Frequently Asked Questions About Sleep Training

Whether your baby just started sleep training or is facing a new issue, take a look at these frequently asked questions that can help.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sleep Training

The beauty of talking to so many parents through this blog, from all stages of sleep training and beyond, is that I get insights into their common questions and concerns. I’m able to address concerns from those currently sleep training to those who’ve already gone through it but have follow-up questions.

I want to share the insights I’ve gathered in the hopes that they can offer even more information. Consider it your reference guide not just during sleep training, but any time you notice new challenges. Take a look at these frequently asked questions about sleep training:

Slow progress

“I feel like I’m doing something wrong. While my baby has shown progress, he still wakes up at night and takes 30 minutes to fall asleep. When will this get easier?”

I’ve seen such a wide range of when babies began to sleep much better, from as little as one night to as long as five weeks. It really is that wide of a range. More than likely, you’re doing everything fine, and it’s simply taking your baby longer to get the hang of it.

One way to know whether to keep going or to pivot is whether you’re seeing progress. If his sleep seems worse than when you started, then that’s a sign to stop and try again later. But if he’s making progress, then it’s likely a good idea to stay consistent, even if it’s slower than you had hoped.

That said, there are a few things you can try in the meantime. First, change how often you check in. If you notice that he gets riled up each time you check in, go in every 10 or 15 minutes instead of 5. More time between check-ins can give him more chances to fall asleep than if you went in more frequently.

Next, ask yourself how consistent you’ve been. Do you sometimes pick him up to try to soothe him or give him a pacifier even though you said you wouldn’t? Flip-flopping can confuse him and delay the time for him to sleep through the night. You also want to check in with your demeanor and energy about sleep training. If you’re feeling discouraged, impatient, or frustrated, this can rub off on him than if you were supportive, calm, and collected.

And finally, are there any new changes in his life that could be making sleep training challenging? Did you go back to work recently? Introduce a new childcare provider? Moved to a new home? Did you go on vacation? Has he been sick? Avoid these factors that could delay his progress and try again another time when life feels more consistent and smooth.

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Being away from home

Being away from home can wreck your baby’s sleep habits, the ones you’ve worked so hard on implementing through sleep training. How can you maintain those habits even when you’re not at home?

Going to the grandparents’ house

“My baby is spending the night at his grandparents’ house in a few days, but we’ve already started self-soothing. Should I have them continue this method, or rock him to sleep like they’ve always done?”

Disruptions can make sleep training a little harder. One possibility is to ask your parents to stay at your house so that his environment stays consistent, even if someone else is taking care of him.

But let’s say you can’t avoid the overnight stay and he has to be away from home. In that case, have them continue the method so that his sleep stays as consistent as possible. Brief them on what to do and not do, as well as why, so that they feel confident doing so.

You’ll also want to “recreate” his sleep environment as much as possible. If he sleeps in a dark room, ask your parents to draw the curtains or even temporarily tape black garbage bags over their windows. Bring your white noise machine, the music that lulls him to sleep, or books he reads before bed—anything that feels familiar to what he’s used to at home.

And finally, if your parents aren’t willing or able to continue with the method or your baby has regressed since staying with them, it’s not impossible to re-sleep train or get back on the right path, especially if he’s already familiar with the process.

Going on vacation

“We’re going on vacation soon. How can I maintain my baby’s new sleep habits?”

You can definitely maintain your baby’s sleep habits on vacation. First, be consistent with your current bedtime and routines as much as possible before taking your trip.

Then, bring all the items you normally rely on for bedtime with you. It might be your white noise machine or her favorite bedtime songs. Recreate her bedtime routine even away from home.

Then, once you’re on vacation, maintain the same daily routine. If she naps twice a day, see if you can fit those naps in during your trip. This can be difficult, especially if she naps frequently, but sometimes it’s still possible to squeeze your normal routine. One nap a day is the easiest to work around, as you can have morning and afternoon outings to sandwich that midday nap.

And finally, accommodate for potential time differences. Try to tweak her sleep schedules gradually so she can adjust to the new time zone she’ll be in. She might take a day or two to adjust, but keep in mind that she’ll be tired earlier or later than her regular schedule.

What about road trips? Several parents have weighed in saying that driving at night is the preferred way to travel, especially with babies. As exhausted as you might be, having your baby sleep through the trip might be easier than driving during the day.

