The Truth about Sleep Training
The idea of sleep training and it being a very negative thing that you can do for your child can be controversial. As times change and we are looking at child development differently to how we did even ten or twenty years ago, and I think that the umbrella term of ‘sleep training’ is much broader than ‘just leave your baby to cry’ – yet, despite this, the term still has a bad reputation, one which makes me so frustrated! I’ve tried to move away from the phase ‘sleep training’ for that very reason but when I look a my clients that go through the process they are so much more happier, well-rested and healthier for having worked on their baby’s sleep. We all know that sleep deprivation can have a massive impact on our physical and mental health and so, in this blog post, I share my feelings around sleep training and how it can be a positive process.
What is sleep training?
For me, it is very much an umbrella term that includes many things but, ultimately, ‘sleep training’ means to train your baby to sleep, falling asleep on their own and being able to settle back to sleep throughout the night by themselves. One reason that people dislike the term is because they can compare the idea of ‘training’ to being something you’d do to an animal and it can be forceful. I use the term ‘sleep coaching’, because that is more what I do: I provide options and act as a coach with the families I work with.
I don’t think that sleep training is as harsh as it is meant to be. The reality is, for many parents, there can be something very obvious affecting baby’s sleep – such as reflux or incorrect awake times – and, actually, trying to shift things can really help their baby sleep. Of course we might need methods at some points but it’s most often not about leaving a baby to cry.
If it was as simple as leaving your baby to cry then anyone could do it and my reputation would not be as strong as it is!
When we look at sleep training as a phrase, actually there are so many things that fit under this umbrella term and there are many things to try before you have to go down a cry route – and you do not even have to go down this route!
What sleep training could include:
Adjusting your baby’s awake periods – ensuring that baby is having appropriate awake times for their age can affect how easily baby can fall asleep by themselves.
The link between diet and sleep – in my practice, quite often, parents will come to me with a baby who is very wakeful and we will look at the reasons for this. One common reason is how baby is feeding, perhaps reflux or the amount they’re feeding, can affect their sleep negatively and, again, I provide clients with suggestions of tweaks that they could make to change this.
The history of sleep training
When we look back the most obvious method is ‘crying it out’. This essentially means put your baby down, leave the room and don’t go back in. I don’t believe that CIO, as a method, is the answer to most parent and baby’s problems. It doesn’t sound like everything else in baby’s day has been taken into consideration with this method, which is what I’d always want to consider.
If we could eradicate the association between leaving baby to cry and sleep training I really would! It is a more ‘old school’ association between the two things.
In 1985 there came about the Ferber Method: essentially a version of crying; leaving baby to cry for 3 minutes, going back to them, then leaving them for 5 minutes, then going back and so on. It had a lot of success and many sleep methods are now based on this. However, sleep training is not just about your baby crying and visiting at intervals. The modern school of thought around sleep training is very much about mixing it all up: yes, there might be some crying, there might be some going in at intervals but there are also methods that involve sitting with your baby or child, stroking them, patting them and not leaving the room until they have fallen asleep. The idea that sleep training is something nasty and harsh does not help people access the support, because it really isn’t that bad! A good quality sleep coach will provide options that are suited to your baby and you won’t feel like you simply have to leave your baby to cry.
For most babies, they will respond to sleep coaching techniques within a couple of weeks if they are well looked after. There are a lot of scare-mongering stories on the internet around sleep training where children are left in their cots and later develop attachment issues. Luckily, the majority of families that I support are nowhere near this because their babies are clean, fed, loved and well looked after. Of course there are times when babies are unwell, and even if you have used sleep training techniques, your baby they will still wake and will shout for you! Going through sleep training won’t mean that baby won’t ever shout out for you or need a loving cuddle at night ever again – they absolutely will! The difference is that they will only shout out for you if they actually need you, rather than them just being used to you coming in.
Whether sleep training actually works or not
A 2006 literature review looked at over 2500 children across 52 studies. Over these studies, 94% of the time the sleep training methods implemented were effective and successful. They found that this was maintained for somewhere between 3 and 6 months. I think that many parents would be happier if they’d had full nights sleep for 3 – 6 months! For it to be successful, you have to try it the right way and, if you’ve experienced it and it hasn’t worked, perhaps baby wasn’t ready or all of baby’s needs were not taken into account by the sleep coach.
Sleep training has a bad rep because it’s assumed to be a money-making industry! Please make sure, whoever you work with for sleep support, that someone is ready to talk about baby’s current day routine before investing.
I have worked over 2000 1-1 parents over the last ten years and I have never had anyone come back to me saying that they wished they hadn’t done it! I appreciate that this is anecdotal evidence, but I know that my clients are always happy that they’ve gone through the process.
If you would like to learn more about my personal sleep coaching services, please click here.