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Why is night 1 of sleep training so hard?

When babies and toddlers aren’t sleeping, no one in the house is sleeping well.

So what’s stopping these tired parents from teaching their babies to sleep through the night?

The process of sleep training – particularly what will happen on Night 1 – is too daunting a prospect to think about starting!

sleep training consultant

I want to explain what’s really happening on that first night of sleep training, because there are ways for you to make it easier for your child (and in turn for you and your spouse!).

There are four things to consider when you begin sleep training:

  1. You’re making a lot of changes

    If your baby has several sleep props – needing to be fed, rocked or held to sleep, etc – it’s going to a very different experience when instead of doing those things, you’re teaching him how to put himself to sleep with you there to comfort him…but not doing it for him.

    In the past, when he woke up in the middle of the night, he wanted you to recreate how he originally fell asleep at bedtime, so again, where you used to rock, feed or hold to sleep, now you’re giving him the opportunity to start doing it himself without you doing it for him.This is a process for him to adapt to the new routine and for some babies, they’ll figure it out quickly. Others will take more time, especially if there isn’t consistency and 1 time out of 5 or 10 or 20 they get that old sleep prop. This is why you don’t want to do it for X amount of time…you need to give your child enough time to get used to this new routine and process!

    The best thing you can do is to be consistent and not cave once you’ve started the process! This is going to be an adjustment and you need to give your child enough time to figure things out. I assure you that all babies can learn how to fall asleep without sleep props – even the most smart and stubborn babies who have never fallen asleep without their sleep props!

  2. You’ve attempted sleep training before…and caved

    The more “false starts” you have with sleep training – meaning you started sleep training and lasted a couple of hours or a couple of days and then you caved and went back to the old sleep props – the harder it’ll be when you do sleep training for real!

    Your baby learned that in the past if she protested long enough she eventually got what she was looking for – the old sleep props. This is why it’s so much easier to make the decision to do sleep training and just do it once and for all! It’s no fun to go on this roller coaster of trying and not getting the results you’re looking for and it’s confusing for your child why sometimes she’s crying for a while in her crib and sometimes you rock her to sleep.

    The best thing you can do is to wait to do sleep training until you’re really ready to start and can make it a priority for two weeks at a minimum. Whether you prepare and make a plan for how to address getting rid of sleep props, what the ideal nap and bedtime schedule should look like to prevent overtiredness, what method you’ll use, etc or work with a sleep consultant, you do want to make sure you have a specific plan of how you’ll react in each situation.

  3. You have anxiety, fear, guilt…

    Most moms I talk to really want to get their babies sleeping through the night because it’s vital for their growth and development to have that good consolidated sleep. But they’re worried about the crying, waking the other kids, that it won’t work, etc.

    I’m not here to tell you not to have those feelings, but I suggest thinking about the positive outcome of sleeping through the night and taking longer, more consistent naps, instead of the couple of nights of crying because your baby will definitely sense the worry or anxiety that you’re feeling!

    Your baby is still going to love you as much after sleep training, and in many cases, parents say that their baby’s temperament is even better with more sleep! They’re happier, more likely to self soothe and play independently, and milestones that your baby has been looking to master start becoming much easier.

    The best thing you can do is to remember that the crying and protesting is going to be short lived and what you’ll get in return is more sleep for the whole family, including your baby who needs a full night sleep consistently for growth and development. 

  4. You need to prepare ahead of time and have a plan

    Winging it – deciding at 3pm on Friday afternoon that you’re starting tonight – is not going to work very well. You and your partner need to sit down ahead of time and map out how you’re going to minimize crying and make this process as easy as possible for your little one, including the day leading up to the first night.

    You need a plan to have consistency so you know how to address the bedtime routine, how you’ll handle night wakeups if you’re starting to night weaning, what to do if he wakes up at 5am and doesn’t want to go back to sleep a more reasonable time, what the ideal schedule will be for naps and bedtime so he isn’t going to sleep overtired, how to work with daycare or the nanny to make sure everyone’s being consistent…

    The best thing you can do is to discuss with your spouse if you can make a plan yourselves (I’d even suggest writing it down so you’re literally on the same page!) or if you just want to implement a plan made specifically for your child so that you don’t have to wonder if you’re using the right method and to give you reassurance along the way. If you choose to do it yourselves, my best advice is to do your research and make sure the method matches your child’s temperament and to be really consistent. If you want someone to make a personalized plan for your child and unique situation that you can just implement and have someone who will keep you accountable and give you encouragement, I’d love to help you.

To wrap this up, I want to tell you a story of a mom who called me in July of 2016, clearly wanting to sleep train her 5 month old baby, but just not quite ready to start…for most of the reasons listed above. Well, she called me back last week saying that things with her daughter’s sleep had gotten progressively worse in the 10 months since we had last spoken and she was slightly anxious but definitely ready to start because her 15 month old was taking two 20 minute naps in the car or stroller and co-sleeping at night and only getting a few hours of consolidated sleep.

Once we started their sleep plan, this little girl started sleeping through the night on Night 3 (11.5 hours straight in her crib) and taking one longer nap. Of course Night 1 wasn’t magically easy, but she said it was time – both she and her daughter were ready – and now everyone’s much happier and well-rested!


Other posts you may find helpful:

When are Babies Ready to Give up Night Feedings?

7 Mistakes Smart Moms Make with Sleep Training

When it’s Time to Get Rid of Sleep Props and Get a Plan!

I Want to Start Sleep Training, But…


Photo credit: Deposit Photos | luminastock

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