoking? That one cigarette after a year led to many. Inconsistency can spin you way off track and lead you right back to the beginning.
Why can your friend break her habit before you break yours? You are different people, right? What drives us to break a habit is different for everyone and our ability to stick with it varies, too. Perhaps you aren’t as persistent as your friend or your daily stresses are too insurmountable. Whatever the case may be, you are different than your friend. Not better. Not worse. Just different. What one person must work at, others work double to achieve the same results (remember that friend who could eat a whole bag of chips and NOT gain weight? Grrr!). Ever try to lose the same ten pounds with a weight loss buddy and you take longer? It sucks, but you can feel doubly good when you achieve your goals.
Making new habits take the same time, commitment, and consistency. I used to be an avid worker-outer (yes that’s a word). Now, I am lucky to get on a treadmill once a week! My daily responsibilities have completely overwhelmed my daily schedule that I can’t seem to fit in the time consistently. I think to myself “I can find 30 minutes.” but then 30 minutes doesn’t include getting dressed, then showered afterward, telling the boys they can’t exercise with me, etc. All of a sudden, I don’t have an hour and I can’t work out anymore. I took steps to help me with this by getting some help at work! Yeah!
So, when you are sleep training your baby, please remember that they aren’t too different than you. No two babies are the same. None are better or worse, just different (believe me, they all have their own challenging aspects!).
Babies aren’t always happy about changing habits much like the person with a heart problem who has to stop eating red meat. Not all babies can learn a new habit in just two or three nights.
Babies might fall off the wagon a few weeks later and have a rough night.
All your baby asks is for you to be realistic. Don’t expect too much more from them as you expect from yourself in terms of breaking or making habits.
As I mentioned in another post 7 Tips When Hiring a Sleep Consultant, part of my job is to help you stick with your sleep plan just like a personal trainer helps you stick with your exercise regimen. If I can help you stick with it long enough, I believe many (not all) babies will make large strides in a relatively short amount of time. Just remember, your baby has had their habits for 4, 6, 12, 18, or 24+ months. They won’t just go away overnight for all babies. I wish we were all among those lucky few. If that were the case, I might not have this job, but I’d sure have super happy families! 🙂