Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
So you're trying to implement some form of "sleep training" with your little one and you're just not seeing results? This can certainly be stressful and confusing.
Or perhaps you have previously tried to work on your baby's sleep and gave up.
We've heard a lot of "I've tried everything" or "nothing is working" from tired parents and you'd be surprised how few people know about the impact three simple factors can have on a baby's ability to respond positively to sleep training!
We'll share our sleep training success secrets with you here...
If you're trying to improve naps, or even night sleep or guiding your little one to self-settling, awake times are the key to success! If you're not putting your baby or toddler down for a sleep after the right amount of awake time, no amount of shhh patting, or timed checks, or even controlled crying is going to be effective. If your baby is over or under tired, they will be near impossible to sleep train.
The first place we would always start when working on improving a baby or toddler's sleep is with their awake times. Sometimes even just getting the awake times right can yield amazing results without even needing to do proper "sleep training"!
What we see a lot, is babies who reach around 4 months old and they're having a hard time napping for more than one sleep cycle or sleeping in longer chunks overnight. It can be easy to think your baby needs sleep training because of this. Now, these changes do have a lot to do with the 4 month sleep regression, but they can also be caused by parents still aiming for newborn awake times with their 3 or 4 month old babies. By this age, babies' awake times need to have stretched out to match their fast developing brains! If you're trying to put your 4 month old down for a nap after 1 or 1.5 hours of awake time, chances are they're under tired and this is contributing to the catnapping and, cumulatively across the day, to more night waking.
Similarly, a baby who has had too much awake time and is overtired, will be very difficult to settle and they too might only nap in small chunks and wake more overnight!
Making sure your baby is PERFECTLY ready for sleep is the best place to begin when seeking sleep improvement or sleep training.
Your baby's daytime napping is another key area when working on improving their overall sleep, especially their night-time sleep. You can't ignore naps! What happens in a baby's day directly affects the night, so, your baby's naps are important to setting up sleep training success.
In fact, we always suggest parents start working on improving their baby's daytime naps before even looking at their night sleep!
If your baby is a poor napper, they are likely reaching bedtime in the evening very overtired, meaning they'll really resist your sleep training attempts. They are not being "naughty" and it's not that they're not consciously responding to the sleep training, it's that they're not in the best position to be sleep trained due to overtiredness.
The same can happen if your baby has too much daytime sleep, or if their last nap is for too long or too close to bedtime. They will fight going to sleep, no matter what you do, because they're under tired.
Both situations will result in a lot more tears, even if you're trying to use a gentle method, and it will take your baby a lot longer to fall asleep.
The environment in which your baby is sleeping can play a big part in the effectiveness of the sleep training you're implementing. If your baby is being slept in a bright room with stimulating toys, nightlights and mobiles it will really hinder their ability to fall asleep! A few key things we'd recommend for sleep training success are:
- A very dark room - the darkness helps babies settle and releases the sleep hormone melatonin.
- White noise - this will become a positive sleep association for your baby and will also help drown out any other household noises that might prevent your little one from settling to sleep.
- A baby sleeping bag - using a sleeping bag rather than blankets means your baby won't kick around and get tangled in their blankets. It also becomes a positive sleep association for them that will signal sleep.
- A cuddly or lovely - giving your baby something to snuggle when in their bed is a great way to establish another positive sleep association.
Watch: Why is my sleep training not working?
If you're looking for some ways to improve your baby or toddler's sleep, or some sleep training methods that do not involve the traditional "cry-it-out" approach, click here
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