When Can I Sleep Train?
Do a Google search for, “What age can I sleep train my baby?” and you’ll be bombarded with a wide variety of answers – all conflicting! Some sources may tell you that you can sleep train a newborn. Others will insist that if you don’t sleep train by 6 months, it’s “game over” and your child is doomed for a lifetime of poor sleep. At Oh Baby Consulting, we believe that formal “sleep training” can begin around 16 weeks adjusted age. However, it is never too early to lay the foundation for good sleep, and it’s never too late to implement healthy sleep habits.
Why We Don’t Sleep Train Newborns
While there are many things you can do during the newborn phase to lay a foundation for a lifetime of healthy sleep, there are a variety of reasons why it is best to wait until your baby is a bit older to introduce formal sleep training.
Sleep training teaches children to fall asleep on their own wholly unassisted by any type of external sleep prop.
Newborns are too new to the world to be able to exercise the skills needed to self-soothe on their own. They are still adjusting to “life on the outside” after having spent 9 long months cocooned inside you. Additionally, they are not biologically ready to do so. Studies have shown that melatonin (the hormone that allows us to fall and stay asleep) is not excreted from the brain in regular intervals until somewhere between 9 and 15 weeks. Attempting to train a baby younger than 16 weeks may be a fool’s errand if they are incapable of regulating their sleep.
During the first few months of life, a newborn’s sleep and wake patterns will be largely dictated by their tiny tummies. They will wake when they need to be fed simply because their bodies are unable to hold the volume of food needed to satiate them for 12+ hours at night. Until their brains and bodies become a bit more mature, proper “sleep training” is not advised or effective.
However, that does not mean that you can’t do anything to help regulate sleep in the newborn stage. At Oh Baby, we love working with newborns because there is still a ton of skill building that can be done during the first few months of your baby’s life. I’ve supported many parents as they’ve laid a healthy foundation for independent sleep habits with gentle, no-cry strategies.
When Should I Sleep Train?
While 16 weeks adjusted age is the earliest I would recommend formal sleep training, it is by no means necessary to start ASAP at this age. There are arguments to be made that the longer you wait, the more challenging it can become simply due to the amount of time your baby has been sleeping poorly. But truth be told, there are challenges at every age.
For example, infants under 6 months often struggle with short naps. Sometimes, no matter how diligent we are in maintaining an appropriate schedule and implementing independent sleep habits, babies’ bodies just are not ready to extend the length of daytime naps until they are a bit older. That being said, trying to undo 3+ years of bad sleep habits when working with a toddler can also pose some significant challenges: they are likely in a bed and can get up and down freely, they hate being told what to do, and they may struggle with some more complex emotions that can make nights difficult.
When Is Sleep Training Most Effective?
Above all, the best time to sleep train actually has nothing to do with age. The very best time to sleep train is when YOU are ready to make a change. Sleep training has as much to do with your level of commitment as it does with your child’s readiness. Sleep training takes time and effort, but the rewards you will reap are unmatched. Before starting, it may help to ask yourself these important questions:
- What does my schedule look like for the next few weeks? Are there any events, trips, etc. that might disrupt the process?
- Am I confident in the method that I am choosing to use, and am I confident that I can handle all the nuances that will come with my particular child? (I can take this one off your plate!)
- Am I ready to completely commit to the process for at least 2-4 weeks to help lay a strong foundation?
- Is my whole family on board with making a change to our sleep situation?
- Am I willing to make the changes necessary to achieve my goals?
If you are fed up with spending hours at bedtime trying to get your baby to fall asleep or are totally exhausted after waking several times a night to repeat the process over again, then now is the right time. You’re ready for more sleep, your baby is ready for more sleep, and I am ready to help you achieve this!
If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!