As you can gather from the title, I’m talking about a controversial topic today – sleep training. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you practised it with your child, maybe you hate it.
When I first had the idea for this post I was just going to write about my experience. But I decided that actually, it would be interesting to also hear from other parents and their views on it. So I decided to do a little bit of research (check me out, getting all professional 🤣).
What Is Sleep Training?
For those of you who haven’t heard of sleep training, it’s basically training your child to fall asleep independently. There are lots of different methods of sleep training and everybody seems to have an opinion on it.
But, before I go any further into this post I thought that it might be helpful to detail some of the more well-known sleep training methods. Sleep training is not recommended for babies under the age of 1:
Cry It Out
I have started with probably the harshest of the Sleep Training methods. This is also the one that most people think of when they hear ‘sleep training’. This one is where you pop your little one down in their cot awake and leave the room. Then, when they cry, you leave them to it until they fall asleep.
Pick Up, Put Down
This method really confuses me!
It’s where you pick your baby up, reassure them, then put them down. If they cry once they are down, pick them up. Reassure them again, then put them down and leave the room. You basically carry on like this until your baby falls asleep.
Longer And Longer
Again, you pop your little one down awake, say good night, then leave the room. When they start crying you go in after 3 minutes and soothe them without picking them up or talking to them, then leave. If they cry again, go back in after 5 minutes and repeat. If they’re still crying, go back in after 10 minutes and do the same again. Should they continue to cry, go back into their room every 15 minutes until they fall asleep.
This is where you put your little one down in their cot awake and sit next to them until they fall asleep. If they fuss, you can soothe them. Each night, increase the distance between you and their cot until you are sat outside their room.
Okay, now that part is out of the way, let’s get into it.
Why Am I Talking About Sleep Training?
Well, why not really? Sleep training is always a hot topic within the parenting world. As I stated above, everyone has an opinion on it! With this post, I want to show both sides of the sleep training argument. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but hopefully, this will give you some insight as to why, or why not, people have tried it.
So, the reason it’s such a hot topic is because parents are going out of their minds from lack of sleep. Their children aren’t sleeping and parents don’t know what to do. I’ve talked about sleep before, in my post Becoming A Parent – Expectation vs Reality. I said that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture because it really does mess with you!
Regular poor sleep can have such a negative effect on you. It can cause a number of health issues such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes – according to the NHS website. Not only that, but it also plays havoc with your mental health.
Our Sleep Training Story
Before we hear about other peoples view, I’m going to tell you a bit about our sleep training story.
Little J was a great sleeper until he got Bronchiolitis and had to be taken to the hospital when he was 15 months old. After that, he would cry and refuse to go to sleep at bedtime. So Daz and I started to cuddle him to sleep. Which was lovely, to begin with. But obviously he would expect it every night and it started to get more difficult to get him to sleep and put him down.
So, then we moved onto the Gradual Retreat method (see above). This worked at the start but as time went on, Little J would take longer and longer to settle. Daz and I would take it in turns each night to settle him. It got to the point where we would spend almost an hour and a half in his room every night. We then began to argue about whose turn it was to settle him that night.
Little J then started waking in the night. As Daz is working, I would be the one to go in and try and settle him. Sometimes I would be in Little Js room for up to an hour each time he woke up, sometimes multiple times a night.
Mental Health Worries
Like many people with mental health issues, I find that I really suffer when my sleep is disrupted. By now, Little J was 17 months old and was no longer breastfeeding so it felt like he was waking more out of habit rather than actually needing anything. Something had to be done. I was not prepared for my mental health to go back to how it was when Little J was first born. So, after some serious thought and talks with the health visitor, we decided to try the longer and longer method (see above).
We liked the sound of this method because Little J would still be getting the reassurance from us. I didn’t want him to think that we’ve completely abandoned him!
I knew it wouldn’t be easy and honestly, the first few nights were tough. Little J is stubborn but so am I (where do you think he gets it from?) I just had to remind myself that he’s safe, he’s fed, watered and not too hot or cold. We made sure that we had lots of cuddles before bed. He was fine, he was just not used to this change of routine.
