While we had to sleep train our baby, I get asked (a lot!) if it was necessary. Spoiler alert – it’s not. But then the harder follow-up question inevitably gets asked: what happens if I don’t sleep train my baby?
Babies will usually settle into a regular sleeping routine that works with their family’s needs and schedule. Every baby will settle into that sleep schedule at their own pace. Not sleep training a baby will still end in a full night’s sleep, but the timing isn’t guaranteed.
While I can’t predict your specific future timeline related to whether or not you choose to sleep train your child, let’s go into what’s likely to happen if you choose not to sleep train your child.
You Don’t Have to Sleep Train Your Baby (many people don’t!)
I feel like that headline says it all – or at least the most important parts. However, let’s go into some detail just so we’re abundantly clear: you don’t have to sleep train your child. Not every child will need it. Not every parent will need these skills.
If your baby doesn’t need it – don’t stress. They’ll still learn and develop and grow up to be just fine. Sleep training is still a relatively new parenting skill. Babies have grown up to be perfectly well-adjusted people for thousands of years without being sleep trained.
Even so, let’s analyze things a little bit more, shall we? Many of the parents who wonder if they have to sleep train and that I’ve talked to fall into one of these categories.
- They’re either already sleep training (and just don’t call it as much);
- Their child is already sleeping well – or is getting there at a pace that’s maintainable enough that they don’t need to sleep train at all;
- Things aren’t so dire that they’re desperate for sleep. They’re still tired (or even exhausted), but things are improving enough that dedicated sleep training isn’t required.
Now, what do I mean by each of these categories? Let’s go into them a little bit.
Perhaps you’re already using sleep training techniques, and you don’t realize it. Good sleep training techniques are just good parenting techniques applied to a small subset of life – sleeping. So perhaps you’re already doing this subconsciously – in which case you don’t need to do a dedicated sleep training session. Unless you want to be more intentional about what you’re doing – then you may want to learn more about the psychology and rationale behind sleep training.
Or maybe your child is one of those amazing babies who settles into a better sleep routine on their own. While not every baby will do this, most babies will. You need to give your baby enough time to adjust. After all, humans have adapted and evolved to get enough sleep. So most babies will figure it out just fine on their own – we need to stop getting in their way!
Sleep training is simply a way to speed up the timeline if you’re desperately exhausted. Seriously – that’s all it is. It’s a systematic way to speed up the natural adjustment that’s happening anyway. So if your baby is adjusting – and everyone’s okay? You really don’t have to do any dedicated sleep training. Just keep doing what you’re doing – and things will work out in the end.
So if you fall into one of these three camps, don’t worry – you probably don’t need to do a dedicated round of sleep training. Things should work out just fine – as long as you keep moving forward and things are sustainable. It’s only when the sleep quality and quantity nosedive that you’ll need to consider a dedicated session of sleep training.
Will Baby Learn to Sleep Without Training?
Let me apologize right now for the all-caps response, but YES! Your baby can learn to sleep without being sleep trained. This isn’t like some on-the-job training that can’t be learned anywhere else. It’s SLEEPING.
Most humans can and do learn to sleep well on their own. It’s only those of us who have developed bad habits that need to retrain ourselves to sleep better and more intentionally. And sometimes, we as parents accidentally teach our babies bad sleeping habits – and it’s much easier to retrain those bad habits while a baby is smaller.
But even babies that are tired enough will fall asleep. Will they sleep as well as a well-rested baby who falls asleep? Probably not. But they will fall asleep on their own eventually. And if your baby has enough regular, restful sleep sessions in a row, then good sleep happens. Then, your baby can naturally transition from an overtired, exhausted baby to a well-rested, happy baby.
You don’t necessarily have to sleep train your child in order to make that transition – many babies can (and do!) that on their own – as long as their parents aren’t trying to accidentally sabotage that sleep – usually by trying to wake them up to play with them.
How Long Can Babies Go Without Sleep?
Babies can go a while without sleep – but if you leave a cranky baby be for a few minutes, watch and see what happens. They doze off and take a quick cat nap. Or they may fall completely asleep and have a good, restful sleep.
This is because babies are awesome – and they will try to get the rest they need.
However, you’re probably wondering if there’s some magic number of hours where, if a baby doesn’t sleep during that time period, something awful will happen. After all, we’ve all seen the news stories where people had a psychotic break or even died after not sleeping for some obscene number of days. However, there isn’t a set number of hours that babies have to go without sleep before they’ll see physical harm.
- First of all, it would be totally unethical, amoral, and awful for a scientist to purposefully keep babies awake for that long to see what problems it caused. So no well-meaning human or scientist does that.
- Second, tired babies fall asleep. It may feel like they’re going hours and hours between naps. And they could be. But they will eventually fall asleep from sheer exhaustion.
Even my children (who were admittedly horrible sleepers) would pass out once they got too exhausted. That could take several hours if it was during the daytime. Or, if it was during the nighttime, then it could take what felt like days (but was only about a half of an hour).
However, if your baby is regularly going several hours between too-short naps, then you’ve probably gotten to the point where everyone is so exhausted that they’re desperate for sleep. In this case, you may not want to skip sleep training your baby. You may want to sleep train everyone in the family – baby included.
How to Know if You Need to Sleep Train Baby
There are two basic questions to ask yourself to figure out if you need to sleep train your baby – or to see if you can skip it. Ready? They’re pretty easy to answer.
- Is your current sleeping situation working for your child?
- Is the current sleeping arrangement working for you?
If things are to the point that everyone is exhausted, then things aren’t working – and you’ll want to consider sleep training. If things are kind of working, then you may have time to think through your options. Or if things are totally working, then you absolutely don’t need to sleep train.
Now, there’s obviously more nuance to it than just this – but I’ve written a whole other article about is sleep training necessary (click here to go read it). Then, give things a go.
Be sure to bookmark this next article I wrote so you can see if sleep training is working or not. That way, you can change the things that aren’t working while sticking to what’s helping your family get better sleep.
Sleep training really isn’t required for every baby. If you choose not to sleep train your baby, they should still “learn” to sleep just fine. It’s sleep – not rocket science. So as long as your baby is trending towards a full night’s sleep, know that sleep training isn’t some magical, totally-required-of-every-child thing.
Instead, think of it like this: it’s like learning to read or any other skill. If your child is learning how to read (or ride a bike or whatever else) independently, you don’t need to give them extra lessons or get them a tutor.
It’s only if your child is having a hard time learning a specific skill that you’ll want to spend extra time on things with them.
But if they’re settling into a natural, restful sleep schedule on their own? Don’t sleep train them. Spend your time together doing something else that’s meaningful for your family.
However, I do recommend that no matter what you choose to do regarding sleep training, you keep improving your overall parenting skills. Sleep training is just one kind of parenting tool to keep in your mom and dad tool belt. If you don’t need it? Don’t use it. But know what it is – so that if you do need it, you’re ready and able to help your child (or children).
When Do I Start Sleep Training? Sleep training should only begin once a baby is at least 6 months of age from a developmental standpoint. Even so, read my month-by-month sleep training starter guide to see if your child is ready to sleep train.
How Should I Sleep Train My Baby? Sleep training is a 6-step process no matter which method you want to use. Make sure you read my complete guide to sleep training – and it works with any and every sleep training methodology.
Can I Get Low-Cost Help Sleep Training My Baby? The best way to get low-cost sleep training help is with free groups or a sleep training planner. Read more about the best ways to get help with sleep training in my post here: Get Help Sleep Training Your Baby (for under $10).