February 25, 2022 7 min read
Is sleep training not working for your little one? Are you hesitant to start sleep training because you don’t know if it is the right time? You are not alone. Teaching babies to sleep on their own isn’t simple or easy.
Sleep training not working right away is normal, and there are many different reasons why this might be. Almost every parent has difficulty starting sleep training, at least for their first child. Sleep training will work for you and your child once you understand what to look for and do.
While there are many different reasons for sleep training not working, there are five common mistakes that almost all parents make when approaching sleep training.
1. Not Knowing When to Start Sleep Training
Although it seems illogical, sleep training needs to start on a day when your child has had an adequate amount of sleep, including naps. The terms overtired and under tired are keywords that every parent should know and signs that they should look for in their children.
If your child is overtired, meaning they have built up a sleep debt, for whatever reason, they are not going to go to sleep quickly. Many parents try to keep their young ones up a little longer with the hope of making them so super tired that the child will fall immediately to sleep. Unfortunately, this is more harmful to the sleep training process than helpful. The same goes for being under tired, although this concept is more straightforward for most parents to understand.
If your child is overtired, they will be cranky and upset and will be more sensitive to crying when you leave the room and will cry longer in an attempt to get you back. Once they start crying, this will, believe it or not, prevent them from going to sleep right away. Anyone who has tried to let a baby cry themselves to sleep knows that it isn’t pleasant to listen to and isn’t a short evolution.
Being under tired follows the same logic. If a child is not ready for sleep, they will be nowhere near sleepy enough when you try to put them down and leave the room. Your child, who has not yet learned to soothe themselves to sleep, will begin to cry to get you back. Another scenario is that you will find yourself staying in the room longer, talking calmly and soothingly as you try to lull them into sleepiness.
Sleep training needs to start on a day when your child has had a good nap, or more likely, naps, and you can put them to bed at what will be the standard bedtime.
2. Lack of Planning, Preparation, and Confidence
Sleep training isn’t as simple as picking a bedtime and attempting to put your child to bed at the same time each night. It involves a schedule and teamwork between all caregivers.
For efficient and effective sleep training, your child should have a pre-planned nap schedule in addition to a bedtime schedule. This schedule should also include an understanding of who will be the primary person responsible for putting your child to sleep at that time. All of this helps the child develop a routine and an understanding of what is going on.
Most parents already have a demanding evening schedule. The idea of trying to squeeze in a commute, daycare pick-up, dinner, bath, and bedtime into the same period of time every day seems impossible. The process is long, and several factors can cause delays along the way. However, once you decide you want to start sleep training, you want to make sure that you can dedicate at least the first four or five days to staying on a strict schedule.
Plan for sleep training. Ensure that both parents are available if one person does part of the routine and another puts the child to sleep. Minimize any interruptions to your schedule during at least those few days.
Don’t let sleep training not working stop you. Once you start, have confidence that you will do it. Too many parents get disheartened early on and want to deviate from the schedule. No matter the challenge, buck up and keep going. Persistence is critical in those first few days.
3. Not Understanding Your Child’s Cues
As discussed, overtired or under tired are key sleep issues in the training process. For this reason, it is essential to understand your child’s sleep state or lack thereof.
Many parents believe that when they see a child tired, seemingly falling in and out of a state of sleep, this would be the perfect time to put that child to sleep. But this belief is incorrect.
Your child should be tired but fully awake when you put them down to sleep. The reason for this is that you want your child to learn how to soothe themselves and put themselves to sleep. Falling asleep in your arms is a comfort to them, and it is not them going to sleep on their own.
The so-called drowsy state when a child appears to be in and out of sleep isn’t what it seems. The child is already asleep when this is happening. A child may seem like they are waking up, but they are not fully waking up, and therefore, they are still in a sleep state. Already being asleep is not what you want for your child when sleep training.
Understand that what works for the parent isn’t always what works for the child, and it’s essential for understanding your child’s cues. A parent might like the idea of a child already being in an exhausted state because it might make the process shorter and less stressful. However, this isn’t going to help your child fall asleep independently and isn’t beneficial to sleep training. It is crucial to utilize what works best for your child and not for you as a parent.
4. Too Many Distractions for the Baby
Sleep training not working could be due to distractions in the room. Sleeping conditions in the room are just as crucial as a sleeping schedule. The room should have very little light coming in to keep your baby awake. Black-out curtains are helpful in a nursery or wherever your child will be sleeping.
Noise is another factor. Things like mobiles, crib aquariums, and music boxes may seem soothing for your child, but they are also very distracting. These objects will calm your child down and grab their attention away from you but will also engage your child's creativity and developmental thinking. Your child will be distracted by the redfish in the tank or the plane flying around on the mobile. However, once they are bored with the distraction, they will look for you again.
Noise machines have been recommended, but only for the most basic white noise options. White noise or rainy weather sounds work best for drowning out all other sounds. Like nighttime animal noises, anything else might engage your curiosity.
Distractions can also include timed check-ins on the baby, and night feedings can change the sleep state of your child or distract them in some way.If you open the door or go in to check on them, do not pick them up, rub their back, or do anything that will drag their attention to you. If the child is awake but relatively quiet, they are most likely calming themselves into sleep. Do not interrupt this with cuddling and touching.
When your child is ready to start sleep training, they are also probably prepared for only one feeding during the night. It is unnecessary to feed your baby every time they wake up or fuss in the middle of the night. Nor is it essential to keep a nighttime feeding schedule that will keep waking your child up when they are still sleepy.
5. Not Letting Things Happen Naturally
Not every child is ready for sleep training at the same time. You have to know your little one and know when it is suitable for them, and you, to start sleep training. Not every child is ready to transition to one nap during the day, and children who have transitioned too early will be too tired and fussy when it comes time to sleep training.
Be prepared for a bit of fuss at the start of the process. This fussing is normal and will encourage your child to learn to soothe themselves. Every little sound your child makes as they are falling asleep or even in the middle of the night is not a cue for you to enter the room to check on them or pick them up. Making a slight sound or fuss in the middle of the night doesn’t mean your child isn’t sleeping through the night. Allow them to work through it on their own.
A little fussing as they are getting sleepy and putting themselves to sleep is not the same as crying. A child crying for your attention and doing so for a long time before falling asleep from exhaustion is more likely a sign that your child is not ready or in the right sleep state to start sleep training.
Sleep training not working is expected. Ultimately, sleep training will be slightly different for every child and parent before finding success. There is no one magical method that will make the process a breeze. Understanding your child’s needs is key to a successful training process. Expect some fuss and difficulty. Consistency and persistence will pay off if you trust in the process.
If you continue to have sleep training issues that drag out for more than a couple of weeks, it may be time to consider an appointment or evaluation with a sleep expert. There might be another reason that sleeping through the night is difficult for your child.
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