How to Prepare for Sleep Training

Are you interested in sleep training but don’t know where to start? Preparing ahead of time is important so that you’re set up to succeed. Join me as I share these easy steps to set the scene for sleep training.

How to Prepare for Sleep Training

The moment my baby could sleep through the night was a turning point in parenthood for me. Rather than spending an hour nursing and rocking him to sleep, I’d lay him awake in the crib without a swaddle. After a few minutes, I’d find him fast asleep.

This was only possible by preparing ahead for sleep training. If you tried sleep training in the past but found that it didn’t work, part of the problem may have been a lack of preparation. After all, we can’t expect a baby to sleep through the night out of the blue—we need to set the scene to make it happen.

Take a look at these tips to prepare for sleep training—long before you set your little down in the crib:

Establish a routine

Imagine spending your days without knowing what comes next, where each day is completely different from the one before. With no routine, both you and your baby can feel overwhelmed by the lack of clarity, order, and predictability. Think of the madness that takes over during the holidays or family vacations which, to their credit, are at least temporary. A chronic lack of routine only makes you and your baby stressed and anxious. He doesn’t know what to expect or what will happen next.

How does a routine prepare him for sleep training? The predictability lets him know what to expect, making him less anxious. He can then focus his energy on other things, such as learning to deal with discomfort and finding ways to self-soothe.

A routine also means he’s less likely to resist events in your day, including sleep, because he expects them to happen. Over time, he learns that this is just what happens and will accept it as part of the day, instead of fighting it because it feels unfamiliar.

So, now that you know how important a routine is, how do you implement one? I like to think of routines as two-parts: pillars and rituals.


Pillar routines provide structure to your day, such as playtime, meals, naps, baths, and bedtime. The key to establishing pillar routines is to do these activities around the same times and in the same order every day.

While you’re not following the clock, you should follow the same sequence of events. For instance, after your baby wakes up, feed him, have a bit of play time, and then take a nap. When he wakes up from that nap, repeat with the second feeding, play time, and so forth. Your cycle would be: wake up – eat – play – nap – wake up – eat – etc. You’re repeating the same cycle of activities throughout the day based on when he last woke up from his most recent nap.

That said, one pillar you should try to stay consistent with is bedtime. Try to put him to sleep at the same time every night, adjusting the rest of your activities if necessary. He can take a shorter bath if you’re running late or you can wake him up from the last night so he still feels sleepy at bedtime. A consistent bedtime routine sets your nights up for success and maintains the same wake-up times come morning.


Then you have rituals in routines, which are the activities you do within those pillars. The key with rituals is to do the same things in the same order so your baby expects this same sequence every time. For instance, your bedtime rituals could include:

  1. Take a bath
  2. Massage with lotion
  3. Change into pajamas
  4. Read books on your bed
  5. Nurse or feed
  6. Sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Free resource: We’ve all made mistakes when it comes to sleep training. Join my newsletter and grab 5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing to see which ones are crucial to avoid:

5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing

Create a conducive sleep environment

Creating the right sleep environment for your baby is key for sleep training.

If I had to guess, where he sleeps now is likely not the best situation. Maybe he sleeps in a bassinet that he’s already fast outgrowing or co-sleeping in your bed. Perhaps the only thing that works is a swing or a car seat, which isn’t exactly sustainable or appropriate.

This doesn’t even count all the sleep aids he relies on to fall asleep. “Sleep aids” are anything he needs to fall asleep. If you’re like me, yours might be nursing or rocking in your arms. Sleep aids can also be pacifiers, swaddles, swings, or co-sleeping, to name a few.

But other sleep aids can actually be useful. For instance, I recommend using darkening curtains and white noise. Dark curtains keep the light out either in the early evening or when the sun peeks through at sunrise. They can also block light from outside the window, such as street lamps.

White noise from a white noise machine, fan, or heater muffles sounds that can startle him awake. Instead of tiptoeing around the house for fear of waking him up, white noise can drown the noise out. It can also lengthen his sleep by blocking sounds from outside, such as a neighbor’s car.

