Need to sleep train your toddler or older baby? Here’s a quick guide to help you get started helping your little ones sleep longer and later.
Mama needs some rest.
Babies need some rest.
How does everyone in the house get the rest they need?
Sleep strategies that are peaceful and work.
If your older baby or toddler nap well, won’t go to sleep in their own crib or bed, wakes multiple times a night for you, and still won’t sleep through the night no matter what you do… you’ve come to the right place.
What's in this post...
Why sleep training toddlers is different than younger babies
The main difference is this.
From the newborn age you can have a good sleep schedule that will help minimize crying and whining. And those habits can carry on throughout the first year.
However, if you’ve already got a baby 9 months or older – particularly 1 year or older – then the game has changed a bit. In some ways it may be easier if your child is naturally cooperative and you have a good plan.
On the other hand, they may resist your efforts and put up a fight which – over time – may wear you down and make you feel like giving up.
What you’ll need to do to begin:
When embarking on sleep training toddlers, there are a few things to note. Don’t give up, everyone needs sleep and I’ll help you get it.
- Create a plan (my sleep program will help) that’s realistic that you can stick to. It will take between a few days and a couple of weeks to change entrenched habits.
- Get help. Choose a weekend to begin these efforts when your husband is home to help. If you are a single mom or solo parent, get help if you need it.
- Carve out time. Teaching new sleep habits will take effort and follow through. Intermittent reinforcement will actually make it much worse for you and baby.
What sleep training is and what it isn’t
Sleep training is, plain and simple, helping teach your sweet bundle of joy to sleep on their own without your frequent intervention.
It’s helping train them to transition through sleep cycles peacefully without needing to fully wake up because they have a “job” to do.
AKA, they wake up frequently when they need to make sure you are still in their bed, in their room, rocking them, patting them, etc.
It’s removing the parent from the sleep equation so baby can sleep as long as they need on their own.
Ready for everyone to start sleeping better? Use this checklist to help you get there.
Encourage yourself, you and your toddler can do this!
Often it takes a mindset shift for us to begin the sleep training process and really mean business. Of course, we want our babies to sleep well. And we want to sleep well ourselves.
And yet, there are questions, doubts, and ‘what ifs.’ These can plague us until we start taking shortcuts. And shortcuts create unhelpful habits we’ll have to break later.
Left to its own devices, a baby might sleep through the night as early as a few months or as late as… never.
When parents begin teaching baby nurturing sleep habits, babies can sleep long stretches at night from 3 months on wards. All babies are developmentally able to sleep through the night by at least 6 months.
Whether or not yours does depends on many factors. Most of which are in your control.
Ultimately – with sleep habits – the buck stops with mom.
Maybe you thought sleeping habits were up to baby. Not the case. Ultimately you are the one who must develop good, nurturing habits that allow your baby to sleep unaided.
Some children will surely have high sleep needs and sleep well from birth, but others need to be gently guided to promote good sleeping habits.
Lack of sleep is very detrimental to anyone’s health and sleep deprivation isn’t used as a torture method for nothing.
While sleep training most definitely need not involve hours of screaming, be prepared for some fussiness and whining. This is because you are attempting to break ingrained habits and baby is protesting change.
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Imagine me having a long conversation with my husband about how tired I am. I am exhausted, I just want a few hours to sleep uninterrupted, my brain is fuzzy and I feel like a zombie.
What if he looked at me and said “I have just the thing, I’ll be right back,” and then comes back with a bacon cheeseburger and cheesy chips. I might salivate a little over my comfort food, but ultimately I would have to tell him that the cure for exhaustion is not a bacon cheeseburger.
The cure for exhaustion is sleep.
Sure, I’ll eat the burger because hey, I’m human, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to help me feel better. It’s just going to make me feel full.
Just because your baby momentarily calms when nursing doesn’t mean that’s the root of the issue. If they’re exhausted, they need sleep, not more milk.
This should be encouraging!
I don’t say this to discourage you, but rather to encourage you. If you know your babies are exhausted now is the time to start gently training them to sleep on their own.
When baby cries in the night, feeding him might initially help him back to sleep, but the goal is to help them build healthy sleeping habits that don’t require you all night long.
The goal is not to deprive our babies of milk or comfort (of course not, why would we?). Instead, the goal is to comfort appropriately.
Comfort for a hungry baby is food.
Comfort for a tired baby is sleep. If you think they are not really hungry, yet need to feed to get back to sleep at night, then keep reading.
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Get your toddler’s food intake right
The goal is to give older babies and toddlers ample nourishment throughout the day. This will mean they don’t need to feed at night.
If baby is drinking over half of his milk intake at night he’s not going to sleep well. When baby drinks enough milk and eats enough food in the day he won’t wake from hunger.
He may wake from some other reason, but not from hunger.
When you remove hunger from the equation it’s much easier to determine the cause of baby’s night sleep disruptions.
Orient your little one towards sleep time independence
Orienting your baby to sleeping independence can be done quickly or in a more relaxed fashion gently over time. I go over all the methods for weaning from sleep props and creating new sleep associations in my baby sleep program, but this will get you started.
- If you are focusing on nighttime weaning, fill the baby up during the day and find other methods of comfort for night wakings.
- If they are used to feeding at night it will be a bit of an adjustment. You can choose any number of sleep training methods to wean baby from this habit.
- If baby is waking up with a “job to do” aka curling your hair or getting a pacifier, you’ll begin removing that crutch so baby can learn to self-settle.
- Within time (and often not much time) baby will begin going to sleep on their own. And going back to sleep if they wake in the night.
Some easy ways to encourage sleep independence
- Another way to help your baby learn to sleep on their own is to put them in their crib drowsy, but awake, to sleep.
- At naps and bedtime, maintain your routine whether it’s singing, rocking, reading a story, etc. but then before they drift off to sleep put them in their crib.
- This will help them learn to go to sleep on their own and will aid greatly in helping them transition from active to passive sleep throughout the night.
- If your baby wakes seemingly every 45-90 minutes, you know they are unable to get back to sleep as they switch sleep cycles, and this will help.
- Choose appropriate nap times and bedtimes to capitalize on the sleep waves.
How long does it take to sleep train toddlers and older babies
The first couple of nights seem interminable and unending, but take heart. It actually does not take much time at all to help a baby learn to sleep on their own throughout the night if you are consistent and they are an older baby.
If your child is only waking up to feed, but is getting ample feeds throughout the day, they will quickly sleep through on their own once you stop offering the bottle or breast.
In my experience, once you get down to sleep training and you really mean business, it can take as little as 2 days to a week. Day 3 you might want to pull your hair out, punch your husband, and run away, but remind yourself it’s almost over.
With consistency and, assuming there are no medical considerations, your baby will begin sleeping through the night soon. And the baby and everyone else in the house will benefit from this in more ways than one.
I’d suggest starting sleep training on the weekend when both you and your husband have the possibility of a sleep in.
Sleep Training Older Babies & Toddlers
Ready for everyone to start sleeping better? Use this checklist to help you get there.