Sleep, glorious sleep

I love to sleep.  When I don’t get enough sleep, I am a very cranky and grouchy person, and I recommend staying far, far away from me.  I can honestly say that before my first child was born, I really did not know that newborn babies do not sleep through the night.  I remember going to visit my first friend to have a baby about 10 years ago a week or so after her first child was born. At the time I remember feeling stressed out from graduate school, as though nothing could be more work or more exhausting than some studying and paper writing.  I have this fuzzy memory of my friend running around, doing lots of laundry, looking haggard and worn out, and I didn’t really understanding why she seemed so wiped (please see the last post What No One Tells You, under the section The Myth of the Sleeping Baby).  Four years later when my daughter was born, it all began to make sense:  the dark circles under her eyes, her inability to complete a thought, the memory loss.  Sleep deprivation.  It’s linked to decreased immune system function, poor appetite and strains on your mental health.  It can make everything seem more overwhelming than it already is.  Don’t forget, it is used as a method of torture.

In many circles, discussions of children’s sleep, and specifically how to get them to sleep, can be extremely polarizing. Often parents either fall on the “Cry It Out”/Ferber/sleep training side or the attachment parenting/cosleeping/anti sleep training side.  When we discuss the subject of infant sleep in The Chicago New Moms Group, I am very up front about the fact that I have a very clear philosophy when it comes to infant sleep.  I believe that learning how to sleep through the night and soothe oneself is a learned skill.  It is a skill that many children have to be taught in order to sleep a solid 11-12 hours without needing external soothing (from their parents).  It is a skill that they will use for their entire lives and therefore, one that, I feel,is extremely valuable to have.  We all know children and adults alike who have poor sleep hygiene.  They have a hard time falling asleep, they are up multiple times in the middle of the night, they have difficulty putting themselves back to sleep.  Although I don’t like to choose sides, when forced to, I guess I would fall on the side of Ferber and his methods.  I prefer not to think of it as the “Cry It Out” method because that puts too much emphasis on crying and not enough on the actual skill that is being learned:  self soothing.  I know there are many parents and experts feel strongly that the only way to help your children become securely attached is to share your bed with them and let them nap on you in a carrier.  I say, if this works for you, Great!  Go with it.  But what about all those exhausted parents out there who have tried this and found it not to work for them?  Sometimes parents can’t get a good night’s sleep with their child/ren in the bed with them and sometimes their child/ren are not getting a good night’s sleep there either.  These families are often left feeling like bad parents for even considering a method that involves any amount of crying and “abandonment.” What’s more is that there are no clear guidelines on this topic from a pediatric/medical standpoint.  When asked about sleep training, pediatricians’ responses as to when is a good time to sleep train a baby often range from 3 months of age to never.

With all the conflicting information, it is no wonder that parents are left feeling confused, overwhelmed and most importantly, exhausted.  I am not going to present the details of one side vs. the other or argue why my way is better.  I am just going to share with you what I have learned through my experiences working with new parents and also the veterans who are looking to make a change in their sleep plans based on where things went awry with their older child.  If you are looking to read studies on this topic, you can read an interesting review of the literature here.

These are my findings:

  • The earlier you teach your baby how to soothe him/herself to sleep, the easier it will be and the less time it will take, therefore, leading to less crying in the long run.
  • Babies, whether breastfed or formula fed, are capable of sleeping through the night (meaning 11-12 hours) typically starting as early as 4 months of age (depending on various weight and developmental factors).  They do not require solid food in order to be able to accomplish this skill.
  • Consistency is the key to success.
  • The “family bed” does not work for all families.
  • You know what is best for your baby, not your pediatrician or any number of sleep books.
  • It is important to have a plan that all adults involved can stick to and fall back on when you are sleep training your child.
  • A lovey/blankie/security object is a wonderful thing!  Please see The Power of the Blankie for more information on this.
  • It is very difficult for a breastfeeding mother to be directly involved in the sleep training process of her baby due to the fact that the baby will want to eat when the mom walks in the room.  The non-nursing partner, another family member or helpful friend should ideally be available to help, at least initially.
  • Children who are sleep trained cry less in general because they are well rested and therefore are less overtired and cranky.
  • The parents of a child who has learned how to self-soothe feel less stressed out due the fact that the burden of coaxing their child to sleep has been removed from them.  These children have learned how to put themselves to sleep after a comforting and familiar routine is consistently implemented.  The parents, in turn, are also well rested, happier and better able to function as parents when given time to recharge and take care of themselves.
  • Children who are sleep trained and taught to sleep on their own are happy and securely attached children due to the fact that their parents provide them with love and affection during their waking hours.

Still feeling exhausted and uncertain of what to do about it?  Do you need help?  Visit the Sleep Tight Consultants.


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