I’ve spent a lot of time knee-deep in the field of pediatric sleep. I’ve dedicated my professional (and personal) life to helping parents teach their children sustainable, long-lasting, healthy sleep habits so that every family member can get the rest they need. Implementing healthy sleep habits – whether it’s laying a strong foundation for a newborn or helping a 10-month-old sleep through the night – is a no brainer for me. Obviously I am a huge proponent of sleep training.
That being said, I also don’t believe that every family should sleep train. (Wait, whhhhat!?)
That’s right! Sleep training is a deeply personal decision and is not the right choice for every family.
Usually, the question of whether or not to sleep train only comes up when parents are struggling with sleep to begin with. Maybe…
- Every time you lay your child down, they immediately wake back up and start crying.
- It takes you multiple attempts and many hours to get your baby to finally settle at bedtime.
- Your baby wakes up multiple times a night, sometimes for long periods of time.
- Your child will only sleep well when they’re in your bed and you’re ready to get them out.
- Your child continues to wake up for night feeds even when they are getting plenty of calories during the day.
- Your baby will only take contact naps.
Regardless of what brings families to me, the common theme is that they are tired of being tired!
But while sleep training is not the right path for every family, there are 3 reasons why I am a huge advocate for it:
1. It helps your child
Your baby wants to sleep – I promise! We have hormones (melatonin & cortisol) and biological factors (circadian rhythm and sleep pressure) that are operating internally to promote sleep. When babies struggle, it usually means that there are external factors and habits that are getting in the way of their bodies getting the rest it needs.
Babies who are sleep deprived are fussier, more irritable, less motivated to learn about their environment, and generally do not thrive as much as they would if they got an appropriate amount of sleep.
Once babies have developed the skills needed for independent sleep, they are able to easily fall asleep at bedtime & naps, sleep soundly through the night, and only wake up when their body is fully rejuvenated and ready to be awake. A baby who has not yet developed the ability to sleep independently is more likely to struggle to go down easily, wake up between sleep cycles needing assistance, and have trouble sleeping for long stretches of time.
Think about how you feel the morning after you’re up every hour or two. Probably pretty fuzzy and out of it. Now multiply that by every night your baby has not been sleeping well. That’s a long time to be so tired (and I bet you are right there with them!)
2. The effects trickle down to the whole family
Both sleep deprivation and being well-rested have “trickle down” effects.
If your child isn’t sleeping well, chances are high (very high) that you are not sleeping well either. While it’s hard to admit – especially in our current culture – lack of sleep is incredibly harmful to caregivers, especially mothers. Lack of sleep dramatically increases the chances of post-partum disorders such as anxiety and depression and often negatively impacts relationships with partners and other children. Additionally, daily tasks such as driving a car, being successful (or even functional) at work, and making time to do things you enjoy all take a hit. When you are sleep deprived, it is near impossible to perform at peak levels in all areas of life.
On the contrary, being well-rested means that you can thrive in your life vs. just survive. Your head is clearer, your outlook more positive, and you have the emotional capacity to juggle the many moving parts of parenting, partnering, and person-ing. Sleep training can do a whole lot more than just give you an uninterrupted 8 hours.
3. It gives you confidence & predictability
Aside from better sleep (and all its health and emotional benefits), one of my favorite things about sleep training is that it empowers parents to feel confident about their child’s sleep.
Many of the families I work with tell me that laying their child down at bedtime gives them low-level anxiety; they have no idea what each night will bring.
After sleep training, families have a predictable bedtime, their child is able to fall asleep on their own within minutes, and they have the peace of mind that they won’t hear from their child for 10-12 hours. During the day, parents can plan activities and run errands with less stress because they know exactly when their child is going to need a nap and about how long they will sleep. Even for the most go-with-the-flow families, this predictability can go a long way in helping relieve stress.
And even better than predictability is the confidence parents have in keeping sleep on track. After working together, many parents of Oh Baby Graduates tell me that they feel as though they’ve become the “sleep expert” and can effectively troubleshoot whenever an issue arises. Whether they’re navigating travel and time-zone changes, teething and seasonal illnesses, or schedule shifts stemming from dropping a nap, these parents are pros.
There are so many more advantages to sleep training, and the most enjoyed benefits will be different for each family. But one thing’s for sure: there’s really no downside to getting better sleep!
If you think your family is ready to sleep train, please know that you don’t have to do this alone! Let’s work together to come up with a customized plan of action that meets your baby where he or she is at developmentally and aligns with your family’s lifestyle and values. I’d love to support you on your sleep journey.