What’s the best age to sleep train? When is too early? Have I missed the boat if I haven’t started yet and my kid is x months or years old?
The first answer is, it’s never too late to sleep train. No matter how old your kid is, there is hope for you.
So many families come to me, shamefaced, worried they’d missed the boat on sleep training.
No, it’s not too late for you (unless your child no longer lives at home). Please don’t beat yourself up for not starting sooner!
And in most cases, it’s also never too early to start sleep training or at least, sleep shaping (in the case of very young babies).
If your goal is get your child to sleep through the night, and you want close to 100% odds of success, your safest bet is to wait until at least 6 months. (Please note: I do not consider sleeping 11 pm to 5 am to be sleeping through the night, nor do I consider night feeds part of sleeping through the night.)
However, if you wait until 6 months old, you also miss out on improved sleep well before then.
Many babies do sleep through the night before 6 months old – my youngest was sleeping through the night by 4 months old, and the other two of them before 3 months old. Moreover, you don’t have to define success only as sleeping through the night. If your baby is currently waking up multiple times a night at younger than 6 months old, we can certainly improve the situation if not entirely night train them.
I typically don’t work with babies younger than 6 weeks old, just because I want to make sure that feeding is well-established, but the truth is, you can start working on appropriate wake windows from day one. I was sure my one-day-old baby had an intestinal blockage because she wouldn’t stop screaming while we were still in the hospital. The pediatirican examined her and found nothing wrong. He said that she was hungry and i should offer formula. But she refused the bottle. Finally, she passed out and woke up a bit later, perfectly content. She had been overtired.
You can start working with wake windows and sleepy cues from your baby’s earliest days. This doesn’t lead to any crying, and preventing your baby from getting overtired should reduce crying. I thought my oldest was colicky but once I shortened her wake windows and started going by sleepy cues (I was not a sleep consultant at the time), her so-called colic disappeared over night. It had been overtiredness.
If your child is already in preschool, the good news is that sleep training usually goes more quickly at this age. The reason for this is that we are able to prepare this age group ahead of time with a Family Sleep Meeting, visual checklists, visual timers, roughhousing play and talking things out. That doesn’t mean they’ll agree to the changes the first time bedtime rolls around! But the transition generally happens pretty quickly, even with the most gradual of methods.
If you’ve been holding off on meeting to discuss sleep training because your child is too young, too old, too stubborn, or something else… go ahead and set up a complimentary sleep consult! There’s hope for you!
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.