First of all, I like to refer to this as teaching healthy sleep habits or making healthy sleep changes because I think when some parents hear the words sleep training they get all kinds of preconceived notions in their head about what that looks like. I work with tired parents all the time. As a matter of fact, that is all I see….tired, and often completely exhausted parents. But what surprises me the most is all the really tired and exhausted parents that don’t reach out to me or another sleep professional for help because they don’t like the idea of “sleep training” or what they think that might mean based upon what they have been told by strangers, blogs, “research”, well intended friends and family and the list goes on. So, these exhausted parents continue adding on more sleep deprivation to themselves and their children. To clear up what ideas you might have heard about teaching your baby to sleep well, let me share three myths about what learning to sleep well is and isn’t if you work with me.
Myth #1: Your baby will not love you in the morning.
Do you think that after just a few nights of changing your baby’s sleep habits she won’t love you anymore? Is that all it would take? Would all the cuddles you give her, all the food you provide, all the diapers and clean clothes she wears, all the play times and bath times, all the kisses and laughter be for nothing because of a few nights of protest? The truth is that making changes to anyone’s sleep habits will always be met with some resistance in the beginning. So yes, it is safe to assume that your baby is not going to happily accept the fact that you are no longer going to rock her to sleep on the exercise ball for an hour each and every night, but as long as you are a loving and attentive parent in the first place, the love and nurture will endure. In fact, most people I work with find that once their baby is sleeping well, she’s even happier and healthier than before!
Myth #2: Sleep training means leaving your baby to “cry it out.”
First off, I never recommend a parent leaves their baby to cry it out and if there is a wait period, I don’t recommend its more than minutes long. In fact, I can guide you to stay in your child’s room with them the whole time — if that makes you feel more comfortable. The bottom line is that it’s not the crying that gets a baby sleeping well. The crying is simply your baby’s reaction to the change in his or her sleep habits, nothing more. In other words, your baby isn’t crying because she’s “mad” at you… or because you’re being cruel. The reason she’s crying is because she’s temporarily confused and likely overtired from nights of poor sleep! I mean, you used to rock or nurse her to sleep every night… and now you’re not doing that anymore. The great news is that your child’s confusion and fatigue usually only lasts a few days. Children adapt SO quickly that she’ll soon figure out how to calmly get herself to sleep… and then everyone’s happier!
Myth #3: Sleep training is too stressful for babies.
Not implementing sleep changes to proper way, yes for sure that is going to cause your baby more stress. Trying to push sleep skills too soon and your baby is not ready, yes that will likely cause more stress for your baby. But working with a sleep professional and implementing sleep changes the proper way will not cause your baby to deal with long bouts of stress. In fact, there is new evidence coming out that confirms that lack of sleep and lack of sleep consolidation for babies (over 6 months old) is far more stress inducing on a baby than a possible few nights of crying that there might be.
And another thing. For those who say that a few nights of crying are “too stressful?” Well, I say you’ve really got two choices:
- Make some changes. This usually involves a few nights of your baby crying at bedtime and likely in the middle of the night a couple of times. After a few nights, most babies start to learn how to fall asleep independently and the crying lessens a lot and often stops completely shortly thereafter. In this scenario, the total amount of “stress” felt by your child amounts to some crying for a few nights.
- Do nothing. In this scenario, the parent continues to nurse / rock / bounce their baby to sleep every night. The baby continues to wake up 1 – 10 times per night, and needs to be nursed / rocked / bounced back to sleep each time. In this scenario, both parent and child are subjected to months (or even years) of systematic sleep deprivation where neither ever gets enough consolidated sleep to wake up and feel rested or refreshed. If these poor sleep habits continue into the school years, there is evidence that it correlates with things like, increased risk of illness, obesity, trouble focusing in class and discipline issues – all of which sound pretty stressful to me!
So if one or more of these three myths have been holding you back from taking the simple steps needed to create long term, positive change for your child’s sleep, I really hope I’ve been able to change your mind.