When should you start sleep training? What a great question. And it’s one people ask a lot because they worry that it might be too soon, or it might be too late and when is the best time?
First of all, it’s never too early and it’s never too late. Starting on the early side, it can never be too early. You can prepare to learn and understand about little one’s sleep and about newborn baby sleep before you even have the baby. You don’t need to implement anything, but just by learning and understanding it, you can get really prepared for the routine and the rhythm and the atmosphere and the environment. And actually then when your baby arrives, you can get them off to a really great start with their sleep. So that’s how early you can begin. Now, if they’re in the newborn stage, baby has arrived and you want to start working on sleep, it’s going to just be very little subtle practices at that stage. Routine, creating rhythmicity for them, helping them to distinguish night from day and just some subtle rhythms. That’s all you’re looking at, rhythms, cues and little practices.
You’re not expecting a newborn baby to sleep through the night by any means, they’re going to wake and they’re going to wake regularly because they’re going to need to for feeding purposes as a newborn. But those little practices and those cues you can set up, those triggers and environmental factors will all help to shape your new baby’s sleep as they grow and develop. So you can get started with basic shaping techniques right from the beginning.
Once they move on beyond 18 weeks and they start to regulate more day and night, and they are into a bit more of a rhythm, a bit more routine, and you are starting to spot… We’ve got naps and wakeful times, and it’s becoming a bit more rhythmic. That’s a really good time to look at working on the sleep a bit more, or as some would say, to start sleep training.
And so the optimum time I would recommend sleep training would be somewhere between four and six months. Why? Because they’re ready and they’re able, but they’re also still really, really malleable. So any sleep onset associations, that’s things that help them get to sleep can be shifted, moved, evolved, changed without it being too much of a big deal. If it’s been there a long time, it can be very ingrained and harder to shift. But at four to six months, we can start to look at which of these associations are positive and helpful ones, which are maybe not so helpful and not so conducive to good sleep. And we can then just fine tune those really, really well. So between four and six months is absolutely great. That’s when I would say it is the optimal time.
What if they’re older though? Well, first of all, once they go beyond six months, those onset associations, any habits and routines, they start to embed a bit more and little ones will start to become more aware. So they’re aware if it’s not there, they’re aware if it is there. They’re more inclined to get frustrated if the thing they’re expecting doesn’t happen. They just get more set in their ways, slowly as time goes on.
Then you get to stubborn toddlers who know exactly what they want, and they are willing to hold out as long as it takes, which can be a challenging stage too. That’s not to say it’s too difficult. That’s not to say it’s too late. It just requires a different strategy and we need to look at what is going on with the little one’s sleep. Are they really overtired? Are they not getting enough sleep in the day? Is bedtime a regular time? Or does it move around all the time? And what are the patterns looking like? Are they ideal? Are they optimal for the best sleep for this little one at that age?
And do they have any unhelpful associations with falling asleep that aren’t actually helping them to prolong their sleep or have stretches? Are they waking frequently and so on. So we have to look at what’s going on and then determine the best way to approach the sleep training at any stage. But the point is, it is never too late and it is certainly never too early. You can help your little one to sleep better at any time.
I created a brand new video series for you called ‘Sweet Dreams’. These 3 short videos will help you understand your little one’s sleep, so check out video #1 right now – HERE
If you’d like to have a chat about challenges with your little one’s sleep and receive a complimentary ‘next steps’ plan, we invite you to schedule a no-cost Discovery Call with one of our coaches today.