Somewhere along the way, the term “sleep training” became a negative one. It would be nicer to think of it as “sleep coaching” or “sleep shaping”. Many people assume their baby will just sleep when they’re tired or eventually they’ll sleep through the night. However, we know most babies need some help learning how to fall asleep and stay asleep independently.
What is “sleep training” to me? It’s a process of teaching healthy sleep habits, empowering parents, creating schedules that align with biological needs, and doing so in a way that minimizes crying.
This process of “sleep training” has a lot of misconceptions and I’d like to clear some of those up:
Sleep training means Cry-It-Out.
There are several methods to helping your child sleep better. Some are gentler and take more time and consistency. Others are very direct and work quickly. People are surprised to learn that most methods WILL work if you do them the right way. This is where a sleep consultant is invaluable. Am I going to suggest your “suddenly afraid-of-the-dark” preschooler cry-it-out? Probably not, because that would only make them more fearful of bedtime. Don’t worry I have lots of tools in my sleep consultant toolbox J. I frequently hear from parents that they have tried letting their child cry and it didn’t work. Often, I find they are missing an action plan with key components, like correct scheduling, routines, environment, etc. You don’t have to cry-it-out to be successful, but know that all sleep training involves letting your child learn how to self-soothe.
Put your baby down drowsy but awake.
This one is tricky…it’s probably the most frequently heard sleep phrase. Putting your baby down drowsy but awake is a great start when your baby is 0-4 months old. However, if your child is waking frequently at night, early in the morning, taking catnaps or no naps, then you need to start moving toward AWAKE. Many parents of young babies have trouble hitting the sweet spot of “drowsy” and end up putting their baby down too sleepy. Your child needs to learn how to put themselves to sleep from a completely “awake” state. This is important because once they master this self-soothing skill, they can put themselves back to sleep when they transition through sleep cycles.
Sleep training means sleeping all the way through the night.
Many people believe that sleep training means you are teaching your child to sleep through the night, aka, from 7 pm -7 am with no feedings. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case! Many babies rely on some night feedings until 9-12 months. We can teach baby how to sleep independently AND only wake once or twice for a predictable feed.
You’ve successfully “sleep trained” your child, YAY! Now, you’re set!
Babies are unpredictable little humans sometimes. They experience illnesses, regressions, big developmental milestones, travel, etc. We don’t always sleep consistently and soundly every night, so we shouldn’t expect children to do the same. For example, many parents become panicked if their child starts waking up too early in the morning. Keep a sleep log and make sure the “problem” is occurring for more than 6 days before you start changing anything up. Luckily, if you’ve set the right foundation, you will easily be able to transition back to those healthy sleep habits.