Here’s What You Need to Sleep Train (and What You Don’t)


When you’re worried about sleep training, it’s easy to wonder what things you really need – and then to second guess yourself and wonder if you’re getting things you don’t actually need.

Sleep training requirements include a positive sleep environment, a plan, knowledge, and qualities like patience, flexibility, and consistency. Backup plans, support, and help are nice to have. Fancy new equipment, negativity, and worrying about other problems are not required nor recommended.

Even so, let’s talk more about each of these requirements, things that are nice to have, and the things to skip. That way, you’ll know exactly what you need and what you don’t – all while saving yourself hours of research, headaches, and lots of money.

What You Absolutely Need to Sleep Train

After sleep training four kids, countless hours of research, and helping thousands of other parents with their sleep training questions, I’ve found that only 3 things are truly required when it comes to sleep training.

  1. A comfortable and restful place to sleep.
  2. A goal and a plan to get there.
  3. Positive qualities that make being a human (and a parent) more bearable and enjoyable.

Those three things are all that’s truly needed for sleep training. Sure, there are some other nice-to-have things (that we’ll talk about later in the article). But these three things are all that’s truly required.

So, let’s talk about them in more depth.

A Positive Sleep Environment

As a general rule, humans like consistency. We like knowing where we’re going to sleep each night – and we like knowing it’s going to be safe. Even more, we like where we sleep to be an environment that’s going to help us sleep better.

So go ahead and create that kind of environment for your children. Make them a place to sleep that helps them get the best sleep possible. Start by giving them a designated place to sleep.

  • Perhaps they’ll sleep in a portable crib next to your bed.
  • Maybe it means you give them their own room.
  • Or maybe it means you put up a screen to wall off a section of a room.
  • In some instances, it may mean moving them to a corner or even a closet.

There’s not a wrong answer for where your child will sleep. No matter where they’ll be sleeping, you can still engineer the area to be an environment that promotes sleep.

Once they’ve got a spot to sleep, go ahead and use these guidelines to make it a positive sleep environment.

Positive Sleep Environment QualitiesWays to Make that Happen
SafeKeep bedrooms clean and tidy – and keep any hazards out of beds (especially any choking, entrapment, strangulation risks for children)
DarkClose blinds or consider using blackout curtains to help bedrooms and sleeping areas be dark.
Away from the hustle and bustleMost home designs have bedrooms back or away from living spaces to help us get away for sleeping. White noise may also help.
QuietUse a white noise machine to cover any other noises and create a quiet sleeping environment.
A cool, comfortable temperatureAdjust your thermostat and/or use fans to keep bedrooms a comfortable temperature.
Bedding and nighttime clothingBabies will need swaddlers; toddlers may sleep just in jammies; and older children may want actual bedding.
Special blankies, toys, or pacifiers (optional)Children who have a special blankie, lovie (stuffed animal or toy), or pacifier may need them to fall asleep and/or self-soothe during the night.
Night lights (optional)For children who are scared of the dark, you may need to use a nightlight to help them sleep while keeping the room as dark as possible. Consider one on a timer.
Wake-up clocks (optional)To help children know when it’s okay to wake up, a wake-up clock may be helpful. Some even simulate the rising sun (dawn) to help wake children.
Distraction FreeKeep distractions out of bedrooms. This may include toys and books. Screens should also be kept out of sleeping areas, as the light can interfere with sleep-wake cycles.

Please note that some of the items are marked as optional. However, they’re included here because so many children seem to need them that they’re almost required.

Each of our four kids has ended up needing some or all of these “optional” things in their sleep environment in order to get the best sleep possible.

To see the easiest-to-use and best-priced bedroom gear like white noise machines, clocks, swaddlers, and more… Click here to see the stuff we use and recommend.

Once you’ve got a great sleep environment set up for your child, it’s time to make sure you’ve got a solid plan in place to make sleep training happen.

A Sleep Training Action Plan (Plan A)

Now we’re ready to actually sleep train – or at least to plan for it. Because having a plan in place will help us make sure that we succeed.

  • If you haven’t done any sleep training before, that’s okay. Pick a method that appeals to you and that’s going to be your new plan.
  • If you have done any kind of sleep training before, that’s okay, too. Pick a method that appeals to you (whether it’s a plan you’ve tried before or not) and that’s where you’ll start.

Once you’ve picked your favorite method, you’re going to want to use that set a sleep training routine. That will help you be ready for any and every possibility – by being prepared in advance with how you’ll respond.

