It’s no secret that making changes in your infant or toddler’s sleep takes work. When you’ve tried to implement changes and don’t see progress, that can feel defeating and leave you wondering “why isn’t sleep training working for us?”
If you’re asking yourself this question, I encourage you to also ask yourself:
- What am I doing right now and how does it feel?
- Are my sleep goals for my child actually realistic?
- What seems to be working and what doesn’t seem to be working?
Once you’ve answered the above questions for yourself, read below for more insight into why sleep training may not be working for you. Chances are, if you’ve already tried different sleep training methods, you’re aware of many sleep logistics. This article will explore some other factors that sometimes are overlooked.
If it doesn’t feel right, it won’t work
Making changes in your little one’s sleep might not be the smoothest walk in the park, however there is a difference between sleep changes being work and something not feeling right. If the approach you’ve been taking doesn’t feel right to you, chances are it won’t work.
Babies and toddlers feel parents’ anxious energy and look for calm and consistency in parents when behavioral changes are being made. Simply put, if the approach you’re taking to change your child’s sleep leave you feeling anxious, unsure, or you’re very hesitant, it’s time to pause and reassess.
Are your sleep goals realistic?
It is important to note that not every child can meet the same sleep goals. If your goals for your baby are for them to settle to sleep independently and back to sleep in the night, that may be very practical.
If your goal is for your baby to fall asleep, sleep for 12 hours without a feeding and nap during the day, but they aren’t taking in enough nutrition during the day, then this goal isn’t currently realistic.
Making sure your child is developmentally ready and aligned with the goals you’re setting for their sleep will go a long way in how progress is measured. This includes timing. If your baby is currently cutting teeth, handling a medical diagnosis, or undergoing other stress-it isn’t the most realistic time to make changes.
What is working?
Look at what is working in this process. Maybe your baby is actually settling themselves to sleep on their own now. Maybe they’ve gone from waking 6 times a night to now 2. Maybe they are sleeping well at night now but having a hard time at naps.
Seeing what is working allows for space to change and assess what isn’t working. There can be several reasons why things aren’t working, let’s take a look at a few of them:
TIMING OF SLEEP + SLEEP NEEDS + ENVIRONMENT
Timing is almost everything. If your baby is overtired, they are less likely to nap well or fall asleep well at bedtime. If they aren’t tired enough, the same can happen.
Keep a log of your baby’s naps and night sleep to better see and understand how they reacted to various amounts of time awake in relation to sleep time. Usually, babies need to go down for naps sooner than most think. In terms of bedtimes, the same is also true for many babies.
Understanding how much sleep your baby or toddler actually needs is also helpful in figuring out their sleep. If naps are more sleep than they need, you’ll likely see their nights affected.
Naps are imperative for nighttime sleep. Too little and sleep at night can be hectic, too much and sleep can lessen. Treating daytime sleep important like nights will help in the sleep training progress. If you’re only working on night sleep and your baby isn’t sleeping at all during the day, it is time to assess helping naps before throwing in the towel completely.
Read more on naps and sleep needs here.
Sleep environment such as darkness, using a sound machine, proper clothing and temperature play additional roles in sleep. Learn more about optimal sleep environments here.
YOU’RE NOT FEEDING ENOUGH
Ensure your child isn’t hungry. For infants, schedules suggesting going 4 plus hours between feedings by day may not be doable for your child. In fact, often when I hear naps aren’t working, it’s because feedings are too spaced out so babies are hungry when they fall asleep, yet too hungry to stay asleep and then too tired to stay awake for their next nap.
Try finding a rhythm with feedings as the priority, allowing sleep to flow around it. You might be surprised.
YOUR CHILD NEEDS A DIFFERENT APPROACH
If you’ve been at something for weeks and don’t see an improvement, it doesn’t feel right, or your child seems to be regressing in other parts of their life, it could be you need a different approach.
Some children need more hands-on help when working towards independent sleep, and this is okay. This might look like phasing things out one at a time, such as moving to their crib, being held when they wake and easing out of that in phases.
Some actually need more space to just be and work on their new skills, which can make constant interval “check-ins” in some methods of sleep training non-effective and harder on them.
HAVING A PLAN
Do you have a plan of action or are you winging it with every evening and every waking? Knowing what you will do as different scenarios arise during the process allows you to feel more prepared, more confident, more responsive to your child and see results.
Have you given your current approach enough time to work with consistency in your methods? Many parents will be eager to stop after only a few nights and not huge progress. Depending on your little one’s age and approach, I encourage you to give it 7-10 days for infants to see a difference. This can be longer for toddlers also depending on where their sleep is at and your goals.
It might be time to start fresh
If you’ve given it time, looked at factors in this article and don’t see sleep changes, it simply may be time to pause and reassess, then start fresh. This can look like taking a week to simply be in sleep survival mode, focus back on feedings, daily activities, and supporting your child’s needs where you can.
Gather a plan. Seek help from a professional for insight that aligns with your family. Take a breather, then try again.
Kaela Kajiyama is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Newborn Care Specialist working with families for over 14 years. She works with children from birth through early childhood to find sleep solutions that are sustainable for the whole family.
Learn more about Kaela and her services at https://sustainablesleep.co/