What is Sleep Training?

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When I mention sleep training to parents, their first reaction is typically to cringe. We’ve all heard the stories: days of enduring hours-upon-hours of screaming followed by perfect sleep, or the ones about the parents who still haven’t gotten a decent night’s sleep after more than a year, and even the tales of those seemingly mythical children who have no sleep troubles at all and just start sleeping through the night without fuss at a few months old. “What will our fate be?” new parents wonder. “And if we aren’t the lucky parents of a ‘unicorn’ and have to actively do something about sleep, how awful will it be?  Should we even bother or can we adjust to life without sleep?”

We all want our children to be healthy and happy. Sleep is critical to good health: physical, cognitive, and social development, and the mood of our children. It’s our job as parents to teach our kids healthy sleep habits and hygiene. And children need healthy, well-rested parents to care for them, too! So yes, it is worth the struggle through some type of sleep teaching to ensure your child develops a skill she will rely on her entire life. And no matter what your parenting style, there is a way to teach your children the importance of sleep and how to sleep well.

I find that many parents do not really understand what sleep training is, so I want to break it down for you. At it’s core, regardless of which method you are considering, all sleep training techniques are fundamentally about helping your child develop the self-soothing skills he needs in order to transition between sleep cycles and eventually sleep long stretches and through the night.

Let me start by explaining that sleep training is NOT:

  • A specific method or technique

  • Harmful to your child if done correctly

  • Appropriate for newborns or very young infants

  • Something you should do without the ok of your pediatrician

  • Neglecting your baby

  • Easy

  • Without crying

Sleep training IS:

  • Teaching your baby how to soothe himself to back to sleep independently

  • Appropriate for babies typically 6 months or older

  • A process that takes varying amounts of time depending on method, parental consistency, and baby’s temperament

  • Consistently applying the best teaching technique for your family

  • Practiced during the day and at night

  • Built upon strong foundations for healthy sleep

I’m sure you have heard of some of the many different sleep training techniques. Hundreds of books have been written and classes taught on the subject. Clients often ask which method we recommend. Our answer often surprises clients: “Whichever method you can use consistently over a long period of time.”

In our next blog, we will discuss some of the most common sleep teaching techniques and when they might work best. Send us your questions here or on Facebook and we will do our best to address them!

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