Are You Sleep Training a Tortoise or a Hare?

Are You A Sleep Training Tortoise Or Hare?

Sometimes it can feel like you’re in a race. Your friends have babies sleeping through the night and you want one, too. The pressure mounts as your baby gets older while well-meaning friends and family ask the same question every time they see you: “Is she sleeping through the night yet?” If you don’t answer “yes”, you know will hear it again: “Just let her cry. Worked for me.” Or, in my case, it was: “It’s because you’re breastfeeding.” It might be tempting to say “yes”, even if she isn’t sleeping through the night, just to spare yourself the torment. You feel like all your friends got a hare and you got a tortoise.

As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to have that confidence to know that there is nothing wrong with your baby AND there is nothing wrong with your parenting. All babies are different and just because your neighbor’s baby was sleeping all night at 3 months old doesn’t mean yours can too. And, just because my son can count to 20 (mostly) at two years old doesn’t mean all two year olds can. Just like my four year old can’t really draw a picture of a person, some of his friends can. Where my older son excels in reading and math, he needs to work on his fine motor skills. And, just like your 10 month old might still need a night feeding, some of your 4 month olds don’t.

What makes your baby a tortoise or a hare when it comes to sleep?

In my experience with my clients, there are four main family types:
Slow to Adapt baby (tortoise) with hares as parents
• Highly adaptable babies (hares) with tortoises as parents
Slow to Adapt baby (tortoise) with tortoises as parents
• Highly adaptable babies (hares) with hares as parents

What do I mean by this?

First, let me say, there is no judgment here. You are what you are and there is no right or wrong. Second, there is a lot in between a tortoise and a hare. There are fast tortoises and slow hares. Sometimes a baby’s temperament meshes with a parenting style and sometimes it doesn’t. This is to help you see if there is a mismatch or not.

The Baby

A slow-to-adapt baby is generally going to take longer to learn to self-soothe and sleep well. That is going to generally be true regardless of the chosen sleep training method. Why? Because they get used to a certain routine and they don’t give it up easily. If they are persistent, they will really fight hard to keep status quo.

A highly adaptable baby who can self-soothe, but just hasn’t had the opportunity will generally learn very quickly, regardless of method, too. They go to sleep one time without a bottle or breastfeeding or a pacifier and voila, they figure out how to do it between sleep cycles (that we ALL have) and start sleeping in longer stretches.

The Parent

A parent who is a hare is usually one who doesn’t have hours upon hours to spend with a baby to help him learn to self-soothe. They might be working parents trying to fit in the various chores that need to be done, get dinner on the table, etc. They might have older kids and just can’t ignore their other kids to spend three hours putting the baby to sleep at night. Or, they might be people who just recognize they just aren’t that patient to spend hours or that their baby missing three hours of sleep is not good for them. Whatever the reason, these are parents who decide that faster is better in the big picture.

A parent who is a tortoise is usually one who feels a slower approach is better for everyone’s sakes. They are okay with taking weeks (or sometimes months) rather than days. They figure it’s been this long, what’s a few more weeks? They have the time and patience to spend with their baby and feel it’s the best way to approach it.

The Family Together

I have been told I have the patience of Job, but one of my current clients has really shown me what patience is. She has a two year old who was nursing all night and we have come a loooong way, using a very slow approach. Her patience has been tremendous and I really admire her. Her son is slow-to-adapt and her patience is paying off with as few tears as possible. Their personalities are really meshing, but this is not always the case, unfortunately.

When you are a tortoise and your baby is a hare, you might spend weeks and months, unnecessarily, working on his sleep because you’re taking the slow approach when your baby might just need the nudge and be left alone. I don’t mean cry it out, necessarily. I have parents literally wait five minutes during night-wakings and their baby just goes back to sleep! They are shocked! They’ve been getting up at night for months, but their baby simply needed to be left alone for a few minutes. By going in, they were only perpetuating the very wake-ups they were trying to get rid of. Their baby is highly adaptable and actually a good self-soother, they just didn’t know it.

When you are a hare and your baby is a tortoise, you might be more apt to take a faster approach, like cry it out, and your baby will likely respond fairly quickly, but have backslides where you need to “redo” it over and over, especially after illness or vacation or just because you start slipping back into old habits (very easy to do with a tortoise). You and your baby will be getting more sleep than ever, but it might be frustrating to have those off nights where you feel like you’re starting all over. Consistency is very important for tortoises, especially.

