As a 13-year practicing Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I wanted to share some insights on how to avoid the 4 hidden sleep training mistakes that might fully derail your sleep coaching success.
My goal is to offer clarity on the mistakes and offer solutions, so you can be successful and confident in the sleep coaching process to finally enjoy beautiful, blissful sleep for your child and whole household.
Choosing to sleep train your child is often one of the first big parenting decisions, and thus, parents should take time to educate themselves on sleep science and research methodology options before making any changes or attempts at sleep training.
Going to sleep independently at bedtime and going back-to-sleep easily is, in fact, a learned skill. Just like learning to sit up, crawl or walk, the sleep skills of self-settling and self-soothing are both life skills to be learned, practiced, and mastered.
Often parents start sleep training in a very rash, reactionary manner without proper research and planning to create the right circumstances and environment for optional learning. This lack of knowledge and planning often leads to tears on the part of child and parent.
In these circumstances, parents believe they “failed” at sleep training or that their child “will never learn” how to sleep well. However, in reality, these “perceived failures” were actually a culmination of several mistakes that can be easily corrected with the following insight and suggestions.
The 1st Hidden Sleep Training Mistake
The first mistake parents make is not properly researching and agreeing upon the appropriate sleep training methodology to match their child’s temperament, their family values, & family logistics.
Below is a sequential way to avoid this hidden mistake so that you properly research and prepare to have a successful sleep training experience.
Research, select, and follow the sleep coaching methodology that meets ALL the following criteria:
✔ Methodology aligns with parenting values. Both parents feel seen, heard and supported in deciding on the methodology.
✔ Methodology meets the temperament of child.
✔ Methodology is EASY to implement because the logistics and schedules of all household members & caregivers are in alignment
✔ Both parents commit to reading the directions in the book, digital course or suggestions from your sleep consultant. Sleep training is not just “mom’s job,” it is a parenting decision that takes equal commitment from both parents.
✔ Specifically and thoroughly follow each step and guidelines of chosen methodology. Do not “go rogue” and “wing it”…that leads to loads of tears and frustration. There are many pit-falls when following a methodology and no matter which sleep plan you implement, there are additional “hot tips” that will make the process easier that can be found inside my guide 5 Reasons Why Your Child Was Awake Last night.
Here is an overview of Sleep Coaching Methodologies to get you started on your research:
For children 6 months to 6 years of age, there are several sleep coaching methodologies. I do not recommend any sleep coaching or sleep training for babies who have not yet passed the 4-5 month sleep regression and who have not yet learned to roll both ways. Once babies have passed these important physical and cognitive milestones, babies have more mobility and more reliable sleep cycles that makes coaching easier on both parent and child.
In each approach, the key goal is to replace sleep crutches (negative sleep associations) by instilling positive sleep associations, as well as, instilling the new skills of self-settling and self-soothing to sleep both at bedtime and in the middle of the night. Parents will need to dedicate themselves to a specific methodology and follow the recommendations in a step-by-step fashion. Parents can use one of the books recommended below or find a digital course, membership, or tenured Pediatric Sleep Consultant to help you achieve your sleep and nursing/feeding goals.
I should also say that when approaching sleep training. It is best to work on bedtime and middle of night wakings first. Please do not attempt nap training until AFTER your child has mastered consolidated sleep at night without the need of any sleep crutches.
Here is an Overview of Sleep Coaching Methodologies:
Gentle Sleep Coaching
- Known as Fading
- Also called “Gentle Sleep Coaching” or “The Sleep Lady Shuffle” or “the Chair Method”
This is the most gentle and gradual approach and one that allows the parent to stay with the child while the new sleep skills and behaviors are learned.
The Sleep Lady advocates a “shuffle”, where the parent stays in the room with child while offering physical and verbal reassurance and moves further from the crib/bed every 3 days.
The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight and Good Night Sleep Tight Workbook by Kim West is an advocate of this approach.
The Fading Approach explained:
- Known as Controlled Crying or Modified Extinction
- Also called “Timed Checks” or “Ferberizing”
This method involves being out of the room and checking on the child at intervals every 5-15 minutes from bedtime and all arousals throughout the night.
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, MD is known for this method.
