Do sleep training methods work? A qualified “yes”. Am I a fan of them? Absolutely not. Here’s why.
The Myth of Sleeping Through The Night
Nobody sleeps seamlessly through the night, not even adults; that’s a myth. We all sleep in cycles. The only difference between a baby and us is that we can segue from one sleep cycle to another. Hence, we don’t remember waking up at night or do not consider toilet breaks or thirst breaks as an interruption.
“Sleeping through the night” is a marketing gimmick created by the same creators of various sleep training methods. Exhausted, sleep deprived mothers jump on any promise of a good night’s sleep. But we must be aware of the long term consequences of this quick result-yielding method.
What is a Normal Sleep Cycle for babies?
Usually as short as 45 minutes. In my experience this was true for the first 10 months. After 10 months, the cycle changed to anything from 2 hours to 3 hours. And now at 15 months, his cycle is much longer, although he regresses at times for whatever reason.
Quiet is Not Calm
Sleep training method usually mean putting the baby into the cot or bed, and expecting them to fall asleep either without nursing or simply by crying it out. In most cases the crying out needs to happen alone, where the parent only intervenes at several intervals. And the intervention is quite often minimal.
Babies are not stupid. After crying for hours. After a day or two (in some cases more), babies learn to conserve energy and stay quiet. I see it as a baby who has lost all hopes for affection and parental closeness at bedtime. And that is sad!
Research show that babies that are quiet after sleep training methods are not necessarily calm – and indeed are releasing elevated levels of the stress hormone Cortisol.
(Here is a very good review of the literature on this from a professor of psychology and executive editor of the Journal of Moral Education – https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201407/parents-misled-cry-it-out-sleep-training-reports
Trauma, Fight, Flight and Freeze Response
Bedtime can be very traumatic for babies, especially for babies who are either being trained to sleep on their own, in their own room, or in a separate cot or in a situation that the baby is not completely comfortable in.
Now we all know what is fight or flight response to any traumatic situation. Babies are physically and emotionally completely incapable of fighting any traumatic event in their life.
Helpless and scared, babies cry and cry and cry and eventually the last response kicks in: to freeze. We as humans often freeze in situation that we cannot escape. By mentally blocking ourselves out of the situation we may experience less pain, less trauma and in some case the threat (a raging dog?) may lose interest in us.
Freezing might be an instinct we all have and it can be beneficial in traumatic situations to keep our sanity intact but to practice such an instinct at such a young age may have questionable effects on children later in life. I do not want a “freeze response” to become my child’s primary response to a difficult situation.
Ignoring a Baby’s Needs
Baby’s need touch, and physical closeness. It is a totally reasonable request and completely normal. Food, dry clothes and a lot of affection = a happy baby! Simple!
Just because we have changed the nappy, fed the babies a nice meal, given them a bath, read them a book, sang them a lullaby and then nursed them to sleep, does not mean that we know that the babies now must have no excuse whatsoever to be hungry, uncomfortable or feeling the need to want affection through the night!
Babies’ brains don’t function like ours. Unlike us, babies cannot rationalise the situation when they wake up from their sleep cycle. If we wake up scared, we rub our eyes, and we tell ourselves that everything is ok, perhaps it was a nightmare. If we wake up hungry, we rationalise by looking at the clock and telling ourselves that 3am is not a good time for a sandwich and if we are thirsty we simply drink water and go back to sleep (on our own because we can).
Now babies are not only incapable of rationalising the situation but also are incapable of curbing the needs they have. So if a baby wakes up slightly peckish, sleep training method will only encourage them to learn to starve. I don’t see that as a healthy way to grow up.
Loss Of Trust
If the baby has learnt that nobody comes to provide affection when they cry, no body listens to them cry or that nobody will feed them when they are hungry, they might start losing trust in their caretaker.
I, personally, would fear losing my child’s trust. I would expect my child to feel free to tell me about anything or anyone troubling them because they know that no matter how petty or how bad their experience is, mummy is always here to listen, cuddle and act on it.
What’s the rush?
It is difficult raising children. Sleepless nights are part of the territory. And no, I am not a SAHM that I can rest any time of the day so it is easier for me to say this. Here’s how I think: I chose to have a baby, I chose the sleepless nights and the wet nappies and the baby sick and tantrums. In the grander scheme of things, giving my baby two to three years of my life is nothing.
Get your family to help out. Take turns with your partner. And if you are a single mother, get some of your friends to help out. Easier said than done. But I’d rather make the effort than give up on my baby and let the baby cope with it’s own miseries.
Mother’s health comes first
What works for me, may not work for you! We cosleep and nurse on demand. That I think helps a lot in my child’s seemingly good sleeping habits. Even though my baby wakes up a few times to feed in the night still at 15 months, cosleeping makes it easy and my sleep is not as disturbed. And that works for us!
Having said all of the above, I do believe in mother’s health to be of the utmost importance. I have absolutely no problem if you choose to sleep train or bottle feed or wean early or do whatever that you do with your baby for your own sanity and well-being as long as one is aware of the consequences.
What I, personally, struggle with is when parents put their kids through such unnatural methods of training in the name of “their wellbeing”. No! That is utter nonsense. Two minutes or two days, there is nothing good about learning to sleep by crying it out or longing for affection. They are not learning independence of any sort, they are not actually still sleeping deeply and peacefully through the night (they have stopped bothering you, that’s all).