When you are a tortoise and your baby is a tortoise, you, my friend, are going to work extremely hard, I’m afraid. Slow approaches will be even slower. Remember the mom I mentioned above? She’s been working on her two year old’s sleep for a couple of months, at least. Her patience is definitely paying off, but she’s working REALLY hard. She should get a medal! The beautiful part about her is that she knows this is a slower approach and knows what her expectations should be. She is not expecting to take this slower approach and expecting changes in days. She’s expecting them in weeks and months and that’s okay for her. I nudge her when she needs a nudge to move on to the next step and she checks in to make sure she isn’t stalling out of fear of the next step, but that it’s a good idea.

How do I know if you have a tortoise or a hare?

I typically look for clues in e-mail. You might mention something that seems irrelevant, but it gives me a clue about your baby’s personality. Clues about your personality are in there, too. That’s when I develop a plan that suits both your personalities and sometimes that takes time to figure out when your personalities aren’t meshing (when it comes to sleep! not your relationship with your baby).

I say it all over the site, but make sure you make a sleep training plan that meshes with both your personality and your baby’s temperament. Just like the picture above, you might be able to speed your tortoise to the finish line, but if not, as long as you have appropriate expectations, we will all get there, eventually, just like my son will eventually learn to write his name.

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18 thoughts on “Are You Sleep Training a Tortoise or a Hare?”

  1. My LO is 7 months old. He doesn’t seem to have learnt how to connect sleep cycles! We are beyond exhaustion and I’m becoming ill due to 7 months of sleep deprivation. He has 2-3 naps during day but for a 1.5hr nap needs resettling with dummy about 5 times. Wakes every 2hrs during night for dummy and breastfeeds 3 times a night still. He eats 3 solids meals plus 4-5 breastfeeding sessions during day. He can insert dummy himself but refuses to look for it. We leave him to cry before going in to settle him. Any help appreciated!

    • @Chantelle – Thank you for reading and for sharing with us. I’m sorry to hear that your little guy is having such a tough time with sleep lately. I know how exhausted you all must be from personal experience! Have you considered any formal sleep coaching for him yet? Like creating a specific sleep plan for him to help him sleep better and lose those sleep associations? If not, I’d invite you to read this series of articles for tips on how to teach him the skills that he needs to be able to learn how to sleep on his own. It will also give you an overview of sleep training techniques: Once you’ve read this, you can see what type of sleep training (if any) you would like to try.

      If you would like additional help with this issue, please contact us again so we can help with you some options! Hang in there, Chantelle, and please keep reading!

  2. My 17month old goes to sleep with a bottle of milk and sometimes wants more to fall a sleep and will cry till we give her more at 7pm. then she will wake up between 12-1am screaming and crying until gets her bottle. I’ve stopped giving her extra milk at those times, but give her water which sometimes works but she will wake up again between 3-4 and then again at 5.30 when she’s just awake from then and stays awake, she nap at 12-1.30 most days and eats pretty well when she’s not teething not sure how to stop the constant crying and screaming at night for her bottle

    • @Kayleigh, Thank you for your comment! I am sorry you have been struggling with your daughter’s night callings for milk! This is a fairly common issue, but will take a plan and consistency from you to break her of this habit. It is likely she has developed a sleep association to the bottle and when she goes through a lighter sleep cycle, she wakes up and needs the association recreated for her in order to go back asleep. Here is an article with more information on sleep associations:
      You may enjoy reading this article as well as it takes you through various sleep training techniques to help break the associations:
      I hope this helps! If you find you need more help, email our client relations team at [email protected] and they can point you in the direction of some other options. Thank you for using the Baby Sleep Site as a resource!

  3. Hello Mummies,

    I have a 6 months baby. He sleeps at around 9pm after I give him a bath and a formula bottle 180ml. He wakes up again at 11pm for another bottle and sleep until 3am. He then wakes up for an hour or two (watch Baby TV) have another bottle and get back to sleep afterwards.

    I am feeling exhausted as my night sleeps are being interrupted a lot apart that I think he is drinking too much milk!

