The idea of sleep training can be daunting – there are so many methods and opinions, where does a Mama start?

Knowing what the issue is can be half the battle and so I’m sharing with you some of the most common sleep issues I deal with to help you figure out what’s going on and, most importantly, how to solve it:

Easy bedtime but awful night waking and/or early rising

This is a classic sign of overtiredness. I bet my bottom dollar that your little one is going to sleep pretty much as soon as their head touches the pillow – the classic conk out. This will always see either an early rise – 5am sound familiar? – or regular night wakings that need your help. That’s because if a child is regularly conking out at bedtime, they’re not practising their self-settle so that when they wake at the end of their lighter sleep cycles (as we all do) they’ll find it hard to get back to sleep: if a baby or young child doesn’t know how to fall asleep on their own, then they’ll always need you to do it for them. Forever. The solution? Early beds and quality naps to rule out overtiredness and encourage establishment of the self-settle – bedtime won’t be such a breeze until the settle is secured, but ride it out with a fair and responsive plan.

Needing to feed back to sleep at every night-waking after six months

Lots of books and experts will tell you when your baby is ready to drop their night feeds. The general rule of thumb is that babies are ready sooner than their parents, and it usually happens around six months. But it’s entirely your call and feeding in the night doesn’t mean your baby has to be reliant on this to get herself back to sleep. To rule out hunger, go for a dream feed at around 10pm and/or 2am. You can gradually reduce the length of the 2am feed when you’re ready to drop it. The buzz word here, though, is to make sure your little one goes back into bed drowsy but awake after any feed. That will break the association between feeding and sleeping.

Early rising

Anything before 6am is considered an early rise so don’t be tempted to call it a night if your child is repeatedly waking at 5.30am. Focus on quality daytime sleep and early beds to rule out overtiredness and encourage the self-settle. Also make sure that their sleeping environment is as dark as possible all year round to avoid any summer mornings being the culprit.

Naps

It’s really important that a little one gets the right amount of sleep during the day to sleep well at night until around they’re around 3.5yrs. This is where Wakeful Windows come in – get to know your child’s and aim to get them down for a nap or into bed before you hit the upper limit. That way, you know you’re keeping them topped up and rested.

Ditching the dummy

All dummy-using parents approach this with anxiety. My advice: just do it. Post six months all that will happen is the baby simply grows more and more attached to something that serves no real purpose anymore. Yes it’s noisy when it goes. No, you don’t have something to pop in when they wake up in the night but, guess what: once they’re sleeping without a dummy, they won’t be waking up for you to pop the thing back in in the first place! Seriously. From a mama who’s been through it: ditch it.

So what plan should you use?

Start where you are right now

Being able to stick to your plan is the key. All changes in behaviour will meet resistance and so if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, it will not work. Choose something that’s appropriate: shutting the door on a child who’s always been rocked to sleep will be impossible for most parents to stick to. If your child is reliant on contact with you to help them go to sleep, find a method that allows you to gradually withdraw. If they conk out at bedtime but you’re needed to help them resettle in the night, then start from your resettle point. If you’re happy to leave them, make sure you find a plan that offers reassurance at regular intervals to maintain trust. If you’re up for cry-it out, brace yourself and know that once you’ve started, you can’t go back. Keep moving forward until they can fall asleep happily without any help from you.

Everyone is nervous when they start sleep training. Everyone things that theirs will be the child that won’t ever, ever sleep. But you know what? Thanks to the hard work of their parents, every single one of the little ones I’ve worked with now sleeps. And with the same effort, so can yours.

Lucy Barker, Infant & Child Sleep Consultant, Zoe Clews & Associates 
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