Did sleep training not work for your child? Do you feel like you did everything you were supposed to do, but your child never made any real progress? Or did bedtime improve, but night wakings persisted? If you didn’t get the results you were hoping (and praying) for, there’s a good chance that at least one of the following issues hampered your child’s success.
1. Your child wasn’t developmentally ready.
Although you may have heard that it’s possible to sleep train babies as young as eight weeks of age, the truth is that most babies aren’t developmentally ready to learn long-term sleep skills until they’re at least four or five months old. If your baby is less than four months of age, it’s best to hold off on sleep training.
If your baby is between four and six months of age, you can try. Still, if you don’t see significant progress after three to five days of utter consistency – shorter awake times, less fussing, and signs of self-soothing (pauses in the crying/fussing, sucking noises, babbling, rhythmic motions like banging legs up and down, head rocking, etc.) then it’s best to stop and wait a few more weeks before trying again.
2. Your child was hungry.
If your child needed to physically receive calories during the night and you eliminated or drastically reduced night feeds, then it’s likely that hunger was a problem. Before you start sleep training, ask your pediatrician if your child still needs those nightly calories. If the answer is no, gently reduce the feeds over time rather than going cold turkey. If your child still needs to eat at night, build the appropriate number of feeds into your sleep coaching plan. Eliminating all-night feeding is NOT a requirement for successful sleep training – but knowing if, when, and how to feed is.
3. Your child was too drowsy at bedtime.
You’ve probably heard that “drowsy but awake” is the key to successful sleep training. But what does drowsy actually mean? It means that your child is ready to sleep but NOT being rocked, patted, fed, bounced, or held until they’re ALMOST asleep. Forget the word drowsy when sleep training. Instead, focus on putting your child down AWAKE. All the feeding, rocking, patting, singing, and bouncing you’re doing at bedtime is why your child hasn’t learned to put themselves to sleep and back to sleep.
Create a new bedtime routine that doesn’t allow you to do too much of the work of falling asleep for your child. If they have a feed-to-sleep association, feed them 20 minutes before you put them down. If it’s a rocking to sleep association, read a book or sing a song instead.
4. Your child uses a pacifier for sleep.
Children that fall asleep with a pacifier in their mouth don’t completely learn how to put themselves to sleep. Even if the pacifier falls out before your child nods off, the odds are that they’ll wake up sometime during the night and need it again to go back to sleep.
5. You used a device with a timer.
Mobiles, music, gadgets that project stars on the ceiling, and stuffed animals that emit soothing sounds, any device with a timer that shuts off during the night is a bad idea. Like the pacifier, if your child associates the lights, motions, and sounds with falling asleep, they’ll probably need them again when they wake up in the middle of the night to go back to sleep.
6. You chose the wrong approach for your child.
Several approaches can help children learn to sleep well, but every method isn’t suited to every child. Age, temperament, specific sleep associations, sleeping arrangements, feeding requirements, and underlying medical conditions affect how well a particular technique will work for your particular situation.
If what you tried didn’t suit your child, choose another approach, and tailor it more specifically to your child’s needs. Ask for help if you need it. A qualified and experienced sleep consultant can help you create a detailed plan that takes every aspect of your child’s unique circumstances into consideration and can offer the support you need to succeed.
7. You were inconsistent.
Successful sleep training requires consistency. A clear message. All night long. If you followed your sleep training plan perfectly until 5 a.m. but then brought your child into your bed for a few extra hours of sleep, you weren’t consistent. You were sending mixed messages. Inconsistency confuses children, causes more crying, and always inhibits the sleep training progress.
8. You gave up too soon.
It can be tempting to give up on sleep training, especially if it turns out to be more challenging than you anticipated. Don’t assume that because a friend’s child slept through the night after three days that your child will do the same – many don’t. It can take three days or three weeks, depending on the child, the method, and a host of other factors. Sleep training is a process, and bumps in the road are a normal part of learning.
9. Your efforts were undermined (on purpose or inadvertently).
Sleep training requires a united front from everyone involved with your child’s sleep. If you’re 100% committed to the process, but your spouse, mother-in-law, or nanny isn’t, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to succeed. Set your child up for success, and be sure that everyone in the household understands the specifics of the plan, whether they’re actively involved with coaching or only sitting on the sidelines. Even the most well-meaning grandparent can undo progress if they’re not clear about what they should or shouldn’t be doing to help your child learn to sleep.
10. There was an underlying medical issue.
If you had a great plan, implemented it super-consistently for a reasonable amount of time, and still didn’t see significant results, then an underlying medical issue may be at the root of your child’s sleep problems. Reflux, apnea, restless leg syndrome, asthma, vitamin deficiencies, and sensory processing issues are just some of the underlying medical conditions that can interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
If you suspect that a medical issue may be causing your child’s sleep problems, speak to your pediatrician, and if they don’t take your concerns seriously, find one that does. If a medical issue is at the root of your child’s sleep problems, you may see some improvement with sleep training, but you’ll never see 100% success.