We greeted the birth of our second born with joy and perhaps a little trepidation, for this time, we know what we were in for. We knew what it feels like to be sleep deprived with no end in sight. A loud cry will always puncture a brief respite. We have to muster the strength to get house chores done while being extremely tired and sleepy. During the first month after our baby was born, it seems our whole universe revolves around my baby’s chaotic sleeping schedule. Remarkably, we will always be awakened by the tiny little noise she makes despite our exhausted state. Before, my wife used to joke that it takes a cannon blasting inside my bedroom to wake me up.
4 months after our baby was born, we started to develop her ability to put herself to sleep with less or no intervention from us.
Many experts agree that 4 to 6 months is the ideal time to start sleep training. At that age, the baby is old enough to sustain the prolonged stress associated with sleep training.
It roughly takes us about 2 weeks before we consider our efforts successful. Here is what we did in a nutshell: When we sense that our baby is tired, we gently put her to bed and comfort her until she calms down but still awake. Then we start to distance ourselves from our baby a little bit more day by day until we make our presence barely noticeable to our baby. If she can’t soothe herself to sleep and start crying, we wait for a few minutes to see if she can calm down before we step in.
When to start sleep training your baby
Most experts agree that 4-6 months is the right time to start sleep training. Luckily, it is not a deadline. It is perfectly ok to start sleep training after deciding that both parents and babies are ready.
Here is a checklist to help you get ready.
- Read as much as possible on this subject, including this article.
- Ensure there is no significant commitment like a vacation, moving home during the timeframe you reserve for sleep training.
- Make sure both you and your spouse are ready for the big battle ahead. That includes a discussion to get you two on the same page about sleep training.
Once you go through the checklist and determine you are ready, you need to evaluate your children’s health state. Consult your pediatrician is a good idea. Once you believe everyone is well prepared, the game is on.
The aim and benefit of sleep training
Newborn’s sleep is incredibly fragmented. The typical sleep circles for a newborn baby usually last around 45 minutes. As babies grow, their sleep cycle lasts longer, and not until much later does their sleep circle merge into one long stretch of slumber, much like adults.
It’s normal for babies to wake frequently in sleep during the early years of their life. The purpose of sleep training is not to lengthen their sleep cycle but to develop their ability to soothe themselves to sleep with minimum participation from parents.
After they grasp the trick of falling asleep on their own, their sleep quality will improve noticeably, and their overall health probably will improve as a result.
It goes without saying that sleep training benefits parents enormously. The long uninterrupted sleep is finally within reach for us parents after our baby makes headway with their sleep training. My friend even invited us over for a celebration feast after his son was finally able to sleep independently, and he got much needed rest. We were genuinely connected like soldiers fighting in the same foxhole.
How to sleep train your baby
There is no one bill to fit all solutions for your baby’s sleep training. The approach you take depends on the children’s temperament and the comfort parents have with each method.
The most draconic approach requires parents to be ok with letting their children cry it out before exhausting themselves and falling asleep. Not many parents can handle that, to be sure. I find it too inhuman to attempt it. There is no scientific evidence indicating the long term adverse effect this method has on children. But I suspect that the science is not advanced enough to detect it.
Many proponents argue for this method’s effectiveness, claiming it takes an average of 3 days to accomplish what the softer approach achieved over a more extended period. But emphasizing effectiveness is beside the point. What matters is how to get your children to fall asleep in an acceptable way.
A much softer approach has gained a much wider following recently. It involves much more parent participation and places less strain on your children’s mental state. Instead of hand-off during children’s crying, parents are advised to comfort them and stay in the same room at first. On the following days, parents should put more distance between them and children and try to minimize their presence until children get used to being alone.
If children start to cry before or during sleep, it’s better to wait for a few minutes to see if they can fall asleep alone. Otherwise, you might deprive them of an opportunity to learn to put themselves to sleep.
You can tweak the method to your situation to see what works for you. After all, all children are different. It’s essential to learn to adapt and approach the task with love.
However, it’s equally important to be consistent. Once you decide on your approach, you must stick with it and have faith. Otherwise, you will unnecessarily lengthen the training period and put much strain on you and your children.
Other tips and trick in sleep training
I find a bath before bed works excellent in winding down my kids. However, you should avoid overdoing it merely for this purpose.
After a bath, my wife and I usually read a book with our kids before putting them to bed. Over the year, we have formed our before-bed routine, and it helps to send cues to children that it’s time to be quiet and get sleepy. You could work out your bedtime routine. Let your children fall asleep with a sense of connection and love.
Many parents encourage their babies to skip naps whenever possible, hoping that this might lead to a full night’s sleep. This method’s logic is wrong for overtired babies usually have a hard time falling asleep. Their sleep tends to be easily disturbed. Respect their natural sleep pattern.
Make sure the environment is optimal for babies’ sleep. This includes aiming for an ideal room temperature and a darker room.
4-6 Month is the right time to start sleep training, although starting late is also ok once you and your baby are ready. Some parents even wait until their children turn toddler.
Encouraging your children to develop the ability to fall asleep on their own is what sleep training aims for. Wake up frequently doesn’t mean your sleep training is a failure. It is how babies sleep.
Please put down your children after they calm down but are still awake. Gradually distance yourself from your children. Let them cry for a few minutes before intervening. The tricks mentioned above should work for most children. Vary your pace according to your situation.
Be consistent with your approach; otherwise, risk undermining your efforts.