To read my article on how to create and craft the perfect sleep training routine for your family, click here. That article breaks routines down by age so it’s got you covered no matter how old your child is.

Got your plan and routines scheduled? Awesome. This is your Plan A. From here, you’ll want to use some sort of regular evaluation and adjustment of your Plan A to make sure it’s keeping you on track to your sleep goals.

  • In other words, keep track of what works. Keep using that.
  • Note what isn’t working. Ditch what isn’t working and try something else instead.
  • Test the changes you’ve made to your plan. Keep what works and change what doesn’t.
  • Know that this is a process – so it may take some time.

As a nurse, we called this process PIE – Plan, Implement, and Evaluate. It’s a simple acronym that helps your Plan A stay on course. That way, you aren’t getting caught up in things that don’t work and getting frustrated. Instead, PIE gives you the creativity and flexibility you need to make the changes you need in order to succeed.

But congratulations – you’ve got your plan. That’s a must-have for sleep training and sleep success.

Knowledge about Sleep Training is a Must

Another vital part of sleep training is having basic knowledge of human development and/or sleep training. Now, I’m not saying you have to get a degree in child development or psychology.

Rather, what you need to know is that children aren’t adults. Children do the best they can. So if they aren’t doing the best they can, it’s not because they’re trying to manipulate you or to make you angry. They’re doing what they know.

So give them more knowledge and tools to succeed as a human being. Help them learn. In this particular case, we’re helping them learn how to sleep. And in many cases, we’re doing that by simply educating ourselves so that we know how to help them.

One valuable piece of information that’s not discussed is this: it’s okay to let your child cry for a few minutes before responding to them. Especially at night! This is something that’s usually not explicitly stated because older generations (and other cultures) think it’s too basic to need mentioning.

However, the number of visits to this and other websites that talk about sleep issues prove it’s not too basic to mention.

So if you can learn the usual pace at which children develop, that’s awesome. Or if you just keep reading here about sleep training, that’s awesome, too. I’ll keep sharing what I know and learn – and what new studies conclude.

In any case, keep learning. If you learn only one new thing per day, by the end of the year you’ll know 365 more things than you did today. And if that’s 365 new things about kids and sleep training, whoa. Can you just imagine how much easier it will be to sleep train with all of that knowledge you can recall?

Flexibility, Patience, Determination, and Consistency

Having all of the plans, knowledge, and right bedroom settings can only get you so far. Next, you need to be prepared to stick with it. You need qualities like patience, flexibility, consistency, and determination.

Because sleep training isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s a process that can take several days or several weeks.

With one of our kids, we had sleep regression followed by illness followed by another illness – meaning sleep training took several months thanks to a perfect storm. That took a lot of patience – and I hope it never happens again!

Patience is important because it gives you empathy for your child and yourself. This isn’t something your child is choosing to do to you – it’s an awful situation that they need your help getting out of.

Flexibility is vital because things change – and so you need to be able to adapt, too. Your child isn’t a robot; they’re human beings and their needs will change. So be adaptable enough to meet their needs and change their sleep training as things come up.

Determination is key because sleep training won’t (generally) happen overnight. It’s going to take several nights up to several weeks long. You’re going to need some gumption and stubbornness to keep going – especially if the going gets tough. This may have some bumps in the road – but the goal of getting enough sleep is worth it.

Consistency is how we build and teach habits. Being inconsistent isn’t helping anyone build habits. Rather, it breaks them. So help everyone build better sleep habits by being as consistent as possible.

These traits and qualities make sleep training much more bearable, doable, and likely to succeed. So work on cultivating these traits in yourself – and then watch your stress melt away during sleep training.

Oh, and here’s a fun fact: people can feel your stress. And by people, I mean your children – even your babies. They just don’t know that they can. So if you’re stressed, they’re going to feel and reflect that stress back at you. This means everyone is more stressed – and even more unable to fall asleep easily.

So take a step back. Take some deep breaths. Do some meditation and mindfulness practice. Take the stress out of the equation – and watch as sleep becomes easier for everyone involved.

Nice-to-Have Things When Sleep Training

As you’re sleep training, there are a few nice-to-have things that are worth mentioning. These things have come in handy for us on multiple occasions, but aren’t always totally required.

So if you’re going to do some in-advance planning, I’d recommend that you strongly consider having these on hand. However, they aren’t explicitly required to see sleep training success.

