Do a Google search for, “What age can I sleep train my baby?” and you’ll be bombarded with a wide variety of answers – many conflicting!
- Some places may tell you that you can sleep train a newborn…
- Others will say that you can’t do anything until 4 months…
- Others will insist that if you don’t sleep train by 6 months, it’s “game over” and your child is doomed for a lifetime of poor sleep…
At Oh Baby Consulting, I believe that you can always be working on independent sleep, but that formal “sleep training” can begin around 12-16 weeks adjusted age.
Can newborns be sleep trained?
I believe that you can always be working on good sleep hygiene, even if you’re not sleep training. This can begin in the newborn stage by ensuring that you are:
- Giving your baby full feeds
- Are mindful of their sleep needs & daily schedule
- Giving them a safe place to sleep
- Laying them down awake whenever you can
- Practicing le pause during middle-of-the-night wake ups.
However, newborn sleep is very inconsistent compared to the sleep of older babies, so there are a few reasons why we wouldn’t use formal sleep training methods with newborns.
- Newborns cannot always settle on their own. They are still adjusting to “life on the outside” after having spent 9 long months cocooned inside you, and it is normal for them to need extra help sometimes.
- Sleep-wake hormones are still developing. Studies have shown that melatonin (the hormone that allows us to fall and stay asleep) is not excreted from the brain in regular intervals until somewhere between 9 and 15 weeks. Circadian rhythm (the body’s biological clock) is also still developing.
- Newborns need frequent feedings. During the first several weeks of life, a newborn’s sleep and wake patterns will be largely dictated by their tiny tummies. Especially overnight, they will wake when they need to be fed simply because their bodies are unable to hold the volume of food needed to satiate them for very long stretches.
Until a newborn’s brain and body has become a bit more mature, formal “sleep training” is not advised or necessarily effective.
When should I sleep train?
While 12-16 weeks adjusted age is the earliest I would recommend formal sleep training, it is by no means necessary to start ASAP at this age. There are arguments to be made that the longer you wait, the more challenging it can become simply due to the amount of time your baby has been sleeping poorly. But truth be told, there are challenges at every age.
For example, infants under 6 months often struggle with short naps. Sometimes, no matter how diligent you are in maintaining an appropriate schedule and implementing independent sleep habits, babies’ bodies just are not ready to extend the length of daytime naps until they are a bit older/on fewer daytime naps. That being said, trying to undo 3+ years of challenging sleep habits with a toddler can also pose some significant hurdles: they are likely in a bed and can get up and down freely, they hate being told what to do, and they may struggle with some more complex emotions that can make nights difficult.
When is sleep training most effective?
The best time to sleep train actually has nothing to do with age. The very best time to sleep train is when YOU are ready to make a change. Sleep training has as much to do with your level of commitment as it does with your child’s readiness. Before starting, it may help to ask yourself these important questions:
- What does my schedule look like for the next few weeks? Are there any events, trips, etc. that might disrupt the process?
- Am I confident in my plan? Do I know what method I’m using, course I’m following, or coach I’m hiring? Does my plan encompass appropriate schedule, nutrition recommendations, and routine structure in addition to teaching me how to help my child sleep all night long?
- Am I ready to completely commit to the process for at least 2-4 weeks to help lay a strong foundation?
- Is my whole family on board with making a change to our sleep situation?
- Am I willing to make the changes necessary to achieve my goals?
If anything about your sleep situation feels unsustainable, you can make a change. It’s not too late and things can be different! And if you’d like a hand to hold through the process, I’d love to help.