Steps To Take Before You Start Sleep Training

So you just came back from the grocery store---with your shirt on inside out, 3 day old mascara smeared across your face and bags under your eyes so big that it looks like you just had some sort of experimental injections--and you decided that maybe it's time to start some sleep training. You can only run on 4 hours of broken up nightly sleep for so long. Not to mention your arm is about to fall off from all that daily holding (although, on the plus side, your arms do look almost as buff as Jillian Michaels').

Before you get started, it's a good idea to make sure your child's is set up for the best sleep possible. There's a whole post on this that includes things such as
a good and predictable daily routine, an early bedtime, a consistent pre-sleep routine and perfect timing (putting your child to sleep before they get overtired or overstimulated). With some very easy going babies sleep issues may be fixed just by following the recommendations on the post above. With many, especially older babies, you'll need to move onto other sleep training approaches (see what I define as sleep training), whether they be no-cry or maybe cry. Before you get into the nitty gritty of that sleep training, it's good to evaluate a few things and have some things in mind so that sleep training will be as successful (and quick!) as possible.You may not be able to have everything perfectly set up before starting sleep training, but do the best you can. If you wait for the 'perfect time', you may never get there!

  • Assess your baby. Is right now a good time for your baby to begin sleep training? Avoid big times of developmental change such as when your baby is learning to roll or crawl or even learning to talk. If possible, avoid wonder weeks and common sleep regression times (4, 6, 8 and 18 months). These times aren't tough sleep times for all babies, but it's a good general rule to keep an eye out for them just in case. Rule out illness or pain (such as teething, reflux, ear infections, gas) and allergies. If you aren't confident your child is in good health, take her to a doctor before beginning sleep training--uncertainty will likely make you second guess what you are doing which can lead to be inconsistencies. Also make sure your baby is growing and eating well. This is especially important if you are breastfeeding since how much baby eats isn't as obvious.
  • Assess yourself. Do you really want change or are you just feeling pressured? Are you ready to give up some of the things you've done in the past that, although frustrating at times, are also enjoyable (like feeding or rocking to sleep)? You need to be motivated for change or you won’t follow through because, as I've mentioned before, sleep training can be tough!  Can you stop yourself from giving in when things get tough? Is guilt going to make following through difficult?
  • Assess the sleeping situation. Evaluate what your child's sleeping issues are and make sure that your sleep training plan is addressing those issues. If your child is waking up all night and you plan to do CIO, make sure the waking is due to something that CIO will actually help. If she's waking due to pain or hunger, CIO isn't going to be much of a help. Also make sure your expectations of your child's sleep are appropriate (amount of daily sleep etc).
  • Assess the timing. You want to start sleep training during a stable time in you and your child's life. No recent moves, births of babies, vacations etc. Make sure to free up some of your time during sleep training for baby and for you to get more rest.
  • Assess the sleep environment. Make sure your child's sleep environment is safe and comfortable. You'll want the roomy to be dark, a good temperature (which is usually cooler than you think) and you'll likely want a sound machine.
  • Make a sleep training plan (tips for choosing an approach here). Make sure the plan is something that you feel like you can follow through with. It is better to take smaller sleep training steps that take longer to result in change if you are more likely to follow through. When you make the plan, make sure it is very specific. Go over various scenarios of what might happen and what you'll do when they happen. If you don't have a plan, you're more likely to forget what to do at 3 am when sleep and exhaustion are overtaking you, you're more likely to give in (which will just confuse your child more AND make the whole process take longer) and you're more likely to make a quick decisions that you'll regret later on.
  • Get everyone taking care of your baby on board with the plan.
  • Get some reinforcements. Sleep training is tough. Keep in mind someone who can support you during the process. It is helpful to have someone that you can talk to on a daily basis to keep you on the right track and help you not give up! It is harder to do a "no no" with your sleep training plan when you know you have to tell someone how it went the next day :)
  • Decide to stick to the sleep training plan and BE CONSISTENT! Consistency is one of the most important aspects of sleep training. Inconsistency will confuse baby and make sleep training take longer. Try to stick with things for at least several days, even if you don't notice a huge change at first (some children can be pretty resistant to change, especially if they are older). While I encourage you to keep up with your plan until sleep improves, it is always a good idea to listen to your gut feeling and discontinue something if you don't feel good about it. Just make sure you don't just give up simply because it is hard, because it will be! That brings me to my next point...
  • Have realistic expectations of sleep training. Expect things to get worse before they get better. Expect there to be good days followed by bad days. Expect there to be sleep regressions in the future that you'll have to address with sleep training again (although it'll likely be much less eventful). Expect sleep to not change over one nap period or over night. Some kids do have a 360 in a couple days, but for many children, it can take a while longer before things really settle down, especially if you are doing more gentle sleep training techniques. And lastly, expect it to be hard. Some of the best things in life do not come easy, but the results are amazingly worth it. You'll wonder how you lived life before sleep training!
  • Have everyone catch up on their sleep before the sleep training begins, this includes parents and, if possible, baby.
  • Have a pre-sleep routine in place before naps and bedtime. Make sure it is predictable, consistent and soothing. It's also a good idea to have quiet play (or for a very young baby, snuggling) for 10-30 minutes prior to the pre-sleep routine.
  • Have some sort of routine in place throughout day and be consistent with this. Sleep needs need to be in sync with child's natural rhythms. This means an early and predictable bedtime and early rising and plenty of napping. Many people find the eat/wake/sleep routine helpful. This sleep chart of averages may be helpful too.
  • Get a video monitor. Either buy one or borrow one. You can get one with a screen or one that works with your phone (I have the dropcam and love it).
  • Buy a poopometer. Just kidding. But seriously, I wish these existed. It's the worst when your child doesn't fall asleep simply because there's a poop that you didn't know about!