Going back to old habits

“We had been doing so well with sleep, but for one reason or another, he’s reverted to his old habits!”

Your baby may have been sleep-trained for a while when, for one reason or another, he reverts to old habits. What are a few of the reasons that can undo your progress?

  • Your baby gets sick. From colds to teething, you’ll want to provide the comfort he needs during this time.
  • You go on vacation. Not only are you in a new environment, but your whole daily routine and schedule may have been thrown off.
  • Caregivers don’t follow your routine. Leaving him in the hands of grandparents or other caregivers who may not have followed your routine.
  • Developmental stages. Many parents found particular stages and ages that made sleep more challenging, from sleep regressions to growth spurts.

And sometimes you don’t even know the reason—he simply seems to struggle with falling asleep out of the blue. Regardless of the reason, your normally good sleeper now either takes a long time to fall asleep, cries longer than usual, or wakes up multiple times throughout the night.

Sometimes you have no choice but to ride the ebbs and flows and realize that not every night will be perfect. Parents will be so amazed at the success of sleep training and rightfully begin to expect every night to be easy that it’s tempting to react when those challenging ones pop up.

After all, we’re all human—kids included—and won’t always have perfect sleep, sometimes for nights in a row. Think about your own seasonal changes, such as stress at work, a family disruption, or the car breaking down that can cause you sleepless nights. We’re all subject to having our nights disrupted.

Other times, you know the reason your baby reverted to old habits, from being sick to having others care for him. But one thing is certain: you need to re-establish the same sleep habits he learned while sleep training. Here’s how:

Hold your ground

Your baby may have gotten used to sleeping in your bed when he had a cold, but he needs to sleep in his bed now that he’s well. Don’t sway back and forth and let him sleep in your bed one night and not the next. Instead, be firm on what is allowed. 

Strengthen your bedtime routine

Keep it consistent, predictable, and short every night so he knows what to expect once again. The routines will help make evenings familiar and automatic, lessening any protests he may have.

Re-start the sleep training process

Do check-ins and track wake-up times if need be. The good news is that sleep training a second time around, while exhausting, is much easier than your initial process. He understands what needs to be done, and it’s more about being consistent with your expectations moving forward.

Separation anxiety

“My baby has been sleeping through the night thanks to sleep training, but now he seems to have separation anxiety at night. What do I do?”

Separation anxiety is normal—your baby has developed an attachment to you to the point where being apart feels upsetting. 

Find underlying reasons that could be contributing to her separation anxiety. From a new daycare to changes in the household, sleep is often one of the first aspects to be challenged. 

The cause could also be a fear of the dark, in which case a night light can come in handy. Watch your reaction even as you comfort her—stay calm and collected while conveying that she’s perfectly fine and safe. 

If sleeping next to her bed is the only thing that will work, then you can try that for a few nights and hope that over time, she eventually feels comfortable again sleeping on her own. But if you find that that only makes matters worse, then it’s best to go cold turkey and “re-sleep train” once again.

Rolling onto the tummy

“During sleep training, my baby has started rolling over onto his tummy. What should I do?”

Each time you put your baby down to sleep, put him on his back, as this is the safest way for a baby to sleep.

Now, let’s say you notice, whether on the baby monitor or during check-ins, that he has rolled over onto his tummy. If he’s awake, then turn him over during your next check-in. But if he has fallen asleep, then there’s no need to turn him over. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development:

“Rolling over is an important and natural part of your baby’s growth. Most babies start rolling over on their own around 4 to 6 months of age. If your baby rolls over on his or her own during sleep, you do not need to turn the baby back over onto his or her back. The important thing is that your baby start every sleep time on his or her back to reduce the risk of SIDS, and that there is no soft objects, toys, crib bumpers, or loose bedding under baby, over baby, or anywhere in baby’s sleep area.”

Giving sleep aids in the beginning

“Can I give my baby sleeping aids like pacifiers and swaddles in the early evening, then take them away when he wakes up in the middle of the night?”

I recommend sleep training without sleep aids you’d rather not rely on. If you use a pacifier for the early evening, your baby will cry in the middle of the night looking for it. That will only confuse and get him upset because it’s inconsistent with what you had done earlier in the evening.

The bottom line

You likely have many questions about sleep training, whether you just started or it’s been months since you did. Hopefully, you have the answers you need that can help you and your baby sleep well once again!

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Tell me in the comments: Do you have more questions about sleep training? Let me know in the comments below!

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