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When Sleep Training Doesn't Work

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

When Sleep Training Doesn't Work
When Sleep Training Doesn't Work

If you are co-sleeping and or your baby is using a soother | dummy to fall to sleep. Don't take offence to this image that I am choosing to use under the title of 'When sleep training doesn't work'.

First of all, many parents will resort to doing what works best for them, and in that case, good for you. You are the parent, it's your choice to do what works best for you and your family, there really is no right or wrong, as long as you are all happy and getting some much-needed sleep.

sleep training a baby
Sleep training a baby

I get many emails and phone calls from clients who will tell me that they have 'tried' sleep training several times, and it just didn't work for them. 99% I can turn the sleep around for the better, once the parent understands how sleep works, and what is really going on, how to fix it and then being held accountable for their own behaviour during the training period.

Now I'm not saying that I know everything there is to know, as there are certain variables from family to family, personalities to take into consideration and the depth of the sleep issue at hand.

I honestly think that the definition of sleep training not working, comes down to a few different factors.

  1. What was the initial expectation?

  2. Did you know what the root cause of your initial sleep issue was

  3. Consistent execution of strategy

  4. Understanding the difference between a true sleep issue and a development phase that may temporarily impact the quality of sleep

Let's break each of these down into more detail.


sleep training babies
Sleep Training Expectations

Without a doubt, I think everything comes down to expectations - as adults, we create a goal and shape that to what we want the desired outcome to be. For the sake of this post, using sleep training as an example, a parent might set out with the goal being that their baby will sleep 12 hours. I see this in client goals all the time. My answer to this straight away is, it's not realistic to expect that or to create a mould for 12 hours and then push your baby into it. If you can only get 11 hours of sleep, would you consider that a failed attempt?

Guess what, some clients/parents do - because they have read, or they have heard it should be 12 hours, and the on their quest to get 12 hours, they end up undoing work that they have done or confusing their baby or themselves on the quest for 12 hours.

I can actually use this scenario too many many 'sleep training fails' that I hear about, but they do not actually fail, the goal was set up incorrectly, the bar was set too high. To think of another one off the top of my head, would be to train a baby to not wake up - IMPOSSIBLE!


It's easy to jump into a change when you feel desperate and being sleep deprived can lead to feelings of desperation fast! But babies are not experiments, and you don't want to fall into a habit of looking for a quick fix solution 'in the moment' that is not helping you long term ( also known as when sleep training doesn't work!)

If you falling into a habit of trying this and trying that you are being too experimental. You want to know exactly what the root cause of the sleep issue is and fix it at the root cause. In some cases there may be more than one thing going on, resulting in a multi-layered approach - many times I have to change clients work on the routine before they can change the sleep behaviour.

If you take a band-aid approach, you may feel like you are seeing a change initially but it will only be short-lived. To give you an example a common issue would be to swap out associations - so this could be a Mum whose root cause issue is her baby nurses to sleep, but she feels stuck and doesn't know how to get out of it, so instead of nursing to sleep she changes it over to rocking to sleep - the root cause of the issue here is that the baby does not know how to fall to sleep in either circumstance and although rocking is a weaker association to move away from, its still a prop. Ao, all it's doing is buying you time - the main issue is still present.


I talk about consistency a lot, and the reason for this is that many parents will fail at sleep training due to crying - NO parent wants to hear their baby cry, but when it comes to change, it's part of the process, its unrealistic to expect change without tears.

Did you know that the best way to have the least amount of tears in the process is to be consistent?

When clients tell me that they want to go a gentle root, my answer to that is" can be you consistent in your own behaviour? " It's not fair to your baby for you to be dealing with them in several different ways (to the same problem. When I look at sleep logs, responding in an Inconsistent manner will result in YOU going around in circles.

A baby can not tell one waking from another, so if you respond to one waking as a feeding, one waking as rocking and one waking as bringing them into your bed, how do they know what they will get and when? Ever played the slots in Vegas? when you have a machine that pays out sporadically, you stay at that machine - as it keeps you guessing, if the machine never paid out, you move on. Nothing to see here.


Sleep Training Toddlers


I know, I know, you have all heard about them - The 4-month sleep regression, The 5-month sleep regression, The 6-month sleep regression, I mean honestly, it's monthly if you listen to the internet.

Think development, all sleep regressions are actually development phases, that affect sleep ( negatively in a parent's eyes ) which can often give you the impression sleep training has not worked or isn't working. To give you an example of what I mean, you may train your baby to sleep really well at 5 months of age, but at 6 months when you add in solids, the sleep goes a little wonky - is that a sleep issue? or is that the gut now getting used to digesting food that it's not had before, this can cause gas overnight or a bowel movement, resulting in your baby being up and awake having a hard time going back to sleep. This is not a sleep issue, this is an introducing solids side effect - catch my drift? you know how you feel after you have your big Thanksgiving dinner or stuff yourself silly with your Christmas dinner and all the trimmings, you feel full, you feel uncomfortable, you feel like you can't sleep well - Do you think, your sleep is regressing?

True sleep issues often stem from not having a good solid sleep foundation.

  • How you fall to sleep

  • What you rely on

  • How you go back to sleep

Once you have a solid sleep foundation your baby or young Child's sleep will be impacted by development but they won't lose the foundation unless you go backwards and bandaid the problem creating new expectations.

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