Nothing can cause an argument faster in a group of parents than when someone brings up sleep training. Opinions range from "do it as early as possible" to "only terrible parents sleep train." With so many myths about sleep training out there, who do you believe? Let's examine the eight most common myths about sleep training and see what holds up.
Myth #1: It Isn't Normal For Babies To Sleep Through The Night
It is common to hear that even adults don't sleep through the night. There is a brief period of waking between sleep cycles. This is completely normal but it is also so brief that most people do not even remember waking up. When adults wake at the end of a sleep cycle and cannot get back to sleep, we consider this dysfunctional sleep. In an infant, some waking is normal but that doesn't mean that waking every hour is normal or healthy for your baby.
Myth #2: Self-Soothing Is Not Possible
Learning how to "self-soothe" is one of the most commonly discussed aspects of sleep training. Some argue that infants cannot regulate their emotions and are therefore not capable of self-soothing. It is absolutely true that emotional regulation is beyond the capabilities of young babies and children, there is a reason it is called the "terrible twos" after all. That doesn't mean that babies cannot learn some independent and self-regulatory skills.
For instance, learning to find a pacifier and put it back in their mouth in order to soothe themselves back to sleep is a skill that most babies can learn. This would fall under the category of "self-soothing" and is absolutely within the developmentally appropriate grasp of the average six month old.
Myth #3: Sleep Training Is A Short-Term Solution
Sleep training only works for a little while. As soon as your child gets sick, has a growth spurt, or experiences a sleep regression, the sleep training will have been for nothing. This myth is based on studies which show that -- long term -- children will sleep roughly the same whether they were sleep trained as babies or not. That's great news for two years from now! But it doesn't help overtired and frustrated parents now. Even if it is only a short-term solution, chronic sleep deprivation is a health risk for parents.
Myth #4: It Isn't Always Even A Short-Term Success
This myth assumes that all parents have the same sleep training goals and that there is a magic, one-sized-fits-all sleep training technique. Neither of those things are true. While "sleep training" is considered synonymous with "cry it out", there are many methods of sleep training that may work better for a child or family. A qualified Sleep Consultant will be able to create a plan specific to your family.
Myth #5: Sleep Training Will Damage Your Bond
Babies cry because they are hungry or wet. They cry because they bonked their nose, or because they don't like broccoli, and the dog licked their foot. They cry because they are tired, or worse, overtired. They sometimes cry for no reason at all. Your child crying does not break their trust in you, not even if they cry for a while.
A few nights of sleep training will not damage their bond. What can damage their bond though, is an exhausted parent who develops a postpartum mood disorder and doesn't seek treatment. For many people, adequate sleep is an integral part of their treatment plan for their mental health.
Myth #6: There Are Reasons Babies Don't Sleep
Of course there are! That is why a Sleep Consultant is a great idea. It is their job to eliminate environmental reasons for lack of sleep. They may also identify sleep disrupting physical issues and recommend you speak to your child's doctor. If you ever suspect there are underlying physical causes for sleep issues, you should always contact your child's physician before undertaking a sleep training program.
Myth #7: Society Tells You To
You should not sleep train your baby because "that's just what you do" or because you think not sleep training your child will make them clingy and dependent. Sleep is a vital building-block to good health, for both children and adults. Babies need enough sleep to grow, process things, and develop new cognitive skills. A baby who does not sleep enough will struggle in many ways. Adults and caregivers also need adequate sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation contributes to cardiac illness, depression and anxiety, and increases the likelihood of having an accident while driving.
Myth #8: Sleep Training Is Awful To Do
Some parents find sleep training to be distressing. But most understand that it is a short period of time. For those who are struggling with follow through, they can either ask for a different method or hire someone to do the sleep training for them. There are lots of things that are unpleasant that we have to do for our health; no one likes going to the dentist after all. Sleep deprivation is not a badge of honour, it is a real and lasting health problem. For as many parents who struggle and need to bring in extra help, many parents have no issues with sleep training their child and are not bothered by it at all.
The sleep needs of an infant vary greatly depending on their age. Very small babies need to eat frequently throughout the night because that is developmentally normal and appropriate. There comes a point when that is no longer the case and that is when sleep training can occur. Sleep training can also address the nutritional needs of young babies while also helping to set up great sleep habits for later down the road. The problem with most sleep training myths is that they are fear based; this idea that it is cruel or abusive and therefore parents who choose it are bad parents. But exhaustion is not the hallmark of a good parent.
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