What Is The Best Age To Sleep Train A Baby?
I’m excited to answer a popular question that I get a lot, “when is the best age to sleep train?”
I want to start off by saying that you can sleep train any time after your baby turns 4 month old, age adjusted for prematurity. This means that your baby is 4 months old based on their due date, if they were born prematurely. 4 months isn’t always the easiest age, but if you *need* to sleep train, this is when you can start.
Also, it is never too late for sleep training! I work with families that have 8 years olds and we can still develop healthy sleep habits. You aren’t doomed to a sleepless life forever if you miss the “best” age!
The Best Age To Sleep Train A Baby Is 6 Months
5-6 months is our favorite age to sleep train! Read on to learn why…
Babies Are Ready For A Consistent Nap Schedule
Have you heard the term circadian rhythm? It’s a fancy way of saying our internal sleep wake clock.
Newborns are born without a circadian rhythm! This is one of the reasons why newborns have day to night confusion and no real predictable schedule. Around 8 weeks, the circadian rhythm begins to develop and newborns can begin having a longer sleep period in the beginning part of the night.
As your baby turns 5-6 months old, their circadian rhythm is normally developed enough that we can move away from awake windows and move towards a consistent nap schedule.
Having a consistent schedule is important so the body can begin providing hormone support to make it easier for babies to settle into naps, put their sleep cycles together and have longer, more restorative naps.
This will support sleep training.
Mobility is still fairly limited
Your little one is likely rolling and maybe starting to sit up, but many babies still have fairly limited mobility. Most can’t crawl or pull to stand yet.
When sleep training, if babies have more advanced mobility, like crawling, standing or walking, it can make the process more challenging. We have MANY clients that come to us because they are up all night, laying their little one back down when they pull to stand in the crib.
While it is 100% doable to sleep training even with advanced mobility, it can be easier if your baby isn’t quite there yet!
Confidence in your baby’s ability to tap into their self-settling tools
Normally by the 6 month mark, babies aren’t being swaddled (we want to stop swaddling once your baby starts showing rolling readiness) and they are able to roll both ways. Once babies can do this, they can roll around and make themselves comfortable in their crib. Many babies find it very comforting to sleep on their tummies, which can bring parents comfort knowing that their little one can reposition themselves and get comfy on their own.
Also, once babies are no longer swaddled, they have access to their hands. Sucking is one of the primary ways that babies calm themselves. Having access to sucking on their fingers can really help your baby with self-settling, which is important for sleep training.
You’ll feel better sleep training, knowing that your child can utilize these abilities!
Sleep associations haven’t yet turned into strong habits
A sleep association, also known as a sleep crutch or sleep prop, is anything your baby or toddler has learned that they need YOU to do to help them fall asleep.
In order to have healthy sleep habits, your little one has to learn that THEY have the skills they need to put themselves to sleep, without any assistance from you.
Check out this article to learn more about sleep associations.
At 6 months, your baby will have strong preferences, but they won’t be as firmly instilled as they will as your little one gets older and more set in their ways.
This is important for sleep training because you will want to discontinue all sleep associations when teaching your baby to fall asleep independently. If the sleep association isn’t as deeply ingrained, it will easier to break the habit, making sleep training easier.
Separation anxiety hasn’t yet appeared
Around 7-9 months old is the typical age that separation anxiety begins. It is a normal developmental milestone, but it can feel especially challenging for parents.
Your normally happy, (somewhat) adaptable child may start to act dramatically differently and have some very strong responses to being away from you. It can look like this:
- Clinging and crying when it is time to be apart
- Crying when you are out of sight
- Fearful of strangers or even people your child is close to like grandparents
- Freaking out going into the crib
- Waking in the middle of the night upset
If you start sleep training before the first peak of separation anxiety, it can make the process easier for everyone!
You’re exhausted, but not as exhausted as you’ll be if you continue waiting
If you’ve gone 6 months without quality sleep, you are going to be exhausted! You’re probably like “no sh*t, Christine! That’s why I’m here!”
By 6 months, my sanity was on the brink and I hit my breaking point. This is when I sleep trained my twins and I’m forever grateful for that choice!
Here’s the thing, the longer you wait, the worse you will feel. The effects of sleep deprivation get worse with time and impact our:
- Heart and circulatory systems – more likely to develop high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Metabolic systems – increasing risk for type 2 diabetes
- Immune system – making us more susceptible to sickness
- Brain – sleep deprivation negatively affects our brain and it may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease
- Mental health – more emotionally reactive and increases the chances of depression and anxiety (Cleveland Clinic)
My recommendation is to start sleep training NOW, before you hit a brick wall of sleep deprivation and begin to experience the negative effects of long-term sleep deprivation.
As you are deciding when to start sleep training, I hope this insight into the best age to sleep train is helpful! Remember, it’s never too late, but if your baby is in this age range, it can be easier.
Need sleep training help? We’ve got you!
Getting started at the right time can help, but you may need help with setting yourself and your little one up for sleep training success. We can help – sleep is our obsession. Our team of certified sleep consultants are here to provide you with insight and a customized sleep plan, plus support if you need it!
If you are a DIYer, check out our online baby sleep course, Transform Your Baby’s Sleep.
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