The Ferber approach explained:
Extinction or Cry-it-Out
- Known as “cry it out”
The parent is out of the room both at bedtime and in the middle of the night. The strict version is to simply leave a child to cry until they fall asleep at bedtime and and same approach with middle of night arousals.
Healthy Sleep Habits, Marc Weissbluth, MD is an advocate of extinction.
The Cry it Out Method explained:
The 2nd Hidden Sleep Training Mistake
The 2nd hidden mistake is that parents do not give themselves or the child the proper time to fully prepare and create the ideal circumstances and environment for optimal learning.
In order for your child to “anchor” the sleep skills, parents need to dedicate 2-4 weeks to make the sleep training process a priority. Pick a “start date” and minimize personal and professional obligations during this time. Please avoid hosting guests or traveling, as that will interrupt your child’s learning process.
Thorough preparation and organization is paramount before you start your “night 1” of sleep training.
I have created a Master Checklist to complete Before Starting “Night 1” of Sleep Coaching.
Obtain the “Green Light” from pediatrician/lactation consultant
✔ Your child should be past the 4-5 month sleep regression and have mastered their rolling milestone before sleep training. I do not recommend sleep training a child until they have reached these two critical physical and cognitive developments.
✔ Is your baby 0-4/5 months? If you have a newborn, it is not advised to sleep train, but you can “sleep shape”. Here is some great recommendations. Download the Newborn Sleep Guide
✔ Conversation with lactation consultant that nursing plan and sleep plan are complementary to honor and maintain the nursing relationship.
✔ Your child should be symptom free of any medical conditions and symptoms that would inhibit their ability to self-soothe. Please ensure your child is not experiencing any of the following: reflux, silent reflux, eczema, asthma, food sensitivities and digestive issues, or sleep apnea.
Create an Ideal Room Set up
✔ Room darkening shades
✔ White noise or fan
✔ Dimmer or low light lamp
✔ Temp 68-72 degrees
✔ Tot clock (for children over age of 2.5 yrs)
✔ Blanket or lovey with parent’s smell on this (*obtain approval from pediatrician before using any objects in the crib typically 12 months or over)
✔ Audio or video monitor
✔ Implement suggestions for bedroom acclimation and/or crib and big girl/boy bed acclimation for a minimum of 4-7 days prior to “night 1” of sleep coaching
✔ Favorite Sleep Products
Create sleep logs and track sleep windows for a minimum of 4-7 days prior to starting any night-time sleep coaching (note: you may need help from a sleep consultant to discover your child’s best sleep intervals)
✔ Monitor your child’s unique sleep windows and associated behaviors for optional naps and bedtime.
✔ It is CRITICAL to understand the best timing so your child goes into the crib/bed “drowsy-but-awake” at bedtime so it will be easier for your child to learn self-settling and self-soothing skills.
✔ If you do not know what your child “looks like” and/or “acts like” when they are at “the right sleep window” than it means you are not ready to start sleep coaching and you need more time for sleep logging and researching and discovering the right sleep window for optimal sleep skill bedtime learning.
✔ Before night-time training, focus on meeting your child’s age/stage of daytime sleep needs for naps especially on “night 1” of sleep coaching. A child with bad naps will always have more arousals at night time.
The 3rd Hidden Sleep Training Mistake
The third hidden mistake is that one parent is trying to do the sleep training by themselves without the other parent understanding the process and the need for consistency in implementation.
It is critical to build a “united front” with both parents. Be realistic and prepare to be in “sleep training mode” for 2-4 weeks of focused and consistent implementation and clear communication and teamwork between both parents.
✔ Determine first parent coach. The first 4-7 nights of sleep training are the most important. My recommendation is for the first parent coach to commit to 5-7 nights of coaching BOTH at bedtime and all arousals throughout the night (mom can come in to nurse on designated feeds). It is just too hard on the child to “flip-flop” parent coaches in that first critical week of coaching. The 2nd parent coach is integrated AFTER there is significant progress in your child’s sleep skills.
✔ Decide on coaching start date. It also is important to decide on a specific sleep coaching “start date” and chart out the whole timeline for all the steps you will take as part of your sleep coaching journey. Be specific on roles and duties of each parent during this time and minimize personal and professional obligations so you will not be rushed and disorganized at bedtime.
