Why 'sleep training' is our LAST resort...
Something we see regularly that we cannot wholeheartedly agree with is the advice around "sleep training" your baby at night only, in complete isolation from their day time naps, without first at least looking at the total amount of sleep they're having in a 24-hour period, irrespective of whether the baby is actually fully ready to be sleep trained in the night.
I understand the theory behind this, I do. The justification is that at night, there are a whole raft of sleep hormones working in your favour and your baby's circadian rhythm kicks in, so sleep should be easier to achieve than in the day... Yep. For sure. Provided they're actually ready to sleep better at night.
Let me explain what I mean:
[VIDEO: "Should I fix my baby's sleep at night or work on the day as well?"]
Sleep training an overtired baby
We know there is a really strong link between daytime and night-time sleep. While differentiated in your baby's brain, they are still very intrinsically linked. You will know yourself that if your baby or toddler is extremely overtired they will usually have a lousy night. This of course means your baby then starts the day already overtired, which leads to poor napping and the cycle continues. Equally, if a baby has too much daytime sleep or naps too late in the day, we know they will naturally sleep less at night because they're simply not tired enough for a full restorative sleep. (Have a read of THIS article for more info on over and under tiredness).
Controlled crying and naps
It can actually be really tricky to know what the best amount of nap hours is for your little one and baby sleep is a very fast-changing phenomenon, so the nap pattern your baby had a few weeks ago might no longer be meeting their needs.
Now imagine your baby is waking a lot at night and you're at a loss as to why and you're tired and exhausted. You seek some free or paid advice and you're told that you need to start sleep training your baby at night to teach them to sleep through, as though their night waking is DEFINITELY a settling issue. So you do it. I did it, with my eldest. You don't want much crying (who does want to hear their baby cry), but you're told it's inevitable. In this case, it most definitely is! You work on your baby's night waking, using whatever method they've given you - controlled crying, verbal reassurance, check-in methods, pick-up put-down - wondering why your baby is resisting so much, why it's taking hours and hours all night long. You give up because it's too stressful on you both OR it does work, eventually, after night upon night of tears and frustration...
BUT no one had asked you about your baby's naps during that whole process. No one had first tried to see if your baby's night waking was simply caused by their daytime naps being a bit off pattern. No one first tried to tweak their nap hours, (a very easy thing to do) which would have involved no crying or anxiety, just to see if that could make a difference. Nope - they jumped straight in to diagnosing and "fixing" your baby's night waking in total isolation. Your baby could well have been crying during this process, not because they were being "naughty" and refusing to respond to the sleep training, but because they simply weren't tired enough to go back to sleep. Or they were overtired and the stress hormone cortisol was coursing through their body making it extremely hard for them to settle on their own.
|It is not fair on your baby to expect something of them that they are actually incapable of delivering. No amount of sleep training is going to make your baby sleep if they're physiologically not ready for sleep. Surely that's the first place you should start?|
Eventually your baby probably will "sleep" through the night. Or so you think... Because you might not notice the long silent wakeful periods in the middle of the night (as a result of their imbalanced napping in the day), but now your baby knows better than to cry.
It's all a bit morbid and devastating isn't it?
And I'm sorry but this is something that really tugs at my heart strings. This is where the bad press about sleep training comes from. This is the kind of thing that ruins it for the rest of us who understand the holistic approach to baby sleep.
And so this is what WE do:
We focus on naps. It's actually, probably, the primary focus of our company. In fact, we don't ever really push the "sleeping through the night" thing because there are a dozen factors that have to line up for that to happen in the first place and the biggest one of these is getting naps on track. Quite simply, if a baby's naps aren't spot on, sleep training is going to be VERY tricky and a lot more stressful than necessary. So that's where we start. We provide you with the perfect nap hours and timings for your baby's age (and it is all very age specific and ever-changing) and we get that all in place before even looking at nights! Many many babies will then automatically sleep a lot better at night simply because their naps are structured to naturally promote good night sleep. Once the naps are spot on we can begin to look for other reasons for night waking. This is where a whole raft of factors can be ticked off and ruled out or improved upon. Things like feeding or the introduction of solids, the sleep environment, habit waking (in older babies). It is only then that we would move into self-settling and "sleep training" territory, once we were confident your baby was totally ready and there was nothing like over or under tiredness that could impact the success of the whole thing. Babies in this situation are far more likely to respond to our gradual methods because they are perfectly ready to do so.
Sleep training (especially at night) is usually the last bridge we cross with a baby. Sometimes, many times, the answer to your baby's sleep is much much simpler and will involve fewer tears, from your baby and from you.
- Middlemiss, W., D.A. Granger, W.A. Goldberg, and L. Nathans. Asynchrony of mother-infant hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity following extinction of infant crying responses induced during the transition to sleep. Early Hum Dev. 88(4): p. 227-32. 2012.
- Burnham, Melissa M et al. “Nighttime sleep-wake patterns and self-soothing from birth to one year of age: a longitudinal intervention study.” Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines vol. 43,6 (2002): 713-25. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00076
- Goodlin-Jones, B L et al. “Night waking, sleep-wake organization, and self-soothing in the first year of life.” Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP vol. 22,4 (2001): 226-33.
- Gračanin, Asmir et al. “Is crying a self-soothing behavior?.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 5 502. 28 May. 2014, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00502
- St James-Roberts I, Roberts M, Hovish K, Owen C. Video Evidence That Infants Can Resettle Themselves Back to Sleep After Waking in the Night, as well as Sleep for Long Periods, by 3 Months of Age. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2015 Jun;36(5):324-9. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000166. PubMed PMID: 26035139; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4459553.
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