Sleep is a complex parenting issue and many parents have found help turning to “sleep training” techniques. In my opinion there is no one-size-fits-all solution to getting your baby to sleep at night. This is simply because babies are physically hardwired to wake often, usually after each sleep cycle. The real sleep training secret is that parents should do their homework when it comes to infant sleep. The first step is to know each of the tried and true techniques of the experts. There are many baby books out there and all of them include infant sleep advice.
Based on my personal experience, here are the top 3 most successful “sleep training” books. So check them out at your local library or buy them on Amazon and dive in:
1. Elizabeth Pantley The No Cry Sleep Solution is my top choice for parents, especially nursing moms. Elizabeth mainly focuses on the bedtime/wind down routine which takes work but is something that parents have control over. She also offers a great amount of comfort around not feeling like a failure if your baby still wakes up at night and encouragement around what to do if this happens.
2. Richard Ferber Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems is the go-to technique for many working parents. It is so popular it has been referred to as “ferberizing.” Using a technique he calls progressive waiting, parents are taught to put their baby to bed when she is tired (but not over-tired) and give the baby a chance to learn to fall asleep on her own. If she cries you go back in and comfort her.
3. Tracy Hogg Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer: How To Calm, Connect, And Communicate With Your Baby, describes a particular parenting system but I like her sleep philosophy within the book. A good fit for caretakers, grandparents and fathers she also focuses on letting babies fall asleep on their own and teaching them independence from day 1.
Once you decide on a sleep technique that feels right, begin slowly and cautiously. Both you and your baby are trying something new so give each other a break. What saddens me about “sleep training”
is that it is often associated with “the crying it out method.” A word of caution here – the days of letting a baby cry themselves to sleep are over. If your parents or grandparents are adamant about letting the baby cry herself to sleep, here is a quote you can refer them to regarding a recent infant sleep study:
“Research has shown that infants who are routinely separated from parents in a stressful way have abnormally high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as lower growth hormone levels. These imbalances inhibit the development of nerve tissue in the brain, suppress growth, and depress the immune system.” – Science Says: Excessive Crying Could Be Harmful
Once you feel educated enough about a sleep technique and begin to try it out, you will know very soon whether it worked or not. Your baby will either fall asleep or cry. The crying is the hard part for many parents. Some give up too soon and have zero tolerance for crying. Others push too hard, letting their child get so worked up she cries until she throws up. This is obviously not the way to go. A good rule of thumb is to lie your baby down awake and leave her to fall asleep on her own for 2-5 minutes. If she falls asleep, you win. If after 5 minutes she is truly crying then you have to go back in and comfort her using one of the techniques in the books above.
By now you may have noticed that this post is only focusing on getting babies to fall asleep on their own. What about keeping them from waking up at night?!? Well, that is the secret within itself. The ideal situation is that your baby had a sweet bedtime routine, which led to her falling asleep on her own. After her first sleep cycle ends she will wake up and look around to see that she is safe. Then she yawns and goes back to sleep on her own, again. It is the sleep training techniques that will get you to this dream scenario. Unfortunately you cannot keep your baby from waking up at night.
An Alternative to Sleep Training: The Family Bed
A family bed is actually not just one bed that the whole family sleeps in. Ideally each family member has their own space to sleep in. For example my husband and I sleep in a huge cal king bed and our four-year-old is in the middle. My six-year-old daughter sleeps below me on a trundle that rolls in nicely when I want it to. I have also seen some families put a crib next to their bed and take the side rail off completely. Others have futons on the floor. The idea behind the family bed is that your presence has a powerful calming effect on a baby or child. When kids are calmed and soothed they fall asleep, or fall back asleep after waking at night.
Some babies are able to learn to self-soothe, in which case one or more sleep techniques will most likely work for them. Others are not able to do this because they have a type of nervous system that needs a (calm) adult present to help calm them. I tried all of the above sleep methods and more on my daughter with zero success. Even now that she is in kindergarten she still needs me to fall asleep. I failed with sleep training and was so grateful to have found Elizabeth Pantley’s book to help me cope. Whether you are a new parent or are trying out something new on another child, I hope this helps you get just enough sleep tonight!