✔ Each night the parent coach should be crystal clear on exactly what they are doing at bedtime and the non-feeding arousals.
Here is my best recommendation for the first 5-7 nights of sleep coaching.
Tips for Success: The First 5-7 Night of Sleep Coaching:
✔ Be home 2 hours before child’s best “sleep window” (before lights-out)
✔ Focus on getting good naps even if you are using sleep crutches (hold, rock, drive, co-sleep, wear, what-ever-it-takes) to meet your child’s daily daily sleep goals (be sure to “fill their sleep tank” that day) Nap training is done AFTER night training.
✔ Do you want to know how much daytime and night-time sleep your child needs? Download the Guide: Get your child’s daily sleep goals to make nights and naps easier.
✔ Confirm designated coach knows exactly how to attend to child at bedtime and how to attend to child for each non-feeding arousal and feeding arousal (this information will come from the specific methodology you are following).
✔ Keep a sleep log so you have data to depend upon when making sleep coaching decisions and assessing progress.
✔ Aim to be in dimly lit room before the child’s optimal sleep window.
✔ Provide a calm, smooth bedtime routine with smooth transitions (avoid rushing or skipping steps).
✔ Bedroom already has the ideal room set-up (see above).
✔ Separate the bedtime feed from sleeping by 5-10 minutes.
✔ Child goes into the independent sleep space (crib/bed) “drowsy-but-awake” (see info about sleep windows in the methodology you have chosen).
✔ Carefully & consistently follow chosen methodology for minimum of 2-3 weeks.
✔ The parent NOT in the room promises not to interrupt or criticize the parent coach.
The 4th Hidden Sleep Training Mistake
The 4th hidden mistake is that parents give up too fast on sleep training because they think it is “not working” or that their child is “just a bad sleeper” or that the child will “grow out of it”.
✔ If you think your child is just a “bad sleeper”. Please remember, sleep is a learned skill, not an innate skill that babies are born with from the beginning. One of the biggest misconceptions about raising children is that babies are born already knowing how to sleep well. The mastery of healthy sleep habits is a vitally important life skill. As parents, we coach our children on fundamental skills such as walking and reading, and so it is natural to safely and gently coach your child on learning the “skills of sleep,” which are self-settling and self-soothing to sleep without the need of sleep crutches.
✔ If you think your child will magically “grow out of it”. Unfortunately, the reality is good sleep isn’t a milestone that most children reach by themselves. It is never too late to teach sleep skills, children up to the age of 10 yrs of age can easily learn to become a fabulous sleeper. Parents must purposely decide how and when to “teach the skills sleep” to enjoy the benefits of calm bedtimes, peaceful nights and reliable naps.
✔ If you think sleep coaching is “not working” and you are ready to quit: Remember, learning new skills takes time and practice. It is important to have realistic expectations of the stages of learning that goes into accomplishing a consolidated night time sleep. When CORRECTLY implementing your sleep methodology’s plan, along with focusing on the right timing and the right circumstances/environment, it is possible to see improvements in the first 5-7 days and achieve all your sleep goals for night and nap training in 10-21 days (goals reached depends on depth of sleep crutches and the age and temperament of the child)
✔ If you are wondering if your sleep coaching process “is working”: If a parent is not finding any improvements in the ability of their child to self-settle and self-soothe at bedtime and during the middle of the night within the first 5-7 days, then it is best to “pause” sleep training and do some further research. Either the methodology is mis-matched with the temperament of your child or there could be trouble with your implementation of the sleep plan, thus causing confusion, tears and protest. Lastly, there could be an underlying medical condition inhibiting progress so definitely visit the pediatrician. Hot Tip: a sleep coach can help you identify the real stages of “progress” inside of a sleep coaching process.
✔ If you are wondering “is this just a regression”. There are 10 developmental milestones in the first 20 months of life. At each of these leaps, there will be some type of sleep regression. Often during a milestone, parents end up using sleep crutches to help their child sleep better and so after the milestone is complete, sometimes those sleep crutches still remain and it becomes necessary to do some sleep training to help the sleep skills come back “on-line”. So if you are wondering if bad sleep is due to a regression or just poor sleep habits, you can get the “inside scoop” in this guide Sleep Regressions: Solve It Now!
✔ If after reading all of this you feel overwhelmed, don’t worry. It may be a sign that you need additional support. If you work with really well-trained and experienced sleep coach, you will be guided step-by-step and day-by-day to achieve your family’s sleep goals. There is absolutely no need to live life in a confused and sleep-deprived haze when there is hope and help available. It’s perfectly OK to ask for HELP in teaching your child these vitally important life skills. Download The Guide: Do You Need A Sleep Coach?
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best age to consider sleep coaching?
The research suggests that after a baby is over 6 months of age and/or rolling both directions are at a more optimal developmental time to learn their sleep skills. When they are rolling and closer to 6 months, babies have more mobility and demonstrate more sleep cues and have the hormone balancing to sleep longer cycles. For babies ages 0-5 months (newborn phase), it is typically recommended to wait on sleep training until the child is over 6 months of age. Newborn Education and gentle sleep shaping is more appropriate during the newborn phase.
How long does it take to get my child to sleep through the night?
Most nighttime sleep problems can be resolved in 2-4 weeks. However, most families see immediate improvement in the first 5 nights of implementing the sleep plan. It is always recommended to night train first and then move onto nap training.
Is it too late to sleep train my child?
NO! It is never “too late” because sleep is a learned skill, it’s never too late to teach your child healthy habits.
Sleep is natural. Isn’t this something babies should just know how to do? One of the biggest misconceptions about raising children is that babies are born already knowing how to sleep well. The reality is sleep is a learned skill.
What does a sleep coach do?
Sleep coaches work together with families to develop and implement a customized sleep plan to help your child to independently fall asleep and stay asleep. We teach you how to provide reassuring, parentally supported, gradual change that results in improved sleep habits and a well-rested family.
There are so many options, what should I look for in a sleep coach?
When hiring a sleep coach it is important that you choose the right methodology based on family values, logistics and how much support you will need to reach goals.
You should consider these questions:
• Is the sleep consultant certified and what methodology do they use?
• How many years experience and experience with your child’s age.
• Do they offer a customized plan based on age, stage, temperament and family logistics?
• Do they offer follow up zoom/phone and email support?
• Do they have references, testimonials and success stories?
• Will you they coach you live and how many calls do you get while you are working your sleep plan.
• Do they seem caring and compassionate?
Are you still struggling with your child’s sleep? Hope and Help is Here.
Blissful Baby Sleep Coaching specializes in Guilt, Free, Gentle Sleep Coaching by creating the right environment and offering the right support for your child to easily and successfully learn how to sleep well.
I know you want to help your child learn these vitally important life skills for their proper health and development. You’re here because you’re searching for answers, support, and a solution that gets you—and your family—better sleep, and more of it. You’ve read the books, you’ve done your research, and sought information from family, friends, and your child’s pediatrician. All that information can be conflicting and confusing, especially when you’re exhausted.
As a tenured Pediatric Sleep Expert, I help sleep-deprived families get where they want to be: well-rested! There is no need to “cry-it-out”. Easy bedtimes, peaceful nights, reliable naps and confident parenting and a harmonious household are all possible.
I provide Guilt-free & Gentle Sleep Coaching Solutions using proven evidence-based methods. With my step-by-step and child-led approach, I help you tenderly teach the “skills of sleep” to your child. Over the past 13 years, I have helped 1000’s of families solve their child’s sleep struggles. Let me help your family sleep blissfully too! I am recognized as one of the top 200 Coaches in the US and I am 3x International Best Selling Author.
The first step to see if I can help you achieve beautiful, blissful sleep is to schedule a 60 minute ZOOM sleep strategy session. Go to this link and complete the contact me form and I will be in touch within 24 hours with directions on how to schedule your Sleep Strategy Session.
If you are still wondering if I can help, please know I do NOT advocate ‘cry-it-out’. I am a Gentle Sleep Coach. If you want to learn about my guilt-free and gentle process, please go to these links.
Sleep is Bliss, Let’s Get you more!
Joanna Clark, Sleep Expert & Author
Certified Gentle Sleep Coach℠ at Blissful Baby Sleep Coaching