None of these relies on you for them to be effective, nor does he outgrow them. A pacifier, no matter how effective, can be problematic because he can’t reinsert it himself when it falls out. A swing can rock him without your help, but it isn’t an ideal place for him to sleep, either. Not only will he outgrow its size pretty quickly, but it’s not meant for long, overnight sleep.

Finally, sleep train in a room where you can close the door so he can fall asleep without you. Remaining next to him might frustrate him more when he’s grown used to you rocking or feeding him to sleep. Keep your baby monitor handy so that you can see what he’s doing between check-ins.

Avoid the “feed to sleep” trap

If there’s one sleep aid that every parent would love to do away with, it’s feeding to sleep.

You’ve likely resorted to feeding your baby to sleep, especially when nothing seemed to work. You’ve rocked him long enough, the pacifier kept falling out, and he wouldn’t stop crying. That is… until you fed him to sleep.

But feeding to sleep sets up a habit he has grown accustomed to: that he needs to eat to fall asleep. Never mind that he may not even be hungry, falls asleep mid-feed, or that he could easily consume all his calories during the day.

To stop the “feed to sleep” trap is to feed him after he wakes up.

You already do this in the mornings: he wakes up and you give him his morning feeding. But instead of feeding him before his first nap, feed him after he wakes up. Adjust his nap times if needed, but ease him away from needing to feed to fall asleep.

Feeding him after he wakes up has three benefits:

  • You cut the association between feeding and falling asleep. He’ll learn to fall asleep by soothing himself rather than relying on eating.
  • Your baby consumes calories when he actually needs it: when he’s awake. He can be more alert at play time with a full belly.
  • You avoid gas or digestion issues, which can disrupt naps. If you’ve noticed him struggling to fall asleep for naps after feeding, it may be that he’s not able to sleep because he just ate.

What about the last bedtime feed? It’s okay to feed him one last time before bed, but make sure he doesn’t fall asleep in the process. It’s fine to “top him off” for the night so long as he doesn’t rely on the feeding to fall asleep. 

Define your goals

What’s your ideal sleep environment for your baby? What sleep aids are you okay with using, and which do you want to get rid of?

Decide where he should sleep in the long-term, not where it seems easier at the moment. We’re looking far into the future, not a quick fix for the night. Where do you want him to sleep a year from now? 

For instance, it might be that he sleeps in his crib in his own room, without a swaddle or a pacifier, and that he falls asleep with the help of dark curtains and a fan for white noise. Set these expectations so that you have a clear goal with sleep training.

And aim high! If you’re co-sleeping all night, don’t just say you want him to co-sleep for only the second half of the night. You truly can hope and expect him to sleep all night in his crib.

Frequently asked questions

Can I swaddle my baby during sleep training?

Swaddles were the sanity-saving tool you needed in the newborn days. But now that your baby is older, they make it impossible for him to suck his hands, which is a fantastic way to self-soothe. Plus, after the newborn stage, he no longer has the Moro reflex, so the need to keep his arms from flailing isn’t necessary. Swaddles are also unsustainable and rely on you to make them work. Lastly, he’ll outgrow swaddles at some point, so you’ll need to do away with them at some point.

How many hours is “sleeping through the night”?

Ask several parents what they consider sleeping through the night and you’ll get various definitions. For some, getting longer stretches of five to six hours of sleep counts as sleeping through the night. For others, longer periods like eight hours count, since it at least gives parents the sleep they need.

That said, I consider sleeping through the night as 10-12 hours of sleep. Children of a wide age range typically need that much sleep at night.

Is there a quick alternative to installing darkening curtains?

Hanging darkening curtains isn’t always the quickest thing to do when you’re preparing for sleep training. One easy and temporary alternative is to tape black garbage bags over the windows for now. This can buy you some time while you’re sleep training. Then, when you have more time, you can properly select and install permanent curtains.

The bottom line

Despite what you may feel right now, you’re not stuck with sleep deprivation. Sleep training can be the turning point your whole family needs to feel well-rested and happy. By preparing ahead of time, sleep training can be the success you’ve always hoped it would be.

Get more tips:

Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab 5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing—at no cost to you:

5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.