More Backup Plans

When you’re looking at your sleep training plan, it can be nice to have a backup plan. After all, you may be afraid that you’ve picked the wrong Plan A. So go ahead and pick a Plan B. That way, you can give your all to Plan A and increase the odds of seeing success with your Plan A.

However, in the small, off chance that Plan A doesn’t work, that’s okay. Because you’ve got Plan B (or even a Plan C) that you can pull out of your back pocket and use.

For our children, we had an original Plan A for nighttime sleep training: a gradual method. It didn’t work – so we resorted to a Plan B of a modified-for-us cry-it-out that we created. It worked.

On the flip side, we had a Plan A for naptime sleep training (of our modified cry-it-out method) that didn’t work. So we fell back on our Plan C – a totally different gradual method (fading) that did work.

It’s totally fine to have backup plans – if you make them work for you. However, if you’re using creating backup plans as a way to procrastinate implementing your Plan A, that’s when having backup plans will backfire.

Go ahead and implement your original plan already. Start working towards success. You can tweak it as you go. And that’s why having backup plans isn’t required and is simply a “nice to have” item.

Your Extended Family and/or Village

When you’re exhausted, it’s awesome to have someone to ask for help. However, not everyone does have a support system in place where they’re at. For that reason, I had to list your extended family and village in the “nice to have” category.

Because if you do have them, they’re an amazing resource. Use them. Ask them for help!

Let your family and village help however they’re comfortable. Some may offer to clean the house while you nap with the baby. Let them. Others may hold the napping baby while you get a shower or take a nap alone. That’s awesome. Perhaps neighbors will bring in meals. That’s great.

Take the help and support you can get from your extended family, village, church, neighbors, or whoever offers it.

However, if you don’t know anyone around you, that’s okay, too. Sleep training is still possible. You’ll just need to build in some sort of a recovery plan for you into things.

That may mean taking naps with your baby (if possible) or going to bed early. It may mean trading shifts with your partner/spouse so you each get a “night off” from time to time.

Or it may mean buckling down and finding a new support system in your area. You can reach out to local church congregations, mom groups at the library, making friends at storytime, or looking for a mom group online. It can be whatever you decide it should look like.

In any case, having a support network is awesome. It isn’t explicitly required to sleep train, but it sure does make things easier.

A Sleep Support Team

Some families decide they don’t want to tackle sleep training alone. These families decide to invest in sleep consultants or sleep trainers to help them along their journey to a better night’s sleep.

That’s awesome. However, a pediatric sleep coach isn’t a requirement for successful sleep training. Most families can manage without one just fine.

However, if you feel that your family would do better with a personal coach in your corner and you can afford to hire one, that’s awesome. Go for it. To see approximate pricing for hiring a sleep coach (along with my personal thoughts on hiring coaches), make sure you read this article here. That article also talks about some sleep trainer certifications you need to know and consider.

Or, to skip ahead and see which sleep consultants (and sleep training programs) I recommend, go ahead and click here. Between all of the programs and coaches I recommend, there’s an option for every budget.

Ready-Made Dinners and Meals

When you’re getting ready to sleep train a child, other things are going to get forgotten. In our case, it was dinners and meals. While dealing with a crying child and bedtimes, planning and eating meals suddenly became an awful lot harder.

So if you can plan in advance, make some freezer meals or come up with a plan of attack so that meals aren’t an afterthought. That way, you’ll have the energy you need to stick to your sleep training plan.

Having the meals planned in advance for our kids during sleep training was an amazingly awesome thing to have in place. However, it’s definitely not necessary for everyone. Do what works for your family.

But if you end up buying a few frozen lasagnas or microwave dinners for a backup plan on busy sleep training nights, that’s okay, too. You’re prepared. And by being prepared, it’ll make focusing on sleep that much easier.

What You Don’t Need (and may not even want) When Sleep Training

Finally, let’s talk about what you don’t need when sleep training. Some of these items may end up in your personal nice-to-have list. If so, that’s just fine. In my experience and research, however, these things don’t need to be on your radar for several reasons.

Most of these things are superfluous, or way more than what’s called for. That or they’re just so expensive that they’re prohibitive from being used by those of us who live on a budget. And because I want to make sure that sleep training can be done without needing gear that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, these items just aren’t necessary.

However, if you want to get these items and can afford them, that’s fine, too. Just know that they are far less likely to be tested en mass – and so they may not live up to their advertised hype.

