Is Sleep Training Really Necessary?
To sleep train or not to sleep train? This is a question that has become quite controversial over the past few years and has caused doubt and confusion for many parents who have considered sleep training with their child.
Unfortunately, the internet doesn’t help much, as you will likely find conflicting information that leaves you even more confused on what sleep training is and where to start.
This is why we feel it is important to educate parents around the concept of sleep training and factors to consider as you decide what is best for your family.
So, what is sleep training really?
It is actually a lot simpler than most people think. The idea behind sleep training is to help teach your child to sleep independently and develop healthy sleep habits.
Somewhere, somehow, in the last decade or so, sleep training became strongly associated with leaving your baby to cry until she falls asleep (the cry-it-out method). And while there are certainly some methods that do suggest this approach, they make up a small percentage of available sleep training techniques.
Just as you would consider different ways to potty train your child or introduce solids, you would follow a similar process when sleep training.
Sleep training simply put does not equal “cry-it-out”.
How do I know if I need to sleep train?
Sleeping is as natural to our bodies as eating and breathing. Regardless of our individual sleep habits and needs, there is not a human on this planet that can survive without sleep. So, it might seem odd that we have to “teach” our babies to sleep when it is something they should just know how to do, right?
It seems that way, but the reality is that as our babies get older and move through different development stages, they are learning to adjust to their environment, and sleep is greatly affected by our environment.
Our bodies know we need to sleep, but there are so many things that prevent us from getting the sleep we need. Distractions, over-stimulation, irregular sleep schedules, and sleep-crutches (to name a few), are all factors that can affect our sleep cycles.
For example, if your baby wants to sleep and her body is sending those cues and signals, but she isn’t put to sleep within her sleep window, she is going to have a hard time falling asleep due to becoming over-tired. Many parents won’t know this though because it takes time for your child to develop a natural sleep cycle and for you to be able to recognize that cycle to help her get the best sleep possible.
So back to the question of whether or not you should sleep teach/train. We believe that it isn’t a matter of if, but when you should sleep train your child.
Let me explain…
Because we know that sleep training is simply teaching your child independent and healthy sleep habits, this is something that ALL children need as they develop and grow.
We teach our children the importance of eating healthy foods, healthy communication, and healthy behavior. Why wouldn’t we teach them the importance of healthy sleep?
Of course, each child is going to be unique in their specific needs when it comes to sleep, so sleep training is certainly not a one-size-fits all approach.
It is important to choose a method that best addresses your child’s current sleep habits and your goals around healthy sleep in your household.
Some parents might also decide they want to focus on the healthy sleep part of sleep training but not necessarily the teaching of independent sleeping.
While an “independent sleeper” is also a term that confuses many, this is certainly your choice as a parent and you may choose to co-sleep or be more involved in the process of your child’s sleep than others. This is perfectly fine and doesn’t mean you can’t also teach your child healthy sleep hygiene.
You don’t even need to call it sleep training if you prefer!
Which method is right for my child?
As TJ Gold, a pediatrician based in NYC, says “There is no one right way to get your child to sleep. There are many different ways”.
But before you dive into specific methods of sleep teaching, you need to also consider your child’s age.
Healthy sleep habits can be taught at any age, but expectations of sleep should follow which stage your child is in developmentally.
For example, at 2 months old your child will likely need to be given a feed many times throughout the night. Where-as a seven or eight-month-old, is likely capable developmentally to sleep continuously throughout the night without a feed.
All sleep teaching should be based on the foundation of setting up healthy sleep. So regardless of your child’s age this should always be top of mind.
Some factors to consider first are sleep environment, appropriate sleep schedules and awake times, nutrition, and routine. Without these foundations in place, sleep training is likely not going to be effective.
It is also possible that when focusing on these foundations, the sleep challenges your child is facing could be corrected, simply through addressing the root of the issue.
In terms of choosing a specific method, there are upwards of 30/40 methods that have been developed by Doctors and sleep specialists to help your child learn to sleep better.
Identifying your child’s needs and your family sleep goals, as well as researching different methods, is a good place to start. You might also want to try to identify what type of sleeper your child is, so you have a sense of what she will respond to.
You may find that the popular method, “Ferber” is the best approach for your child, because she becomes over-stimulated when you are too involved in the entire sleep process. Or you might find that the “Sleep Lady Shuffle” is more your style because you want to transition from co-sleeping gradually.
It is also likely that you will try one method for some time and it doesn’t quiet correct the sleep challenges you’re facing, so you need to consider a different approach.
Again, this process is very similar to other things in life your child will learn such as potty training, riding a bike, learning to walk, etc.
You try one way and if that way isn’t working (after giving it time to stick), then you try another way.
Your child will eventually learn healthy sleep habits if they are taught. It doesn’t mean you will end up with a perfectly good sleeper who never has a bad night of sleep or refuses a nap.
But consistently taking the time to work with your child and setting up a foundation of good sleep hygiene will make a huge difference long-term.
If you feel more comfortable working with a professional, you can always contact a sleep consultant to help walk you through this process.
Feel free to contact us if that is something you are considering, and we are happy to answer any questions you have about this process!