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When to Start Sleep Training

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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Do you have questions about sleep training? Are you wondering what exactly sleep training is, when to start, or how long sleep training takes? Let me answer the most common questions about sleep training. 

If you’re looking for step-by-step guidance for how to sleep train your baby or toddler, my 5-24 Month Collection and Toddler Sleep Training classes will give you just that. I’ll teach you specific, customizable methods to establish 10-12 hours of consolidated nights and solid naps. It’s never too late to have a great little sleeper.

For babies 0-4 months, my First Five Months Bundle is not formal sleep training. But, it will help you set your days and nights up for success, learn your baby's cues, calm a fussy baby, and so much more. I'll teach you how to lay a healthy sleep foundation for your baby and love the newborn stage.

What is sleep training?anchor

Sleep training is a way of intentionally teaching your baby or toddler to independently fall asleep and sleep through the night. 

What do I mean by that? Sleep training can help your baby or toddler:

  • Fall asleep independently: They can be laid down awake and fall asleep without any help (Think: being held, rocked, or fed until they fall asleep).

  • Sleep through the night: They can sleep 10-12 hours without the need for your help or intervention (Note: this may include a night feeding for some babies until around 9 months). 

Here are some sleep training methods you may have heard about: 

  • Cry it out: (Also called total extinction or abbreviated CIO) A method that involves simply laying a baby in the crib, closing the door, and coming back to get them in the morning. 

  • Graduated extinction/Interval-based reassurance: A method that involves checking in on a baby at set intervals throughout the night (One specific form of this is called the “Ferber Method.”)

  • Chair method: A method where the parent sits in a chair next to the child’s crib or bed and gradually moves the chair farther away until they are out of room. 

  • Pick up, put down: A method in which any time a baby is crying, the parent picks them up. As soon as the baby is calm, the parent returns them to the crib.

Word of Caution: There’s a big difference between choosing a sleep training “method” and actually having an effective sleep training “plan.” A method simply tells you how you’re going to react when your little one awakens in the night. But baby sleep is about much more than just your reaction to night wakings.

Think about this: If you have a rough night of sleep, is it simply a question of what you did when you woke up in the night? No. It could also be connected to: what and how you ate the day before, how you’ve been doing emotionally, whether you were physically active, if you took a late afternoon nap, or any number of other factors. Just like you need to look at the holistic “big picture” of your life to understand your rough night, a true sleep training plan needs to account for the “big picture” of your child as a whole human… not just their night wakings.

I want you to know, my classes teach you a holistic plan that accounts for your little one as a complex, whole human. I'll address daytime sleep, feeding needs, emotional attachment, mental stimulation, physical activity, and so much more. Yes, I'm going to show you how to look at the big picture of your child's sleep to set your family up for sleep success. I also want to reassure you that my classes are not “one size fits all,” and they don’t teach just one method. Instead, because every child and family is unique, the Taking Cara Babies methods I teach are centered around meeting your individual baby or toddler right where they are developmentally. I’ll give you a research-supported plan and show you how to customize sleep training in a way that feels right to you as a parent. If you’re not sure if it’s the right fit or the right time, I’d love to share my story of sleep training with you.

Can I sleep train a newborn?anchor

No, I do not recommend sleep training a newborn (0-4 months). My goal is to meet your little one right where they are developmentally, and formal sleep training just isn’t developmentally appropriate in those first several months. However, you can still work towards great sleep during the newborn months without formal sleep training.

My First Five Months Bundle will teach you everything you need to know about newborn sleep with no crying or formal sleep training involved. Through the strategies in my class, you'll be able to read your baby's cues, calm your fussy baby, help your baby fall asleep more easily, work towards less middle of the night wakings, and truly enjoy this newborn stage.

When can you start sleep training a baby? anchor

I recommend waiting until at least 5 months before considering sleep training. This allows your baby to go through the major developmental progression that happens around months 3-4. During the 4 month sleep regression, your baby’s sleep cycles are moving towards more adult-like sleep stages. Because of this, many families who try sleep training before 5 months find that it takes longer and involves more crying. After the 5-month mark, melatonin (the body's natural sleepy hormone) begins to regulate, and the sleep cycle adjustment has been made, which makes sleep training much more effective. 

What is the best age for sleep training?anchor

There isn’t a universal answer to this, and there is no “perfect” age for sleep training. Babies can be developmentally ready to sleep train as early as 5 months, and sleep training can be appropriate from 5 months until your little one reaches 5 years. The best age for sleep training is when you decide it’s right for your family. 

Typically, for babies older than 5 months, developmental progressions, leaps, or sleep regressions are not a reason to delay sleep training. The consistency that sleep training provides can actually support healthy sleep and development. Things like illness, big transitions, travel, etc. may also play a role in when to start sleep training.  The “right” time for sleep training is truly when you're ready.   

Expert Tip: We always want to be sure your little one is healthy before beginning any sleep training. I always recommend checking with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your baby or toddler’s health. 

Can you sleep train a toddler?anchor

Yes, you can sleep train your toddler. Whether your toddler is 12-24 months or 2-4 years old, it’s never too late to have a great little sleeper. I’ll teach you a customizable, step-by-step approach to helping your toddler get the sleep they need to grow and thrive. You’ll meet your toddler right where they are developmentally while staying emotionally connected every step along the way.

How do I know when my baby is ready for sleep training?anchor

When it comes to your baby, you’re the expert. You know what’s best for your child and your family. If your little one is healthy and at least 5 months old, and you are ready to start sleep training, so is your baby or toddler. I do recommend checking with your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns about sleep training. I’d love to share my story about how I decided it was time to sleep train with my daughter Ella.

At what age can I start sleep training naps? anchor

As with night sleep, I recommend waiting until at least 5 months before considering sleep training for naps. I do typically recommend focusing on sleep training at night before sleep training naps. Most babies do best by learning night sleep first, and daytime sleep tends to naturally improve as night sleep solidifies. 

When you’re ready to start nap training, my Conquering Naps class will teach you how to confidently set up a daytime routine and predictable nap schedule that fits your family’s lifestyle and priorities. If you have my 5-24 Month Collection, Conquering Naps is included in your purchase!

How long does sleep training take? anchor

It depends! How long sleep training takes depends on your little one and the methods you choose. Some parents take my classes and tell me that their baby or toddler is sleeping 10-12 hours at night in the first few days. With consistency, you’ll see major progress within a week of implementing a plan, but for some, it does take a few weeks to see complete success. Let me assure you, if you implement the strategies in my classes: By this time next month, your baby or toddler's sleep will look completely different in the best way possible. (I guarantee it!)

Let me show you what parents have to say about my sleep training classes:

Are there any reasons not to start sleep training?anchor

Yes! Life is full of surprises that might make sleep training a bit harder, even when you’re feeling ready to begin. Here are some reasons why I would recommend delaying sleep training:

  • Your baby is younger than 5 months old. 

  • Your baby is sick or has an underlying health condition that needs attention (like untreated reflux).

  • Your baby is about to cut a tooth. (You can see the white nub just under the surface of swollen gums.)

  • You’re planning to travel within the next month.

  • You’re going to have visitors stay with you. 

  • You’re expecting a big transition, like adding a sibling, moving, or potty training

  • You’re not feeling ready to start sleep training.

If you’re considering sleep training your baby or toddler, I would love to help. Each of my classes is fully customizable to meet your baby or toddler right where they are developmentally while remaining emotionally connected.

Are you ready to have a great little sleeper?

If you're overwhelmed, exhausted, or just not sure where to start. I was there too. Let me show you everything you need to confidently handle sleep so your whole family can thrive!

Select your child's age to get started:

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