Sleep Training Survival: What You Need to Know and Do

By Kimberly


The longest hours of my life have been while trying to sleep train my children. It’s made me wish that there are sleep training survival guides or a dedicated sleep training support team that delivered comfort food.

In any case, how do you survive sleep training? Surviving sleep training requires time, patience, consistency, understanding, solid advice from parents who’ve been there, a total mindset shift, and a support system.

So let’s help you see ways to reach all of those – just keep on reading.

An image of a mother working on a computer or laptop while her baby is taking a daytime nap in a baby cot.

Sleep Training Survival Tips For Parents

Since my brain works best being able to see examples (especially when I’m sleep-deprived), let’s make a list of tips with examples.

Be Calm and Consistent.Stay calm and remember that your child’s an infant; they’re still learning.Be consistently calm and keep on sleep training; not only are you helping the baby sleep better, but you’re also becoming a better parent.Stay calm and be consistent. Things will work out!
Perspective Is Important. Remember that this is just a phase – this too shall pass.Remind yourself that a few rough nights will be worth it in the long run, especially if you help your child learn to love sleep!This really is temporary – things do get better. Survival mode does end. And life can be amazing again.
Focus on Controlling What You Can.Remember that you can lead a baby to a crib, but you cannot make them fall right into a REM cycle.Use external sleep associations (white noise machine, blackout curtains, nighttime diapers) for your child to help them learn to love sleeping.Remind yourself that the baby’s nightmares are probably terrifying – like the milk’s all gone. You can’t control the dream, but you can comfort them.
Set Realistic Goals for Yourself.For now, you may need to cut back on what activities and demands you make of yourself. That’s okay.Now may not be the time to start any extra projects, like volunteering weekly in your oldest child’s class. Your child, and their teacher, both understand.Remember that your schedule will be crazy for a while. Give yourself some grace and time to recover. You’ll dive back in when the time is right.
Do Something For Yourself.Take 5 minutes to do something for yourself – even if it’s taking a shower.Take 10-15 minutes for yourself to do something you enjoy.Create time for yourself on a regular basis. Have a hobby. Exercise.
Set Realistic Goals for Your Family.For now, your family may need to scale back on activities and weekly commitments. That’s just fine.Now may not be the time for trips or vacations, Either. That’s okay, too. Remember that your family’s schedule will be crazy for a while. Everyone deserves some grace, and maybe even some ice cream.
Set a Date for sleep training.Set sleep training on a Friday – that way, you’ve got the whole weekend to recover if need be.Start sleep training over a long weekend. That way, you and your spouse can take naps over 3-4 days while still sleep training your baby.Take a few days off around a long weekend. That way, you’ve got a solid week to get this done – and come out of it feeling refreshed.
Use External Sleep Associations for yourself.Consider wearing earplugs for a few nights, especially if you’re room sharing.Get yourself a white noise machine! You’ll still be able to hear baby’s cries, but it’ll take a few minutes longer for baby’s cries to wake you up. This gives the baby an extra 2-3 minutes to self-soothe and hopefully fall back asleep. Combine the white noise machine with blackout curtains. That way, you’ll sleep better even after sleep training is over.
Tag-Team It at Bedtime! Create a rotating schedule with your spouse. That way, you each have time to relax and decompress.Take turns being in charge for 20-30 minutes at a time. Use a timer to keep things fair.Rotate nights being in charge of bedtime.Rotate nights with who’s “in charge” – but also set a timer so that each parent gets mental breaks.
Take A Time Out!If you’re overwhelmed, put the baby down in a safe space and leave the room. Go take a few breaths to calm down.Tap out for a few minutes. Let your partner take over for a while.Ask a friend to tap in for a few minutes so you and your spouse can both take a short breather.
Ask Your Village for HelpWhen friends ask how the baby’s sleeping, tell them the truth. Ask them to watch the baby so you can take a nap!Create a Nap Train: let those friends who want to help watch the kids so you can take a 30-minute power nap.Use the nap train idea and ask for extra help as needed. Then, offer to help other new parents when you’re in a better place.
If Needed, Adjust Your Goals.Keep track of the baby’s ability and adjust your goals as needed.Realize that some goals are possible right now – and that others are crazy. Adjust your goals to be realistic and attainable.Consider changing your goal from “get the baby to sleep for 8 straight hours” to “provide a safe and restful place that’s full of love.” You’ll see more success.
Feel Free to Ignore the Math for a Short While.Sleep training survival is important. You’ve totally earned that cookie you’ve been craving all day.Don’t watch the clock when you’re awake with the baby at night. And it’s totally okay to let the older kids watch a short show while you doze on the couch.Take a power nap any chance you get. Eat that taco. You know this is a short season, so just for now, ignore the math of calories and hours slept.

Look – sleep training is rough. Surviving sleep training requires time, patience, and a sense of humor!

An image of parents trying to calm down their crying daughter.

Sleep Training Survival For When Your Child Won’t Stop Screaming

Now, sometimes you don’t necessarily need a ton of tips for surviving sleep training – you just need a way to survive for 5 more minutes because your child is screaming like crazy.

Whether you’re comforting your child or you’re giving them this 5 minutes to cry, it’s going to be the hardest 5 minutes ever. That’s normal. It’s hard for us parents to hear our babies cry.

I get it – I’ve been there. This is one of those moments where it’s totally okay to find some quick and brainless game to play on your phone. That or start researching random topics and watching tutorials on YouTube.

Now is NOT the time to watch sleep training videos or parenting videos, because it’s just going to eat at you that your child is crying. So don’t put yourself through that.

Instead, download Candy Crush or Gardenscapes. They can be played while you hold a baby or while you’re sitting by their room, trying not to sob yourself.

Play 1-2 rounds and then look at the clock: congratulations on having survived 5 more minutes.

Tips To Survive Middle of The Night Wakings

What about when your baby has you up in the middle of the night? Well, the middle of the night isn’t the best time for mindless games. All that light from your phone will mess with your natural sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm), so don’t unplug it. Just leave it where it is.

Pro tip: Remember to keep things dark and boring at night. Learning to successfully change diapers in the dark is a valuable parenting skill because it gets the job done while also helping keep everyone in a sleep-ready state.

Instead, try to remember a few important points. Ideally, these should be addressed during the daytime so that nighttime wakings are easier.

  1. What’s your plan for the middle of the night wakings?
  2. Is your baby crying because they’re hungry or need a diaper change? Go fix that.
  3. Don’t have a plan? Make a note to make one in the morning.
  4. If you’re letting the baby fuss for a few minutes, how will you wait out that time?
  5. If you’re going tear-free, whose turn is it to go comfort the baby? If it’s your spouses’ turn, go ahead and nudge them awake.
  6. What’s your plan for getting back to sleep?
  7. Do you have a backup plan in case you can’t fall back asleep?
  8. How can you keep nighttime wakings as dark and boring as possible?

Once you’ve been able to think through all of these things, you’ll soon find that surviving middle-of-the-night wakings is a lot easier.

Related Questions

How Long Do You Let a Baby Cry It Out? Provided your baby’s physical needs are met, allowing a baby to cry for sleep training purposes may be safely allowed for a few minutes or up to about an hour.

How Do You Sleep Train Without Crying It Out? You can sleep train without letting your child cry. Simply choose and implement a behavioral sleep training method that is tear-free.

Can You Sleep Train at 4 Months? Babies that are at least 4 months old both physically and developmentally may start sleep training. Just be sure to talk to your pediatrician first.

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