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    1. Kirsten,
      I saw your question in my inbox, I hope you got things figured out!

  2. Hi Rachel,

    My baby is 8 weeks old and recently I have been having major issues with getting him to take naps. He fights it every time and is so fussy that it takes me a very long time to put him to sleep and I have to be holding him to settle him down and sleep. I try and put him in his swing to help him fall asleep because i don't want him to be dependent on me always holding him to fall asleep but if i don't he literally will not sleep.I think it might be because he is over tired and i am just missing his optimal nap time but i am having a hard time figuring that out. I want to start to sleep train him bc i feel as though he obviously needs way more sleep than hes actually getting. He usually sleeps for 30-40 min at a time and sometimes as little as 10-15 min! occasionally he will sleep for 2 hours but that is usually toward the end of the day if that happens. i am so frustrated because i am so tired and i know he is tired but i just can't seem to get him on a schedule. i have tried to follow the e/w/s schedule but he never sleeps long enough and it screws the whole thing up again.

    1. Jessie De Castro,
      You are at an age that many babies start to wake up more and fight sleep (you're also at the peak fussiness age). Keep working on trying for good timing (although perfect timing doesn't necessarily mean he'll go to sleep perfectly) and ensuring he gets the sleep he needs. Some babies can start to get really tough right now, especially with naps. If it's a sudden thing, wait a few days to see if things smooth out a bit. If they don't, you can consider doing some sort of sleep training to help out a bit. There are some ideas listed in the 0-3 month sleep post.

  3. Thank you for the great blog - such a wealth of information! I have a couple of questions if you have a few minutes to give some advice :)
    I have a 5.5 month old with whom I have developed some bad habits. He is currently held or worn for all naps. At night I walk around the living room with him for a bit until he falls asleep. Then he hangs out on the recliner sleeping on my or my husband's chest for a couple of hours. When I go to bed I put him down, already asleep, in the co-sleeper. I am ready to start sleep training with him. He does NOT know how to put himself to sleep at this point. Also, he will soon outgrow the co-sleeper and needs to start sleeping in his crib. I also have a three year old who needs/deserves more attention than I am able to give him when I am spending so much time getting my LO to sleep or sitting with him napping on me.
    I understand that a pre-sleep or bedtime routine is important. Unfortunately ours in non-existent right now. With my oldest at this age we were doing a few minutes of quiet play in his room, bottle, pj's, story, white noise, then bed. I'd like to do something similar with my 5.5 month old, but how do I establish it when he is not currently sleeping in his crib? The other night I did the routine then got him to sleep in my arms. I waited through one full sleep cycle then put him in the crib. He woke immediately. We wound up back downstairs and he was on the recliner with hubby within half an hour. My question is, does the routine need to be in place before starting ST? Short of me ending my night at 7 and staying with him in the nursery once he is asleep for the night I am not sure how to do it beforehand.
    Second, my son had surgery at 3 months and now wears a helmet. With the helmet he seems much more comfortable on his belly. I am sure this is also due to the fact that he sleeps on my chest so much :/ When I put him in the co-sleeper for the night he goes don on his belly. He has great head control ans can roll belly to back, but has only rolled back to belly a handful of times. I am wondering which way to put him down when we start ST.
    Finally, I plan on doing pu/pd with progressive checks (5, 10, then repeating 15). Do you think picking up would be too stimulating at this age? Also, I only go in if he has a distressed cry, correct?
    Thank you if you have read this far :) This little on is so different than my oldest, who was in his crib at 6 weeks and putting himself to sleep by 4 months!

  4. Hi Rachel! I started ST my son using the Sleepeasy Solution as a guide 3 nights ago. Our main concerns were ditching the swaddle, falling alseep without rocking/paci, staying in the crib and frequent night wakings. Below are quick logs from the past few nights. Please if someone could give me some advice on what to do tonight, I would really appreciate it. As you can see below, it seems like he can almost go all night without a bottle. If I need to establish a cutt off time, what is it? I'm happy just to go down to one predictable feeding!

    night 1: cried 40 min. woke up for 4 oz bottle at 1:30 and 5:30. I broke down and co-slept with him after 5:30 until 8.

    night 2:cried 30 min. woke up for 4 oz bottle at 1:30 and 4:30. Slept in crib until 6:30.

    night 3: cried 40 min (had to wake him up after falling asleep at the bottle). 5oz bottle at 1:30, 3 oz bottle (25 min of CIO) and up for the day at 6:30

    night 4: tried hard to wake him up after bottle and couldn't, so I left him asleep. Woke crying at 12am and I did checks until he fell asleep after 30 min. 4 oz bottle at 5. Up for the day at 6:30

  5. Hi There!!!
    Am I able to contact you privately via an email?


    1. I'm sorry Jas, not right now. I don't have enough free time for that.