As I sleep and parenting consultant, parents often come to me for advice when they are at their breaking point due to a lack of sleep. For many parents, sleep training can be a daunting and frustrating process. With the hopes of getting you started in the right direction, I've put together the ten most common pitfalls of sleep training that I see on a daily basis.
1. Starting too Early
Babies are ready to start sleep training from 12 weeks onwards. However, one of the most common pitfalls that I come across, is parents trying to starting the sleep training process before they are truly ready to commit to it. In order to see success, everyone involved must be one hundred percent committed in order to see results (as it can take as long as three weeks to see any significant change to a baby’s sleep.) Therefore, starting the process when only one parent is ready, only results in inconsistencies, frustration, and confusion. As parents, we want to avoid getting stuck ‘trying’ to sleep train. I like to encourage parents to commit to the process once and get sleep training done the first time.
2. Throwing too many Solutions at the Problem
Often, when something isn’t working, our instinct is to throw as many solutions as possible at the problem in hopes that one of the solutions will work. When it comes to sleep training, throwing too many variables into the mix only results in confusion. Instead, when making changes to anything sleep related, I always suggest that parents make a change and commit to it for at least a week.
3. Lack of support
When making changes to a baby's sleep, it is important to have support. For example, it can be very difficult for a breastfeeding mom to break a sucking association because sucking is the strongest sleep association and breastfeeding is the strongest prop that supports it. Therefore, in cases where a baby associates nursing with falling asleep, it is helpful to have the other parent do the majority of the sleep training.
4. Clinging to a sleep prop.
It can be very difficult for parents to let go of a sleep prop that has worked wonders to date. However, what we tend see happen over time, is that these props take longer and longer to have the same effect. For example, if a baby is rocked to sleep it may start by taking 20 minutes to do so. Over time, we may begin to notice that the rocking that once took 20 minutes now takes over an hour. When the prop becomes more of a burden than a help, it is usually when parents are ready to make sleep changes.
5. Not understanding enough about sleep cycles
Children, like adults, naturally wake at various points throughout the night. One of the most common pitfalls to sleep training is failing to take sleep cycles into account. Instead, when babies wake throughout the night, parents often assume that the only reason is due to hunger. Knowing when to feed a child and when to encourage him to self-soothe, is an important step in the sleep training process.
6. Listening to advice from Dr. Google.
In today’s day and age, there is far too much parenting advice readily available on the internet. Therefore, when parents are facing a challenge, the easiest thing to do is Google the answer. However, as with anything related to the internet, when you Google something you get hundreds of conflicting responses. All the varying responses result in a lack of confidence in our parenting abilities and more confusion over how to sleep train.
7. Setting Unrealistic expectations
When addressing children’s sleep it is important to maintain realistic expectations. It is not for example realistic to expect a two month old baby to sleep for twelve consecutive hours in a row. Learning more about sleep patterns and sleep cycles can help keep our expectations regarding a baby’s sleep goals realistic.
8. Waiting for the baby to guide you
Another common pitfall of sleep training is parents waiting for their baby to naturally sleep train themselves. In the majority of cases this does not happen. Instead, as parents, we need to look for sleep cues and help guide babies to sleep during the period in time that they are naturally tired.
9. Comparing our baby to other babies
Like us, babies all have different sleep patterns and they all need varying amounts of sleep.
One of the most common pitfalls that I see is parents comparing their child’s sleep to others. For example, someone’s friend may have a baby who sleeps from 7pm-7am. Naturally, as parents, we would all love it if our children slept from 7pm-7am. However, it is important to recognize that each child is different.
10. Assuming that sleep training means crying it out
Often parents are hesitant to start the sleep training process because there is an assumption that sleep training always involves the extinction method. That being said, we do believe that making changes to sleep will involve some level of crying. However, sleep training definitely does not mean leaving your baby alone to cry from 7pm-7am. There are many ways to comfort and help your child as they learn to put themselves back to sleep.