When to Expect Positive Change when Working on your Child’s Sleep (or sleep training)

Working with baby and child sleep is like doing a jigsaw puzzle that has some missing pieces, some placed in the wrong position and a handful of extra pieces from another puzzle that don’t belong thrown in for good measure. Some children need all seven steps to be implemented consistently for them to sleep as soundly as possible, while others require only one or two smaller changes. Irrespective of how many you use, it is important that you give each one time to work. I always ask parents I work with to allow at least six, preferably eight, weeks of doing something consistently before they try to assess progress. When you start to work with sleep it’s common for it to regress initially, all that change often means it gets worse temporarily, sometimes quite considerably so. Add to this life happens; babies teethe, toddlers catch colds, you move house, go on holiday, new babies arrive and so on. Every time something changes in a child’s life their sleep inevitably nose dives. Then you can have a long slog with no results and too many parents give up too soon, thinking that their efforts aren’t working and rush onto the next option. It is so important to be consistent, stick at what you’re doing and try to think of progress as a long-term thing.

If I could draw you a chart showing what to expect when you start to work with sleep,
it would look a little like this:

The same up and down timeframe is true of nap drops. Many parents mistakenly think their child isn’t ready to drop a nap, because when they try, the child becomes very upset, overtired, grouchy and struggles to get to bedtime. Often nap drops result in difficult nights too, with more waking than usual, or much earlier morning waking. These are all normal and not signs that dropping a nap is a bad idea. Nap drops create temporary sleep deprivation while the child’s body clock takes time to reset and get used to running on te new timings, until this point their sleep and behaviour will likely be very tricky. Don’t be confused that this indicates dropping a nap is a bad idea, it will take at least a month until you will be able to analyse the impact of the nap drop and your child’s sleep will ultimately improve.

Gentle techniques take time to work. Please don’t try something once or twice (or in isolation) and think ‘Oh, that doesn’t work’, before giving up on it. expect your efforts to take a minimum of six to eight weeks to see good results. Expect it to get worse (or at least no better) initially and expect to feel like giving up when you don’t see quick results. You are working for a long-term positive change to your child’s sleep, not just to improve it in the short term, but to set them up with good sleep habits for life. That all takes time and a lot of consistency on your part.

For more ways to improve your baby, toddler or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT conventional cry based sleep training, check out the brand new updated edition of The Gentle Sleep Book.


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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