Sleep training, the age-old method to torture your children to stay in their own beds all night, sobbing while you put in headphones and Netflix binge in pure bliss.
I kid, I kid.
Sleep training is not easy, nor meant to be tortuous. Though – er – it can be for everyone depending on how it goes.
Contrary to popular belief, sleep training is also not synonymous with the “cry-it-out” method (CIO). First, every family should start with simple independent sleep practices before going down the road of method sleep training. Read my post here on Independent Sleep Practices that you should consider implementing with your baby before explore further methods.
For us, our first child was and still is an attached child. He loves to be cuddled, held, snuggled, hugged, and rocked, to this day. He wants to hold hands, sit on your lap, get carried, offer hugs to strangers and kiss his brother even when he brother refuses. As an infant, he was similar. We had the hardest, hardest, hardest time getting him to sleep those first few months and it was utter torment for all of us. My child wasn’t getting enough sleep and neither was I, nor my husband or anyone who dare visit us in those first few months of his life. I am no stranger to “doing anything needed” to get my kid to sleep – especially when I went back to work at 4 months and he was still requiring holding, rocking, nursing, singing, swaying, bouncing and other forms of pampering to fall asleep, stay asleep or go back to sleep. It was an all-night-long-process that left me crying in a conference room googling “sleep training RIGHT NOW” at work. I took him, alone, to visit my parents’ around this time and didn’t sleep for the whole 4-nights as I tried to manage his nighttime ups and downs solo. It was seriously horrible.
I learned a lot from that experience (I went through it. And, I read literally over 30+ articles, a few books, talk to multiple doctors, sleep specialist and like, all of my moms I knew). I learned even more when I had another baby! For my second, we religiously practiced independent sleep methods and things were a whole lot easier. That goes without saying, he is a different child and could have just been easier because that is who he is – but I’ll never know.
Before you begin training there are a few things that have to be checkmarked off:
- Your baby is old enough. Some argue that 12 weeks is old enough to start sleep training, while others vehemently will disagree. It all comes down to your own baby (consider things like weight, temperament and their natural patterns). I am not a professional, but I believe you can start independent sleep practices just a few weeks after coming home from the hospital and move on to sleep training as needed around 4 months. Some babies need more time (or less, if you are lucky).
- Is the whole team ready? Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about the process that lies ahead and the work it entails for both of you.
- You have followed all the Independent Sleep Practices up to this point.
- Know the guidelines: Infants age 4–12 months normally should get between 12–16 hours of sleep during a 24-hour period (including naps). Children between the ages of 1–2 years require more like 11-14 hours in a day, and ages 3–5 require about 10–13 hours a day.
- Set yourself up for success: make sure you start when you have at least three weeks ahead of you without any major changes like mom going back to work, new caregivers, lots of visitors, time zone changes/travel, or new cribs/house/bedrooms adjustments.
- Your baby weighs enough. Your doctor needs to clear that your baby is fit enough to start down a sleep training path – both in weight and other health considerations. Talk to your child’s doctor ASAP. Ensuring you have the professional medical clearance is key. Your pediatrician can help rule out conditions like reflux or GERD, sleep apnea, or allergies, that could be keeping your child up.
- Be prepare to stay consistent. One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is, no matter what method they pick, they aren’t consistent. You’ll end up having to start all over and confuse your child’s learning process through the method sleep training.
Some people argue that cry-it-out and other forms of sleep training are cruel and will cause harm to your child – like damaging brain cells. I can only speak from my personal experience – once my child was sleep trained, there was LESS crying and MORE happiness and sleep in our home. Less crying and more sleep is good for my child – and for me. That’s as far as I’ll argue on a personal front. Sleep training is a personal decision and is not right for every family or every baby. You should make your own decision without shame.
If you decide to sleep train, remember, effective sleep-training tactics vary from one child to another, even in the same family. Every family and child is different and not every method will work for everyone, even just considering timing or environment.
Sleep should be a priority for you and your family whatever your path is. Frequent night waking can be linked to postpartum depression in moms and behavioral and developmental issues in kids. Babies also release the stress hormone cortisol, the less rested they are, thus spinning the cycle out of control by setting them up for more wake-up or disrupting their ability to relax and fall asleep.
1. Pick a Method
There is Cry-it-Out, The Ferber Method and The Gentle Method. I’ll be adding more on each of these very soon!
2. Download a Sleep Tracker
We used the Babytracker for all things baby and loved it. This will help you start tracking your baby’s nature patterns and also, the progression (or regression) he or she is making on sleep. You will also get to easily calculate sleep within 24 hour periods and remember (without racking your brain) the last time they woke-up, etc.
Give Yourself A Weekend
Start your method at a time that works best for you. There is never a great time to start sleep training, life is life. If you can kick a Friday to the curb at work, start on a Thursday night to give yourself a long weekend or a Friday night if needed. If you have a slow work week, a staycation period coming up (like Thanksgiving week) – that might be a good time to plan for.
Have a Timer Handy
You’ll need an actual time/stopwatch or your phone timer to track your progress at night – this is especially handy if you have decided to do “cry-it-out”.
Let One Person Rest
One partner should have earplugs and a sleep band, get some rest so you can trade off later. You can read more about ways to share the night with a partner here. During sleep training, I find it super critical to have a plan in place as the process can test everyone to their limits.
Expect Some Fussing
It’s probably inevitable no matter what path you pick or what kind of child you have to have some crying, whining, fussing, etc.. You have to set yourself to expect it and accept it to some degree. If you can’t handle it, maybe it’s best your partner is the one to lead the team here.
Remember it Won’t Last Forever
Sleep training won’t last forever, and you will sleep again. This is a process and a phase and it will be worked out. It feels like a deep and dark sleepless tunnel when you have a night-waking baby but with the right process for your family, you’ll get there. If you can’t do it on your own, search for outside help through a sleep consultant. Ain’t no shame in the get-sleep game, do what you need to do for success.
For more on safe infant mattresses, best cribs, or best products for sleep – visit these posts. For more on swaddles and such – visit this post!