Sleep Training Not Working? This May Be the Reason Why!

Baby awake in crib.

  • While sleep training can be a successful way to teach babies how to sleep independently, not all babies respond well to training.
  • The biggest problem with most sleep training methods is the one-size-fits-all approach which doesn’t consider a child’s temperament.
  • Children who are alert, perceptive, and sensory sensitive may be “livewires” who require unique sleep strategies.

Every parent seems to have “that friend” whose 12-week-old baby is already sleeping through the night. Or another who tried the Ferber method of sleep training and it was “so easy;” three nights of brief, tolerable, non-hysterical crying, and now their baby is sleeping beautifully.

For every one of these parents, there are many, many others who are not finding success with sleep training. The sad part is they think it’s their fault. Dear pooped-out parents, it’s not you. It’s temperament.

How Do You Know if Temperament is Derailing Your Sleep Training? 

Could your baby’s temperament really cause them to fight sleep training? Do any of these scenarios ring a bell?

  • “It’s like he/she has FOMO and doesn’t want to miss anything while they sleep.” (Alert, engaged)
  • “She goes from zero to sixty/calm to hysterical if I don’t get to her fast.” (Intense/reactive)
  • “He/she doesn’t miss a thing. They notice everything.” (Perceptive)
  • “We have to bounce on a yoga ball in a completely dark room with loud white noise to get them to sleep.” (Sensory sensitive)
  • “It takes forever to get him/her to sleep and the second they touch the crib mattress, their eyes pop open and we have to literally start over.” (Sensory sensitive)
  • “Never gives up…ever, ever, ever.” (Persistent)

If you are saying, “That’s my child,” you may have a “livewire,” a child who just seems to have more current running through their internal wiring, and this, friends, is why sleep is such a struggle.

Great sleepers aren’t this way because of their parents’ sleep training method. These babies are just wired for easy sleep: they can tune into signals that tell them they’re tired and tune out everything else.

For livewires, it doesn’t work this way… at all. Livewires are hard-wired to pick up on and take in more input, but in these early years, they don’t have the ability to manage this input independently, which is precisely why livewires have difficulty with all aspects of sleep.

Here are two pieces of good news: 1. the traits that make sleep so hard are the very ones that make them amazing humans; and 2. once you know that temperament is why sleep is hard, you can adapt your strategies with this in mind. It can be done. 

baby in a crib

6 Sleep Hacks for Livewires

Here are a few tried and true workarounds if you have one of these bright, sleep-allergic little ones:

1.   Don’t wait for “sleepy signals.” Know how long your child can stay awake for their age and watch the clock. Then get sleep in any way you can before they power up those booster rockets and hit that second wind. Don’t be tempted into thinking that they just need less sleep than other kids. Livewires don’t get tired; they get wired. If you’ve been struggling with how long it takes them to fall asleep, try an even shorter window for naps and/or bedtime.

2.   Have an almost rigid routine. Having an unwavering plan means that you aren’t having to make decisions on the fly. Livewires also really respond to routine. Bedtime is not the time for flexibility or spontaneity. Have a plan. Stick with the plan.

3.   Whatever you are doing now to get them to sleep, reduce it every few days. Picking a manageable task is the key to success with these persistent, change-allergic little ones. If you are lying with them, sit up in the bed. If you are bouncing them to sleep, slow the bounce down and then stop.

4.   Push through the pushback. Whatever you do, even a tiny little change will be noticed. There will be freakout at first. Expect it to happen and know it’s okay. If you stay supportive and consistent, your bright little one will catch on. There’s literally no way to change the status quo in a way they won’t notice.

5.   It’s okay to help them calm down when they need it. Straight “cry it out” approaches often don’t work for these children because they can get so intensely upset for long periods. It’s important that we stretch their abilities, but no one’s learning anything when they’re hysterical.

6.   But also, push all the way through. The degree of pushback can make parents really doubt what they’re doing, and they may say, “Okay, this isn’t working. I’m just going to feed/rock/bounce them to sleep, and we’ll start over tomorrow.” Here’s the problem. You’re not starting over tomorrow. You’ll be starting wayyyy behind tomorrow. When you work and work and work and then just feed/rock/bounce, you have put acquiescence on the table as a possibility and now your smart-little-cookie-who-doesn’t-miss-a-thing will work for it. Pick something to work on, know they will freak out at first, and just…keep….going for at least three days.

If you have a livewire, you are on a different path as a parent, and you may already know that the usual go-to sleep methods aren’t going to work for you. That’s because none of the research or sleep advice was written with a livewire temperament in mind! The good news is that once you really understand their behavior in the context of their internal wiring, you can craft approaches that make sense for both your baby and for you.

Sleep Training Not Working? This May be the Reason Why!

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