Fancy, New Equipment and/or Gear

There are a lot of fancy new devices that advertise themselves as sleep training miracles.

I’ve seen specialized cribs, carriers, and bassinets. Some are motorized. Others have special swaddling systems built into them. And others have everything you could possibly need to help your baby get to sleep, including specialized lights.

While these devices may help to some degree in sleep training, the simple fact is this: once your child outgrows them, you’re back to square one. You’re going to have to sleep train your child away from whatever sleep crutch you were using.

So instead of creating a negative sleep association, just do sleep training right the first time. To read more about sleep training and sleep associations, read my article on it – just click here to read it now.

There are also specialized baby monitor systems that say they lessen the odds of SIDS by monitoring your baby’s oxygen rates and heartrate.

Please note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends being wary of any device that claims it reduces the risk of SIDS.

Baby monitors can be an amazing thing – or they can become a huge issue that creates a false sense of security. Also, monitors are never a replacement for common sense and checking on your baby (in person) if there’s an issue.

If you need a baby monitor to help you feel safer as you’re transitioning a baby into their own room, that’s fine. Just remember it’s a tool and not a diagnostic device. A standard, sound-based sleep monitor is generally enough. In some cases, a video monitor may also be nice.

But a pulse oximetry monitor (one that monitors heart rate and oxygen saturation) is usually only recommended with a doctor’s prescription. That’s for several reasons. One of the reasons, that was drilled into me as a hospital nurse, was that using a light-based pulse oximeter in one location for too long can cause burns on sensitive baby skin.

Negativity or to Feel Judged

Another thing that is absolutely not necessary while sleep training is to feel judged – or all of the negativity that comes along with sleep training.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot anyone can do about the Judgy McJudgersons. The McJudgersons are going to keep offering unsolicited advice, opinions, and judgment every chance they get.

However, you can recognize that the McJudgersons are an issue – and not become one yourself. If enough people choose empathy over harsh criticisms, then the negativity will naturally lessen.

To offset and minimize the negativity, make sure you find a great support group. Find other parents who will support you in your parenting journey, even if you each take a different path.

That should be the goal, shouldn’t it? To be able to support each other and empathize and try to understand why others take different paths – even if we don’t take the same path ourselves. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with others’ decisions – just that we show them love, empathy, and understanding.

So let’s be the change we want to see. We may have to build the change slowly, but it will make things better for everyone.

To Worry About Other Problems Right Now

The last thing that’s absolutely not necessary while sleep training is to worry about other problems – at least for the time being. Focusing on too many things at once means we can’t focus on any of them for long enough to see success. Especially because we’re sleep-deprived!

So for now, focus on one problem at a time. Right now, you’re probably focusing on sleep training. That’s awesome. Worry about one step and one goal at a time along the sleep training path. Once a concern has been solved enough, then you can focus on the next issue.

For our oldest boy, we were dealing with a nasty sleep regression and trying to get him to try new foods. We only saw success when we stopped worrying about his diet and focused first on his sleep. Oh, and his diet? We’re still working on it several years later.

So if you can, focus on one thing at a time. Odds are you’ve got other things going on, but try to minimize spending your focus on too many things. Use premade meals so you don’t have to stress about dinners.

Focus on one aspect of sleep training at a time – once you get nighttime figured out, then you can look at naps.

Dealing with being exhausted and getting everyone back on track is already an awful lot on your plate. So go ahead and deal with it – and then you can get back to everything else.

Things will get better, so keep at it.

Related Questions

How Do You Sleep Train without Crying it Out? Sleep training without crying is possible with gradual, behavior-based sleep training methods like fading, pick-up/put-down, or camping out methods. Read more about behavioral sleep training here.

When Should You NOT Sleep Train? Sleep training should be avoided, skipped, or quit if it becomes harmful to the family’s health or well-being. For more information on when not to sleep train, read this article on when and why to quit sleep training.

Will Sleep Training Harm My Baby? Generally speaking, when sleep training is done right it is totally safe and has no long-lasting effects (positive or negative). For more information on sleep training, click here for studies on sleep training safety or click here for if it’s good for your family.

Kimberly C. Starr, RN BSN

I’m a ginger-haired nurse (RN, BSN) who loves getting enough sleep to be a functional parent to my four wonderful kids - who are even more wonderful when they’ve gotten enough sleep, too. To read more about me, click here.

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