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Why Sleep Training Fails—and What To Do About It

Sleep training is often seen as a magic bullet for sleep-deprived parents, promising peaceful nights and well-rested babies. However, it’s not always a smooth journey, and many parents find themselves still having wake-ups in the middle of the night, wondering why their efforts aren’t yielding the desired results. In this blog, we’ll delve into some of the most common reasons sleep training fails and provide tips on how to course-correct when your sleep plan gets off track.

Inappropriate Timing

The timing of sleep training can significantly impact its success. Here are a few factors to consider:

  1. Developmental Readiness: While there are certainly some sleep consultants and pediatricians who advocate for sleep training at 2-3 months old, most little ones just aren’t developmentally ready to sleep through the night at this age. Frequent wake-ups are normal and to be expected in the first few months and are most often related to biological needs like night feeds and diapering needs, digestive troubles, and immature sleep patterns. Sleep training too early can lead to failure. Infants start to develop the gross motor skills to self-soothe between 4-6 months of age. Sleep training before this period may not yield the desired results.
  2. Health Status: If your little one is ill, teething, or going through a growth spurt, it might not be the best time to start sleep training. These conditions can disrupt sleep and make it harder for your baby to adapt to new sleep routines.
  3. Major Changes or Stress: Major changes in your family’s routine, such as moving to a new house, starting daycare, or the arrival of a new sibling, can disrupt sleep. It’s usually best to wait until things have settled down before starting sleep training. However, there is also a strong correlation between parental stress and children’s sleep problems, so sometimes solving your child’s sleep problems is the source of what is causing you stress. 
  4. Parental Readiness: Sleep training requires consistency and commitment from parents. If you’re going through a particularly stressful period or aren’t ready to commit to the process, it might be best to wait.

Inconsistent Application

Consistency is key in sleep training. If you alternate between different methods or don’t stick to the chosen sleep training method consistently, it can confuse your baby and make sleep training less effective. It’s crucial to have a plan and a bedtime routine and stick to it consistently for at least a week for more low-engagement strategies such as Ferber and a month or more for high-engagement strategies such as the camping out method or the pick-up/put-down method.

Underlying Health Issues

Certain medical conditions can cause sleep problems and interfere with your child’s sleep, causing night wakings and making sleep training ineffective until these issues are addressed. It’s important to be aware of the common symptoms of these conditions so you can seek advice from a pediatric specialist if needed. Below is a list of some common medical issues that can impact sleep.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This condition effects between 1-10% of children, and is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, which can disrupt your baby’s sleep cycle. If your baby snores loudly, has difficulty breathing, or has periods of not breathing during sleep, it’s worth discussing with your pediatrician.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome: This neurological disorder can cause uncomfortable sensations in the legs, leading to frequent awakenings. If your baby seems unusually restless during sleep or has difficulty settling due to leg discomfort, it might be worth bringing up with your healthcare provider.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): This condition can cause discomfort and pain, especially when lying down, leading to disrupted sleep. If your baby frequently spits up, seems uncomfortable during or after feedings, or has difficulty sleeping flat, it could be a sign of reflux. It’s worth noting that almost 50% of all healthy infants regurgitate at least once a day, peaking at 4 months of age. Consult your pediatrician if you are worried about frequency. 
  • Mineral Deficiencies: Certain deficiencies, such as iron deficiency, have been linked to restless sleep and periodic limb movement disorder in children (although the research is inconclusive). If your baby seems unusually restless during sleep or has difficulty settling, it might be worth discussing potential nutritional deficiencies with your pediatrician.
  • Food Allergies or Intolerances: These can cause discomfort, gas, and bloating, leading to disrupted sleep. If your baby has frequent digestive issues, skin rashes, or seems unusually fussy after meals, it could be a sign of a food allergy or intolerance. There have also been studies showing that “the presence of a food allergy in a child may be associated with a deterioration in sleep quality in children and mothers as well as increased depressive symptoms in mothers“.
  • Ear Infections: These can cause significant discomfort and pain, especially when lying down, leading to frequent awakenings. If your baby is unusually fussy, has trouble sleeping, or pulls at their ears, it might be a sign of an ear infection.

Remember, these symptoms don’t necessarily mean your baby has a medical condition, but they’re worth discussing with your healthcare provider if you’re concerned. Once these health issues are managed, your baby will be better equipped to learn healthy sleep habits.

Unrealistic Expectations

Sleep training is not an overnight process. It requires patience, consistency, and time. Expecting quick results can lead to disappointment and premature abandonment of the process. Remember, sleep training is teaching your child a new way of doing things, effectively teaching your baby new, more sustainable sleep associations.

Wrong Strategy

Maybe you read a sleep book or spoke to a sleep expert that made you feel that there was one particular way to do things. Maybe your friend/sister/neighbor did one form of sleep training, and so you feel that you have to do it that way (or the exact opposite). It may be that your baby is in a different developmental phase than your friend’s, perhaps learning to pull up and getting stuck, having some serious separation anxiety and/or is in a sleep regression. Your toddler’s sleep schedule has suddenly changed, or they’re having some fears about going to bed. It’s important to choose a method that aligns with your parenting approach, as well suits your child’s particular temperament and needs. 

Course Correcting When Sleep Training Fails

If sleep training fails, it’s important not to despair. First, assess the situation. Are there any underlying health issues that need to be addressed? Is the timing right? Are you being consistent with your chosen method?

If you’ve addressed these issues and sleep training is still not working, it might be time to try a different method. Remember, what works for one baby may not work for another. It’s crucial to choose a method that aligns with your baby’s temperament and your parenting style.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider seeking professional help. We know that lack of sleep can make it very hard to think clearly about how to move forward. Our Sleep School program offers guidance and support from the first night on, helping you navigate the sleep training journey more effectively.


Sleep training is a journey, not a destination. It requires patience, consistency, and a willingness to adapt to your baby’s changing needs. While it may not always be a smooth journey, with the right approach and mindset, it can lead to better sleep for your whole family.

At Batelle, we understand the challenges of sleep training and offer a comprehensive program to guide you through the process. Our program is designed to adapt to your baby’s unique needs and developmental stages, ensuring a personalized approach to sleep training.

Remember, every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. But with patience, consistency, and the right guidance, sleep training can lead to peaceful nights and well-rested babies.

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists. Special thanks to Deanna.  

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