As I listen to my baby scream after telling her goodnight, I wonder (for the millionth time) if I should quit trying to sleep train.
Should you quit sleep training? If sleep training is becoming too stressful, problematic, or does not work for you after a consistent effort, it may be time to quit – or at least take a step back. Taking a step back or quitting may help you see things clearly and find a better way to achieve a full night’s sleep.
Let’s talk about the specifics about when you should quit sleep training – and how you should go about it.
Why You Should Quit Sleep Training
There have been several times (with each of our children) that we quit sleep training. Looking back, there are 4 main reasons why we quit sleep training. And, after talking to more than 800 other parents who are sleep training, these reasons are pretty universal. They are:
- Sleep training becomes too stressful.
- Attempts at sleep training are problematic (despite your best efforts).
- Sleep training, despite a consistent and amazing effort, just isn’t working.
- Your instincts tell you something is wrong.
Why is it okay to quit in these instances? Because trying the same thing on repeat for months at a time is literally insane. It’s time to quit whatever it was (it’s obviously not working) and do something else.
Example: Here’s a time I quit sleep training my son – and I didn’t feel the least bit bad about it. When our second son was about a year old, he had a few nights where he started waking up a lot. We started back to sleep training. Then, he got really sick – sick enough that he ended up in the hospital on oxygen. We were all stressed out – so we quit sleep training until he was better, we were home, and we’d all adjusted to our new normal.
So let’s look at what kind of timeline shows us when it’s okay to quit sleep training.
When You Should Quit Sleep Training
There are lots of times when it’s okay to delay or outright quit sleep training. Here’s a list of examples of when I’d quit, too:
- Before your baby is 4–6 months of age
- When your child is sick, teething, or working on a big developmental task or milestone
- Right before, during, or after a vacation
- When you’ve got houseguests
- Immediately before or after a big family change – like a new sibling
- When there’s something looming over the family that causes a large amount of stress, like a work deadline or a death in your extended family
- Your instinct tells you this just isn’t working or that something is really wrong
Now, if it’s not one of those times I probably won’t recommend quitting sleep training the very first time your baby cries. After all, trying new things is hard for everyone!
I don’t let my older children quit soccer after one bad game; I’m not going to quit trying to learn how to sleep train better just because of one bad night.
So if you only just started sleep training, consider giving it at least 2-3 weeks before you consider quitting.
Why 2-3 weeks? It takes time to change habits and to learn new skills. And since sleep training is both of those, it’s going to take time to work.
In my experience, the whole first week of sleep training is stressful. The second week is less so. It’s not until week 2-3 that things finally start to settle down.
Now, if you’re on week 4 of sleep training (or it’s one of those times above), it may be time to quit.
So let’s talk about how you should quit sleep training – or at least how I’d recommend you do it.
How To Quit Sleep Training – And What To Do Instead
Now, “quitting” anything (like sleep training) may mean one of two things.
- Permanently quitting and giving up entirely;
- Temporarily stepping back, knowing you’ll try something else later.
In my experience, quitting and giving up rarely works. In fact, it usually backfires. There are some parents who swear that giving up was the best thing they ever did. However, I’ve noticed that most of these parents only gave up parent-led behavioral sleep training – and instead switched to baby-led behavioral sleep training.
So really, they weren’t giving up – they stepped back and tried something else.
Quitting so that you can step back means you’ve got to have a plan in place. These other parents that quit moved from parent-led to baby-led behavioral sleep training. And guess what? That change relieves so much of the associated stress that it actually helps things work out better and faster.
So, what kinds of plans can you make as you do the “take a step back from sleep training” kind of quitting? Let’s make a list:
- Quit sleep training for now and try again in a few weeks
- Stop trying a particular sleep training method and try a different one
- Let your baby transition to sleeping through the night on their own schedule (baby-led sleep training)
- Wait until the baby feels better and try again
- Wait for your baby to master the developmental task or milestone before trying again
- Wait for the big life change (houseguests, vacation, new sibling, work deadline, death in the family) to calm down first
- Listen to your instinct and follow wherever it leads
These are all totally valid plans for quitting sleep training. Like I said before, you may or may not want to try again later.
If you do want to try sleep training again later, maybe you’ll use a different sleep training method to see if it’s a better fit for your family. Or maybe you’ll stick with what you had, knowing that the passage of time is all that everyone needed.
But no matter when you decide to quit, make sure you’ve got some kind of plan in place. Remember to write it down – it’s really hard to remember things when you’re exhausted!
That way, you can keep helping everyone in your family move towards a full night’s sleep whether you’ve just quit sleep training or not.
Oh – and in case you’re wondering what I chose with sleep training my daughter? We quit traditional sleep training – and created our own plan. At bedtime, I spend a few minutes in with her while she calms down. She loves the extra snuggles – and so do I.
So don’t feel bad if you choose to quit sleep training, too. Just do it smart – and know your next move.
Can Sleep Training Harm My Baby? When done right, sleep training is totally safe. Click here to read my article (full of studies!) on whether or not sleep training is safe.
How Long Should Baby Cry It Out? When a newborn cries, they should be attended to immediately. Older babies may be allowed to cry for a few minutes.
At What Age is Sleep Training Appropriate? Sleep training is appropriate for infants over 4-6 months of age who have settled into a more adult-like sleep pattern.