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Sleep Training. What actually works?

sleep training what actually works for a really bad sleeperSleep Training

My daughter was a terrible sleeper. Fact. I have heard of worse but she.was.tough.

Now she sleeps through soundly nearly every night. She believes her bed is the safest most comfy bed ever and she’s really proud of being able to sleep through ‘like a big girl’.

Here is our journey and the sleep training methods we used.

Not coping

When little monkey’s (LM) sleep was at it’s worst I started to dread going to bed. I felt that by going to sleep I was allowing the nightmare to begin again.

I remember a weekend where I could not move a muscle without crying because I was so exhausted. Every time I had fallen asleep LM had woken me up.  Over and over again. I got to the point where I was skipping REM sleep and falling asleep as if falling off a cliff, straight into deep sleep. Then I’d be yanked back out of it again by the next insistent cry, and up I’d stumble to give her more milk or soothe her back off until the next time.

Growth spurts, teething, developmental leaps, and other horrors

Most babies sleep goes a bit haywire at these times. But trying to cope with my child who hadn’t got into a great sleeping pattern each time any of these beauties came along was like enduring a fresh type of torture. From 4-6 months we went through the 4 month sleep regression, a heat wave, first teeth coming through and then reflux really kicking in.

Following the weekend when it finally got too much for me to cope with I phoned my health visitor. This was her advice to get LM to sleep through: stop feeding LM to sleep at bedtime, and start weaning. At this point LM was 5 months old.

What I tried and what eventually worked…

Stopping feeding to sleep/ Cry it Out-

I followed our usual bedtime routine then instead of letting her fall asleep with her bedtime bottle still in her mouth I put her in her cot still awake. I then left the room and returned at intervals to check her until she was asleep. She cried a lot. It took nearly an hour. It was awful. But the next night I tried again and LM fell asleep much quicker, the following night quicker again. She had cracked going to sleep without feeding to sleep within 4 nights.

She had learnt to fall asleep without that particular sleep crutch. However the theory goes that then baby will be able to soothe herself back to sleep when she wakes in the night – err no…

Cry it Out during the night

I tried to feed her in the night then put her in her cot but she just could not settle. Religiously following the advice of my health visitor in and out I went but it was just terrible for both of us. In the middle of the night I could sit there counting the recommended number of minutes between checks until the cows came home. She wanted a person to soothe her to sleep she didn’t want to be alone. End of.

Early Weaning-

I had started looking into baby led weaning and really wanted to try it once she was 6 months old. Maybe for some babies early weaning does help them settle. I don’t know. My baby thought baby rice was disgusting. She spat it out. Purees went the same way. I gave up. We did baby led weaning from 6 months and both loved it.

A Comforter-

I searched for ages to find a suitable toy for my daughter to hold during the night for comfort. I wanted something she couldn’t choke on or smother herself with. Once she was rolling and I knew she could roll away from anything covering her nose and mouth I gave her a Jelly Kitten soother. It had soft fabric with ribbons and an animal head on it. She comforted herself by running the ribbons through her fingers and smooching her face into the fabric. It was a big hit and she wouldn’t sleep without it. However she still woke several times every night and it was human contact she wanted not a piece of fabric!

 Stopping feeding during the night

I tried to stop giving her milk at night at around 8 months. First I tried making the bottles smaller but she wanted the amount she was used to and it just made her cry. Then I tried watering down the formula. I used as much boiled water as normal bu one less scoop of formula a few nights later I tried 2 scoops less formula etc. However she needed the comfort of the bottle still and just drank straight 8 oz of water resulting in a completely flooded nappy. I went back to giving her milk. She fed on and off at night for another year and we stopped night feeds successfully at 20 months using the gradual transition from water to formula method.

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, and coffee

Not a sleep training method – sadly lol!! However Dairy Milk, coffee and the support of my friends is the only way I survived these years. If you find yourself struggling, do everything you can to build up your support network, go to baby groups and meet other mums, and look after yourself. And yes sugar helps!

