Sleep training. Are there any more controversial words in the parenting lexicon? I mean, besides “reform school” and “Honey Boo Boo”? Sleep is the holy grail of the first year of parenting a new baby but the idea of sleep training, specifically so called cry-it-out methods, has a mixed reputation at best.
As a parent who has now sleep trained two children, I can tell you that it’s not as bad as it sounds. And if successful, it’s even better than you dreamed.
I’ve done a lot of reading on kids’ sleep needs, books like Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, Good Night, Sleep Tight by “Sleep Lady” Kim West, and, just recently, the chapter on sleep in Nurture Shock by Po Bronson. All of the research on sleep in infants and children points to it being very important for development. Not only is rest necessary to keep an active little body going, sleep is when little brains process all the information they take in while awake. It’s theorized that the processing is why babies have so much REM sleep — they learn through dreaming. And a recent study demonstrated that sleep training through controlled soothing is not harmful to babies. That was enough to convince me that maximizing opportunities for sleep was a good parenting choice.
When I sleep trained my son, he was 11 months old and reliant on nursing, rocking, cuddling, and a binky to get himself to sleep. Needless to say, every time he came awake in the night, he was helpless to get himself back to sleep without interventions from either me or my husband. No one in the family was getting more than 2 consecutive hours of sleep and none of us were thriving. To remedy the situation, we spent a week removing the sleep crutches C needed: first we stopped nursing to sleep, then stopped rocking, then had him fall asleep next to us instead of on us. As we moved toward sleep self-reliance, he stopped waking in the night because he could resettle without us. Finally, we put him in his crib awake, kissed him good night and left the room. For 15 angry minutes he cried and we popped in every few minutes to hush him. Eventually, he lay down and went to sleep. Within three nights of that, he could fall asleep with no crying at all. He’s never lost that skill and now that he’s nearly 5, bedtime is a pleasant end to our day.
My daughter has been a good sleeper until recently, when she started needing to nurse through all naps and her nighttime sleep regressed dramatically. I suspected the root of the nighttime sleep problem was that she’d outgrown the Rock’n’Play we’d had her in so I decided to make the crib transition. I also gave up nursing her to sleep for daytime and nighttime sleep so she no longer associated sucking with sleeping. The first night of sleep training, I rocked her until she was relaxed, laid her down, and sat in her room, ready to offer a comforting pat or a quiet shush as she wriggled and grunted for 15 minutes before falling asleep. She whimpered awake every hour or so for a while but settled in under 5 minutes each time. The next night she rejected the rocking and thrashed in my arms until I laid her in bed. She was asleep in moments and didn’t wake until 4am when she was hungry. Every night since then has been a repeat of that and she’s napping in her crib as well.
Both my kids emerged from sleep training sunnier and more energetic than before. I remember my son stopped getting sick as frequently once he was better rested. My daughter learned to sit up a few days after she started sleeping better. Coincidences? Maybe. But regardless, I feel good that my kids get the rest they need for their busy little lives.
Here are a few of my tips for successful sleep training with as few tears as possible: