Every day I have conversations with parents who are on the verge of exhaustion-trying to figure out how they can all get more sleep. Many of them have scoured the internet for answers or turned to family members to find out how exactly they survived so many sleepless nights in a row.
Unfortunately, this often leads to even more frustration as they try to figure out which one of the sleep methods they have read about will work for their child and when it is appropriate to start sleep teaching.
To add another layer of confusion, somewhere, somehow, the idea of “Sleep Teaching or Training” became associated with letting your baby cry all night long and thus has deterred many parents from seeking out professional help for their child’s sleep challenges.
As a parent, I completely understand the agony of hearing your child cry and feeling like you are going against every bone in your body by not being there to dry his tears. And to be honest, when I was in the trenches of sleep deprivation, I couldn’t handle the constant crying so immediately I thought, “well I guess sleep training isn’t for me and I just have to deal with this”.
I know that there are so many other parents out there that have felt this way too. The truth about sleep teaching is that it is designed to be an opportunity to help your child sleep better and that looks different for every child.
What is sleep teaching?
The idea behind sleep teaching is that you are helping your child form healthy sleep habits and laying foundations for better sleep overall. You really can use any term for this-training, teaching, coaching, etc.
For some children, they adapt naturally to a 24-hour sleep cycle and for others they have a difficult time figuring out day-time and night-time sleep patterns. Likewise, some babies are natural sleepers and don’t need as much guidance, while many refuse or reject sleep and have a hard time learning healthy habits.
Every child has unique sleeping patterns, and while sleeping is as natural and necessary as eating and breathing, babies do need some guidance when it comes to learning best practices for sleep.
When to sleep teach?
Generally, it is best to wait about 4 months before implementing any type of schedule or training methods, but there are many things you can do before then to help your child sleep better and hopefully help you get some rest too.
What to do?
Sleep environment- Creating a safe and comfortable space for your baby is an important part of implementing healthy sleep habits. Whether your child is sleeping in your room or in a separate space, preparing an environment that is sleep promoting, will help your baby fall and stay asleep. A few things to consider: make sure the room temperature is set between 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit and your child’s crib has fitted sheets and is free of large objects. You also want to make sure the room is as dark as possible and isn’t noisy or distracting.
Avoid sleep crutches. Many babies will develop a “crutch” and will start to rely on that one thing in order to fall or stay asleep. Often this is feeding to sleep, co-sleeping, taking a pacifier, or being rocked/bounced to sleep. To clarify, all of these things are great methods to use when helping your child to sleep, you just want to make sure that you cycle through them as opposed to using just one thing for every sleep attempt.
Pay attention to sleep cycles and awake windows. This is a tough one, because newborn’s sleep patterns are generally erratic until about four months. But you will notice that your baby probably goes in and out of sleep every 20-40 minutes or so in the first few months of life. While it is too early to implement a schedule of any kind, you can be aware of her threshold for staying awake and anticipate the next time she will need to nap as well as go down for bedtime.
Encourage sleep in designated sleep areas. Allowing your child to fall asleep in her swing or on her playmat, is sometimes inevitable. But you do want to try and encourage sleep as much as possible in her crib and her own sleep space so she gets used to sleeping independently (if that is your goal). If she does fall asleep in another area, you can always move her gently to her crib to help her make that connection.
Even when paying attention to all of these areas, you can still struggle with sleep deprivation. This leaves many parents frustrated and overwhelmed, unable to truly embrace the newborn stage as they wonder when they will ever sleep again.
What’s important when dealing with sleep deprivation, is that you know you have options and support and ultimately you are able to decide what course of action is best for your family.
Many parents decide to hire a sleep coach to help them through this process and that is something you might want to consider. A sleep coach is a trained professional that works with your entire family to help introduce and maintain healthy sleep habits. Many parents find comfort in knowing they don’t have to navigate sleep challenges alone and there are some tangible ways to improve sleep overall.
Exhaustion is a very real thing and there are so many families who are dealing with the effects of not getting enough sleep. If you are thinking sleep teaching could be an option for your family, I encourage you to speak with a professional outside of your inner circle who can work with you in finding the most sustainable method for your family.
In the mean-time, I hope you can rest easy in knowing that you are not alone and there are ways you can start getting more sleep and feel excited about each new stage to come.
Rachel Mitchell, Certified Sleep Coach and Founder
Rachel Mitchell is the owner/founder of My Sweet Sleeper. In 2013 she graduated from the International Maternity Institute after studying Maternity, Infant, and Toddler Sleep and that is when her idea was born to help other families!