When my baby had trouble falling and staying asleep all night, I wondered – will I need to sleep train my child? Is sleep training really necessary for children? Or am I just stuck never getting to sleep again?
Sleep training is not necessary, but it may help families with immediate sleep interruption problems. For children with chronic sleep trouble, sleep training may also help prevent chronic sleep problems throughout childhood and into adulthood.
So let’s look at when sleep training may be necessary – and when it isn’t.
Is Sleep Training Essential? Answer These Questions and Find Out!
Sleep training isn’t required for every family or every child. It becomes a necessity when the existing family sleep patterns are problematic for some or all members of the family.
In order to see if sleep training is something that your family needs, ask yourself the following 2 questions:
- Is your current sleeping situation working for your child?
- Is your current sleep situation working for you?
Here’s how you know if sleep training is required, based on your answers. If you answered:
- “No” to both questions, then sleep training probably isn’t required at this time.
- “Yes” to either questions 1 or 2, then sleep training may be something that would benefit your family.
- “Yes” to both questions 1 and 2, then sleep training may be required in order to improve an immediate sleep interruption problem.
If you still aren’t sure that sleep training would be essential or even helpful, ask yourself these follow-up questions:
- Why isn’t the current sleep situation working for your family?
- What does the sleeping situation need to look like?
- What are you willing to invest or do in order for your sleep situation to change?
Answering these questions will help you solidify your decision as to whether or not sleep training is required in your situation.
Example: In my situation, I was sleep-deprived enough that it was becoming hugely problematic for our family. We were willing to invest by learning a behavioral sleep training technique and implementing it. So for our family, sleep training became a necessary and helpful tool.
When Sleep Training May Be Necessary (With Examples)
Some people are naturally poor (or difficult) sleepers. This stems from a whole list of reasons. For these people, sleep training is a huge blessing – no matter their age. In fact, sleep troubles can be found in a significant portion of the population.
Bedtime problems and frequent night wakings are highly prevalent in young children, occurring in approximately 20-30% of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.American Academy of Sleep Medicine
This group can definitely benefit from sleep training – and may be a necessity for them. Studies are showing an amazing trend:
For children with chronic sleep trouble, sleep training may do more than just help fix immediate sleep interruption issues. It may also help prevent chronic sleep problems throughout childhood and into adulthood.
In other words, difficult sleepers may not only see the immediate benefits of sleep training – there may actually be a long-term benefit for them.
In these cases, sleep training wouldn’t just be a helpful thing – it would be a complete necessity for their health, development, and well-being.
Example 1: a mom is starting back at work after her child turns a year old. The toddler still wakes up multiple times each night and requires rocking for up to an hour before falling back asleep. Mom is beyond exhausted and worried about going back to work.
Mom’s health and well-being are at risk here. She’s unable to keep up with this strenuous and grueling schedule. Sleep training is definitely going to make a positive impact in this case!
Example 2: two parents take turns getting up at night to feed and comfort their 6-month-old back to sleep. The child wakes up multiple times each night and will scream until the favorite parent gets up to come in and take over. Everyone is exhausted and frustrated.
The family has realized a horrifying truth: this isn’t sustainable. Sleep training will help everyone – not just the 6-month-old. The parents need to invest in researching and implementing behavioral sleep training techniques.
Example 3: two parents, who co-sleep with their 3-year-old and their newborn baby. The bed is getting crowded and the 3-year-old is kicking mom and newborn awake multiple times each night. The newborn’s cries keep waking up everyone else, too.
This family is no longer happy with their sleeping arrangement and is ready for a positive change. Not only would behavioral sleep training help them, but so might a different bed for the 3-year-old.
Example 4: an 11-month-old sleeps in a crib in their own room, but wakes up frequently at night and needs extensive comforting to go back to sleep. Nobody is getting enough sleep.
This sounds exhausting – and reminds me all too much of how our own kids were at this particular age! These parents will want to implement a behavioral sleep training method as soon as possible – so that everyone is getting a better night’s sleep.
When Sleep Training Isn’t Required (More Examples!)
For the other 70-80% of the population that doesn’t experience chronic sleep trouble, sleep training probably isn’t required. In other words, sleep training doesn’t need to be as big of a deal as it’s made out to be.
In fact, there are certain times when sleep training is most definitely NOT required – or even recommended. Here’s when sleep training isn’t needed:
- When your baby is less than 4 months old.
- Your family is getting adequate sleep.
Studies and child development experts both agree: that sleep training under 4 months of age is not required nor recommended.
For children with a developmental delay, sleep training may also be completely unnecessary. This will, of course, depend on their exact situation.
So let’s talk about some examples of when sleep training won’t be necessary.
Example 1: A mom, who has to go back to work after a 6-week maternity leave, wants to sleep train her baby.
Wanting to sleep train a 6-week-old baby, so that going back to work is easier, makes complete sense. It would make daycare and life in general so much easier if the newborn kept to a reliable schedule – especially if it was more like a 2-year-old’s schedule.
However, it’s just not possible to reliably sleep train a 6-week-old because its brain hasn’t developed enough yet. In fact, that won’t happen until they’re 4 months old.
Result: sleep training for this baby isn’t needed or possible. Mom can choose to practice good behavioral sleep training as long as she knows it’s just practice.
Example 2: two parents, who co-sleep and night-time nurse their 6-month-old, aren’t sure if they need to sleep train. Everyone gets enough sleep. Sometimes the parents think it would be nice to have their bed back to themselves, though.
Would sleep training a 6-month-old to sleep in their own crib be nice? It might, but it’s not required. If everyone’s getting enough sleep and is satisfied enough with the status quo, sleep training isn’t essential.
As the child gets older and the status quo changes, then maybe sleep training could be again considered.
Example 3: two parents, who co-sleep with their 3-year-old and their newborn baby. Everyone gets enough sleep, even if the bed is getting crowded.
Again, as long as everyone is satisfied with the status quo and things are safe, sleep training isn’t a requirement.
Example 4: an 11-month-old sleeps in a crib in their own room, but still occasionally wakes up at night and needs comforting to go back to sleep. The toddler is easily comforted and the parents don’t mind responding immediately to their child.
As long as everyone is sufficiently satisfied with how things are going, keep going with it.
However, if those occasional nighttime wakings begin to be more frequent and problematic, then these parents may want to reconsider using a behavioral sleep training method.
When Sleep Training Goes From Necessary to Problematic
Are there times when a necessary sleep training process becomes problematic? Actually, yes.
Sleep training can go from a necessary tool to a problematic one when good-intentioned parents begin doing too much.
For example, when our oldest boy was an infant, I realized that sleep training had become problematic when I was working much too hard to comfort him. It limited his ability to self-soothe and fall back asleep.
Once I stepped back and got out of his way, he was able to fall asleep much easier (and better) all on his own.
The whole point of sleep training is to help your child enjoy sleep naturally. When that focus gets lost, sleep training transforms from a helpful tool into a literal nightmare.
What Are the Benefits of Sleep Training? Behavioral sleep training techniques improve short and medium-term burdens related to sleep problems and maternal depression with no long-lasting effects. To read my article on the scientific studies related to sleep training (and if they’re safe or cruel), click here.
Will My Child Grow Out of Sleep Problems on Their Own Within a Few Months? Most children may eventually grow out of sleep problems. But the timeline depends on many factors and may last months or even years without sleep training.
What Are the Psychological Effects of Sleep Training? Behavioral sleep training techniques will have a net-positive effect on parental and child relationships and maternal depression rates.