    Does anyone have the same problem? or any tips what I can do? :-/

  4. My daughter will be 9 months old on Wednesday. I trained her at 4 months with the no cry method. She slept wonderfully from 7:30 to 6 am without waking up.
    Now, she refuses to sleep without me. I know she’s teething, but I haven’t really slept in 3 weeks. I tried to do the no crying method but she refused that. So I’ve been trying the controlled crying method for 2 weeks… it never works.
    I give her everything I can for the pain, and she is comfortable. If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t go to sleep at all when I give in at 45 mins to lay down with her.
    I don’t know what to do about this.
    Another key point (I don’t know if it could affect her sleep) is that 3 weeks ago, I found out the daycare she was going to put her in her crib and left her there for ridiculous amounts of time. Since then I stopped looking for a job and decided to stay home with her until she can tell me whats going on. This is when this all started.
    Any advice would help greatly!

  5. My son will be 8 months old, and right from the beginning he has not been a full night sleeper, infact lately for the past 3 months he has been getting up every 2hrs at night, i feed him, as soon as he gets up and then he falls asleep, but the 2hrs gap never fails. sometimes he sleeps by 8pm and gets up by 6am, that too first he will wine and roll around with his eyes closed and then he wakes up. I cannot bear to leave him alone when he is crying, so the leave and let cry option does not work for me.

  6. My baby is definitely a tortoise and so am I, he’s 9 months old and has never slept through the night, i have now stopped counting how often he wakes up throughout the night. I need to find a plan to wean him off the breast and teach him to sooth himself but the thought of him crying scares me to get started.

  7. My DD just turned one and I was thinking that I was the only one with a baby her age that didn’t consistatly sleep through the night. Reading this I realized the problem. She falls back into old patterns easily if one little thing is not consistant, and I am not consistant enough. This week she was waking up at 4am and refused to go back to sleep in the usual manner, then napped really early and fell asleep before bedtime and the whole cycle started over again. By bringing her into bed with me one morning and gettting her to sleep until her normal wake up tim (6:15ish) I was able to reset her clock. We are back to normal for 2 days now, in fact she only woke once last night, went right back to sleep as soon as I gave her some water, and didn’t wake up until 6:50. Hopefully I will be able to keep up with the schedule she needs and we will be able to start sleeping through the night

    • Michelle,
      Hooray for you for detecting the problem and getting your daughter back on schedule. Keeping our fingers crossed that this schedule continues for you.

  8. Hi,

    My cutie pie is now 15 months old, he has always been in a very good sleep routine. But…he does not sleep through the night yet, he wakes up about 3 times during the night crying…as soon as I give him his bottle with only about 50ml of milk in he takes it and gets right back to sleep……How do I break this habit….Please Help! I really need a good night sleep.

    Thank you

    Tired Mommy

    • Hi Mariette,
      At 15 months, he is definitely old enough to make it through the night without a feeding. He has simply gotten used to it. It may be as easy as waiting a little longer to go in when he wakes and see if he resettles himself without a feeding along with making sure he’s getting plenty to eat during the day. You will need work on re-teaching his body not to be hungry at night and encouraging him to eat more during the day. You don’t mention if he’s napping good during the day, but a good nap to help keep him from getting overtired may also help with the nighttime sleep. If you need help coming up with a plan specific to your situation, I would encourage you to contact Nicole here: so that Nicole can respond to the specific details of your family’s situation and needs.

  9. I’m a hare… my daughter is a tortoise… At 6 months we had just had enough of being up all night long. It took a solid 2 months to get to a point where she was only waking up once around 5am… we’re still at that same point and she’s going on 10 months! She does revert when a new tooth is coming in… but its definitely better… not perfect though. My son was much easier! I think he was a hare 🙂

  10. My daughter is a definite tortoise. My personality is a hare but emotionally it’s very difficult to stick to the hardcore crying plans. But those are the plans she responds to. Any “tortoise” plan has failed miserably. I’ve done controlled crying with her twice and it worked. Now she was teething for a week and waking up every two hours again. She won’t even go down at night by herself anymore. She is older, almost 11 months. Last time she was only 8 months. It was much easier. I don’t know where to find the strength to do it all over again. But I don’t think I can handle waking up 5 times a night again. It is a constant battle. But thanks for writing this. It makes me feel better knowing it’s just not me. Every baby is different. My poor little tortoise.

    • @Kim
      Glad you feel so not alone in your baby sleep journey. You should feel good too that you are so aware of your baby’s needs and temperament. Now that she’s older, you might work to come up with a modified plan of what worked before that includes talking over sleep with your daughter or a picture book about sleep. Her comprehension level is probably a bit higher than it was at 8 months so a book might help or adjustments to your bedtime routine. Keep in mind too, that as they get older, they definitely work harder at testing the limits so setting limits and sticking to them will help you in the long run as well.

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