And by the 4th night, we’d cracked it. We pop him down sleepy but awake and goes to sleep. Usually, if he wakes in the night, he’ll settle himself back down whereas before he would stand up and cry. Now, if he does wake up in the night and start crying, we know something is obviously wrong and we go in and see to him.
For my research, I asked for mums and dads honest opinions on sleep training and if they had ever tried it. Everyone was asked the same questions:
- What are your thoughts on sleep training?
- Did you sleep train any of your children and why?
- Did you find that people made comments on your decision?
Will Never Sleep Train
Sleep training has such negative connotations and as expected a lot of the answers that I got from mums was a very firm NO.
Many people believe that sleep training can cause long-term emotional or behaviour harm. Some even said that it was cruel, mean, cold and detached. Here are some of the other responses:
- Sleep is developmental and it’s normal for babies, children and adults to wake in the night.
- By not responding to our child crying we are teaching them that the main people they trust in their lives will not respond to them when they need us.
- Babies main form of communication is crying. It is not manipulation in any form. They cry because they need us.
I do agree with these statements to a certain extent. As I said in my post Who Asked Your Opinion, babies are not designed to sleep through the night. I would never have attempted sleep training Little J before the age of 1 and I would never leave a baby to cry at night for a length of time.
One trend I did notice was an alarming amount of parents had been pressured into sleep training their children by friends and family. Like Lucy from Real Parent:
I had lots of pressure from people around me (in terms of what I thought I had to be doing) to not co-sleep, get baby in their cot ASAP, self settling and all that jazz.
I felt pressure to get Fin ‘sleep trained’ so we did the cry it out thing because we thought we had to, and it didn’t work, and it was heart breaking, and I have not done it with my other two.Lucy – Real Parent
It makes me sad that parents are being forced into making decisions that they are not comfortable with. Just because sleep training worked for us, doesn’t mean that I would pressure another mum into trying it with their child. I might suggest that they try it, but if they say no, what right do I have to try and make them change their mind?
Tried Sleep training
One thing that became obvious was a majority of the parents that I asked that had tried sleep training did not take the decision to do so lightly. They were literally at the end of their tether. Their mental health was at an all-time low – something that I can relate to.
Some of the mums explained that the lack of sleep would not only affect their day to day life but also their other children and their partners. They found that they were not able to spend any quality time with their partners as they would rather sleep!
Some also found that their relationships were suffering as everyone was completely drained and snappy. There was no time to unwind and relax. They said that it felt like there was a black cloud hanging over them.
Do What’s Best For You
What I found lovely, was the number of mums that said do what you need to do. They understood what a detrimental effect lack of sleep has on mental health.
Have a routine and do what is best for you and your family is what Joanna from My Anxious Life suggests:
We personally didn’t sleep train either of our children. It has somewhat of a negative reputation, and I suppose some parents don’t appreciate the connotations of the word “training”.
With our children: they ate dinner at roughly the same time every day, had a bath at roughly the same time, went to bed at roughly the same time etc and we found that a good routine was enough.
It’s the nature of being a parent that someone always has something to say and some “advice” on what you could do better, but if you’re doing what’s best for your family, you can’t go wrong.Joanna – My Anxious Life
A lot of mums turn to social media groups in a time of need. They are looking for some friendly advice regarding sleep and what they can do. I understand that I did ask for parents honest opinions on sleep training but with some of the answers that I got from doing this research, I’m concerned that these ladies who asked for advice – who are already in a fragile state mentally – are being made to feel worse than they already do.
Whether you are all for or completely against sleep training, if a mum asks for advice, just be kind. And if you can’t do that, MOVE ON. You have no idea what the mum is going through and your comment may just tip her over the edge.
Not everyone will agree with sleep training. At the end of the day, being happy, healthy and looking after your mental health is so important. If you’re not well, how can you expect to look after your little one?