As a pediatric sleep consultant, I love my job. I get to help families gain back precious-sleep! However, I find that when people hear the words “sleep consultant” or “sleep training” they associate these words with the act of simply leaving your child to cry it out on his own. This is a very common misconception which leads to relating sleep training with selfishness or poor parenting. I frequently hear mothers encouraging one another that the sleepless nights will pass; just hang on and accept it as a normal part of parenting. Or, they reassure each other that their babies are crying out at night because they need them either to eat or for comfort. There is a clear message in these words that there is no “time off” as a parent and that one should be available night and day for her child. While I agree that there are no days off as a parent I wish people understood that it is not shameful, lazy, or neglectful to desire consolidated nighttime sleep for everyone in the family. Sleep training means teaching our children the self-soothing skills they need to get themselves to sleep and back to sleep – a skill they will need for the rest of their lives.
One sleep training myth that parents fear to be true is that leaving a baby to cry will damage their child’s psyche. There is no evidence that proves that letting a baby cry will damage his psyche. While as a sleep consultant I do not advocate “cry it out” as the one and only method for successfully sleep training a child to sleep through the night, if parents do opt to use this as their method for sleep training they are not damaging their child. In fact, according to American Academy of Pediatrics statement on early life stress and the types of stress a child can withstand they include “the death of a family member, a serious illness or injury, a contentious divorce, a natural disaster, or an act of terrorism”. Sleep training seems quite mild compared the examples provided. The stress children experience when they cry during the few nights they are learning to get to sleep on their own is short lived and tolerable assuming it occurs in a stable home with supportive relationships.
Another common misconception that creates the idea that sleep training is unacceptable is that a baby’s need to eat trumps a baby’s need to sleep at night. However, past the age of three or four months hunger is usually not the cause of sleep problems. Sleep is a biological need that is as important as eating. Past the age of four months zero to two night feedings are acceptable but, if a baby is waking beyond that then one of their biological needs is not being met. Just as babies need healthy nutrition to grow and thrive they also need sleep for healthy body and brain growth and development. When we don’t get enough sleep, the effects are detrimental. The American Academy of Pediatrics has linked insufficient sleep to future obesity and behavior problems. A lack of sleep leads to impaired memory, lack of alertness, a shorter attention span and poor concentration. The side- effects of poor sleep lead to babies and toddlers that do not learn as quickly as those that get the sleep that their bodies require. The effects can be long term as well, leading to poor school performance and behavior problems well beyond the terrible twos. Sleep is not a luxury, it is a biological need.
These misconceptions about sleep training negatively affect parents and child when they prevent families from taking the steps necessary to get the sleep their whole family needs. A lack of sleep can cause family stress and marital stress, depression, reckless driving, and poor work performance. It affects the entire family! As sleep consultants, we take a family centered approach to the process of improving children’s sleep. We listen to parent concerns and discuss with families the best plan to get their child’s sleep back on track or off to a good start. We truly believe that every child can be a good sleeper — it takes time, patience, and some effort but it does not mean ignoring your child’s needs and leaving them to cry all night. Well Rested Baby educates and supports families through the process. As sleep consultants, we teach families how to help their child learn the process of self-soothing which is often the key to a good night’s sleep.
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook for more great sleep tips!
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