Last updated on June 20th, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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When Sleep Coaching Isn’t Working — What to Do

When sleep coaching isn’t working, do you know why?

It’s hard work to get your baby to sleep better. You probably read, researched, and made a plan to make bedtime smoother and to get more hours of uninterrupted sleep at night for you and your child. For some reason, it just didn’t work.  Now you feel like you are back to square one, or perhaps you just never got sleep completely where you know it should be for your child. Let’s consider the potential causes for your lack of sleep coaching success. Some of the common reasons sleep coaching fails are:

  • The pacifier
  • Baby put down too drowsy
  • Sleep/nap deprivation
  • Patience and consistency
  • Sleep coaching method

The Pacifier May Be the Potential Culprit

The pacifier may have undermined your sleep coaching efforts if you didn’t address it as part of your sleep coaching plan. Did you find yourself going in to put a pacifier back in over and over in the night? Did you wean night feedings but were still putting your baby to bed with a pacifier, and wondering why your baby keeps waking in the night?  Does your baby not have the pincer grasp yet (the ability to use the thumb and index finger to pick something up by pinching) so she wasn’t able to replace the pacifier herself and you had to do it?

While the pacifier can be a really helpful tool for babies for a time, it’s essential to address your use of the pacifier. Sometimes weaning the pacifier has to be in your sleep coaching plan. Otherwise, it will be difficult to have success. If you decide to keep the pacifier,  you will have to teach your baby how to find it and replace it themselves. If you decide to wean it at night, then you will need to start the night with no pacifier at all. Bedtime and night wakings can be hard at first without the pacifier. There’s no way to gradually wean it. It’s either in your mouth or it’s not.  But you can teach your child to sleep without it while offering  support using the Sleep Lady Shuffle.

Need to wean the pacifier?
Read: How To Wean The Pacifier

Your Baby Was Put Down More Drowsy Than Awake

If you have been putting your child to bed drowsy but awake — and she’s still waking frequently in the night or soon after she falls asleep — she’s probably going into her bed too sleepy. When your child goes to bed too drowsy or almost asleep at bedtime, she doesn’t have the chance to learn to put herself to sleep independently. She’ll still need you to comfort her back to sleep when she wakes in the night. Remember, your child should go into their crib calm and not too sleepy.

You want them fed, dry, warm, loved, and awake enough to know what’s going on. If her eyes are drooping, her body is kind of limp, or she falls asleep in less than five minutes, she was probably too drowsy. Try the next night with a calm but slightly more awake child. Remember, bedtime is the easiest time to learn to put yourself to sleep. It’s essential to focus on bedtime for sleep coaching. Not to mention, it’s an easier time for you to focus on your sleep coaching efforts

Want all the details on Drowsy But Awake?
Read: Drowsy But Awake — The Cornerstone of Successful Sleep Training

sleep coaching fails
Remember, your child should go into their crib calm and not too sleepy.

Your Sleep Expectations May Have Been Unrealistic

Sometimes, in an effort to get the sleep we need, we create expectations of our child that are unrealistic. Were you hoping that your baby could be coached to sleep until 8:00 a.m.? Were you counting on your 6-month-old to learn to sleep 13 hours without eating? Maybe you thought it was time for your 12-month-old to transition to one nap. Perhaps you thought your 18-month-old would go to sleep and stay asleep in a toddler bed. Before you start a sleep coaching plan, make sure it is appropriate to your child’s age. Check with your pediatrician to see if your baby is getting enough daytime calories to skip night feedings. Realize that most babies and children wake between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. Review how much day time sleep is appropriate for your child given their age.

Need a schedule for your child?
Read: Baby and Child Sleep: Sample Schedules from 6 Months to Preschool

Your Baby or Child Was Nap Deprived

Bedtime is hard enough when you start sleep coaching. However, if your baby was overtired from poor naps, they will be wired and have a harder time falling asleep at bedtime.  Its essential to find your child’s ideal sleep window to avoid an overly late bedtime. For most babies and toddlers, a 7:00 p.m. bedtime is ideal, no later than 8:00 p.m.

If you decide to focus your sleep coaching efforts at night only, then get those daytime naps in any way you can. It’s ok to use your sleep crutches for this. If your sleep crutches are not working for naps anymore, then you will have to nap and night coach at the same time.  You can use the same Sleep Lady Shuffle strategies at naps as you do at bedtime to teach your child to rest well during the day. If that is not possible because your child is at childcare, then ask your childcare provider if they can help your baby get the total recommended nap hours for their age in a way that works for them.

Naps! We have lots to say about those:
Read: Everything You Need to Know About Baby and Toddler Naps

You Didn’t Give Sleep Coaching Enough Time

It can seem like there’s never a perfect time to sleep coach your child between teething, sleep regressions, and catching colds. Choosing a time when you can truly focus on daytime and nighttime sleep for 3 weeks can be the difference between successful and failed sleep coaching. Many times sleep coaching fails because you needed to take more time.

Teaching your child any new skill takes time, patience, and consistency on your part.  If travel or visitors, a move, or a major change in their schedule like introducing a new caregiver is on the horizon, postpone your sleep coaching plan.

Get the sleep help your family need with one-on-one help with a certified, trained Gentle Sleep Coach.

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It Was Difficult Being Consistent

Consistency is crucial for sleep coaching to work and to last for the long term. If you aren’t consistent, you aren’t just making it harder for yourself. You are making it harder for your child. If you give in sometimes, but not others, it sends a mixed message that your child, particularly your baby or toddler, can’t understand. When you make a plan to coach your child’s sleep, make sure it’s one you can stick to every single night for about 3 weeks. Yes, your child may find the changes frustrating at first, but by being consistent and supportive you give her the chance to practice and then master her new sleep skills.

Sleep coaching fails when you’re inconsistent:
Read: Consistency is Your Key to Baby and Toddler Sleep Coaching Success!

When Sleep Coaching Fails, Maybe It’s the Method

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to be consistent if you really can’t stomach the plan you’ve made. Perhaps you decided to wean the night feedings too fast, or you should have kept one feeding and ended up with a hungry baby who was crying a lot. Or you tried cry-it-out and you just couldn’t stick with it, or you did stick with it and nothing changed. For sleep coaching to be successful, make sure you make a plan and use a method that you can use every night for 2-3 weeks. If you don’t see any improvements within 3-5 nights stop and reassess.
It’s never too late to get your child sleeping better, even if you’ve tried and failed at sleep coaching before. With guidance from a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, or from one of my blog posts on bedtime and naps, you can make a plan that works for you.

Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!