Trimming nap lengths –

At approx 18 months LM started having long periods of being awake and entirely non sleepy during the night. She was on one nap a day at this point and cutting it from a 2 hour nap to a 1 hour nap helped tremendously.


during LM’s first year I was terrified of SIDS so I wouldn’t co-sleep. She was around 15 months when I first started taking her through into the spare room bed to co-sleep once she’d woken for the first time. For a while it was a life saver.

I returned to work when LM was 1 year old and the night before I returned she got me out of bed 6 times. That level of sleep deprivation and a busy managerial work role didn’t mix too well. What she really seemed to need at night was the reassurance of physical contact. Co-sleeping got her that whilst I could get more sleep because I didn’t spend so much time stumbling backwards and forwards between our bedrooms all night.

The breast fed myth-

Just to clear up a popular misconception. No bottle fed babies do not automatically sleep through. If your baby is breast feeding well do not try formula at bedtime to get him or her to sleep through. My daughter was bottle fed and she still woke frequently every night until she was over 2 years old.

Her big girls bed

when LM turned two we bought her a full size single bed. We could see that she found it a lot more cosy than her cot. Also I really felt that she and I were both ready to stop co-sleeping. At this age I felt that my presence was actually waking her up more than she would wake if sleeping alone.

A  ‘sleeping all night by myself’ book

to prepare LM for stopping co-sleeping I made her a book. I felt that she deserved to know in advance that we would be stopping co-sleeping.  I also felt she would be more likely to succeed if I made it sound beneficial to her.

The book explained that big kids sleep through all night long on their own. I wrote about how 2 older girls who she admired slept in their own beds all night long. I wrote about how our bedroom is very close to hers. And how we could come quickly if she needed us. And finally I wrote about how cosy and comfy her new bed was. I wrote how proud mummy and daddy would be if she did sleep all night in her own bed.

I illustrated the book with photos of the 2 older girls she looked up to. I took photos of her sitting up in her bed smiling and photos of her soft toys surrounding her. We read the book together several times every day for a week. I had intended at the end of the week to go back through sleep training with her. However, somehow all the messages I was trying to give her took effect. She started sleeping through of her own accord! Yay, she was only 2 years 1 month and 2 weeks old!! I know that because it was so momentous I wrote it on my calendar!

Not a linear journey

Yes we still have bad nights. Most nights she sleeps through. Some nights she calls me and calls me till I want to cry. But generally we are heading in the right direction. With sleep I have regained my sanity, and we enjoy a lot more days than those that we simply survive.

If you are a parent who is struggling to cope please speak to your health visitor or GP. They are trained to support you. Sometimes even just to voice the difficulty makes it seem more bearable. I know I came to understand how babies can sometimes be shaken and I shouted at my daughter to shut up and leave me alone on more than one night. And if you have a partner and they are not helping you as much as you need please try to speak to them to get more help.

In my experience some kids do just take longer learning to sleep through than others. As the saying goes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. In the same way you can remove every sleep crutch, you can try every sleep training method, if your kid is going to take a long time to be happy to sleep alone all night through sometimes it will take longer than you are hoping, they won’t do it until they are ready.

For my daughter her finally learning to sleep through was a mixture of being cosy, feeling safe, not needing milk through the night, and simply being ready in herself.

If you have or have had a bad sleeper what have you found that has helped?

My bad sleeper was also a very early riser read that post here.





  1. My oldest went through a sleep regression at around 8 months. For a couple months I got up a couple times every night to nurse him back to sleep. Then a more experienced mom gently told me that at that age he really shouldn’t need to eat in the night. It was great advice. However, it took my husband turning off the baby monitor without me knowing before I was finally able to break myself of going in there at night when he cried. It turned out he really was able to put himself back to sleep! Now with my second baby, I try not to feed him right before he goes to sleep so that he won’t become dependent on nursing to fall asleep. I’m hoping that helps him sleep through the night better in a couple more months!

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