You’re exhausted, your baby is exhausted, and everyone just. needs. sleep. You’ve heard of “sleep training”, the end result sounds better than a week’s vacation in the Caribbean, but you’re a little confused about how to do it, and quite frankly, you’ve heard some thinly veiled judgement about “sleep training”. But then again, you also know that sleep is SO important. For everyone. We all need it, and we all thrive when we get enough of it. Not to worry- grab a cup of coffee, tea, (or something stronger, this is a judgement-free zone) and allow me to break down our method of Sleep Learning and why it will be life changing!
Why Teach Your Baby Independent Sleep Skills
First of all, to fully understand the difference between “Sleep Training” and “Sleep Learning”, I recommend starting with this blog post. Then come back here and read all about what the real deal with sleep learning is!
It’s not just the babies that need to sleep well. When everyone sleeps well, everyone is happier and many issues in life are easier to deal with. Marriages are healthier, relationships are stronger, overall well-beings are improved. As we all know, there is a LOT of misinformation out there, and “sleep training” often gets a bad rep. This is largely because sleep training means different things to different people. There are also the misconceptions that crying is damaging to babies, sleep training negatively affects attachment, etc. etc. First, let me say that if you have ANY qualms about the science behind sleep training, then I encourage you to check out my Show Me The Science page. It’s full of peer-reviewed articles on everything from attachment to crying, to mental health, and outlines all the science-based benefits of sleep training. Let’s also clarify that we use the term sleep learning to mean teaching your child the skills required to get good sleep, while being responsive, meeting their needs, and maintaining your attachment. Yes, it’s that simple. It means prioritizing sleep and getting everyone the rest they deserve, AND doing it in a way that fits best for you and your family.
I know that you’ve heard that sleep is important (mostly because I definitely just said it). But I want to reaffirm just how essential it is; sleep promotes physical, emotional, social and intellectual development. Isn’t this everything we need??? Let me break this down a little. Babies do a lot of growing while they are sleeping, so they absolutely need sleep for their physical development. Sleep helps humans regulate their moods and emotions. It’s pretty hard to make friends (or maintain friendships!) when you are cranky and tired. When babies sleep needs are met, they are happier and more playful, resulting in their caregivers being more engaging. Children who get the sleep they require are smarter, they learn faster, and they have lower rates of ADHD and learning difficulties.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “sure, this sounds great! But actually getting everyone in my family the sleep they need, is an Olympic worthy event.” And you would be partially correct. Because the truth is, sleep is a SKILL. It’s not inborn, and it must be taught. Yes, if you do not intentionally teach your child the skill of independent sleep, they will eventually teach themselves, however we can get you and your baby sleeping NOW by teaching them the skill of independent sleep.
Why You Might Want To Wait
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you to start sleep leaning with baby, I’m going to undo all my hard typing efforts, and address the possible (but very valid) reasons why you might want to hold off on sleep learning (at least in the short term).
One reason would be if your baby is sick. It can be heartbreaking when our little ones are not feeling well, and it can definitely affect their sleep. For sleep learning to be successful, we want our baby’s sleep tank to be full when we start. So while they are under the weather, it would not be a good time to start. Instead, focus on pulling out all the stops to get your little one the sleep they need, and feeling better as soon as possible. Once they are over their illness, and their temperament has returned to their “normal”, you can go full steam ahead with sleep learning.
Another reason why you may want to hold off on starting sleep learning is if you plan to travel in the next 2 weeks. I say two weeks because that is generally the time it takes to see huge gains in independent sleep. By the end of two weeks since starting sleep learning, babies can usually initiate sleep on their own, most (if not all) night wakings have dropped and nap lengthening is well underway. For sleep learning to be as successful as possible in the shortest amount of time, I recommend being in your baby’s familiar sleep environment, sticking with a consistent nap schedule and being in a situation where you can “save the nap” if needed (we want to be able to keep those sleep tanks full and prevent over tiredness while in the throes of sleep learning).
If you have a premature baby, you CAN do sleep learning! It just affects when you can start. For healthy babies that are born “to term”, you can start sleep learning at 4 months. If your baby was a premie then I recommend “splitting the difference”. So if your little one was born 1 month early, then after 4 months their adjusted age would be 3 months. So split the difference by waiting an additional 2 weeks and begin sleep learning at 4.5 months (adjusted age 3.5 months).
The most common reason why you might want to wait to start sleep learning is if you don’t feel ready. And this is TOTALLY valid. I can’t stress enough that at the end of the day, I want you to feel empowered to do what feels best for you and your family. And I have good news! It is never too late to implement good sleep habits! So there is no boat to miss. I have successfully taught independent sleep skills to babies from 4 months, all the way to toddlerhood, and I even have an adult insomnia course. Is it easier to start sleep learning with a young baby? Generally, yes. But the more important piece of the sleep learning puzzle is your ability to stay consistent with the plan. So start when you are ready.
And in case you have found the ill-advised narrative out there that says sleep learning is selfish, let me just clear that up for you. Is it selfish to do something that benefits your baby, you, and your entire family? As we just outlined above, sleep learning helps your child’s development. It also means you will be more well rested, and thus a more patient, engaged and present parent. And everyone else in your family will get more sleep, which will improve their well-being. So let’s say it again: sleep learning is not selfish- it benefits everyone.
Your Sleep Learning Options
The best part of teaching your little one independent sleep is that you can do it in a way that works best for you and your family. You are the expert on YOUR baby. I do not believe in a “one size fits all” approach to sleep learning. Every baby is different, every parent is different, and everyone’s family situation is different. For this reason, I have four different approaches to sleep learning, and each approach can be modified to best fit you. (If you would like support in customizing one of my approaches, let’s set up a consultation.)
The four approaches I teach in my sleep learning essentials course are Accelerated, Modified Accelerated, Modified-Modified, and Gradual. Let’s be clear – no one likes to hear their baby cry. However, it’s just part of a baby’s life. It’s their only method of communication. No matter what sleep learning option you choose, your baby will most likely protest sleep at some point. This doesn’t mean they don’t need sleep. And it definitely doesn’t mean you should give in and not help them learn to sleep. If they were crying in their car seat while you were driving, would you take them out and let them ride in your lap? If they were crying because you wouldn’t let them play with a drill, would you give in and just let them play with it? Of course not. But this isn’t to say that sleep learning means you are going to leave them alone crying for a period of time that you are not comfortable with. Which is where my various sleep learning approaches come in. You can pick the method that suits you and your baby best!
So for those of you who are drinking the “something stronger” and need me to reiterate it, sleep is LIFE! How you go about getting it, doesn’t matter to me, and it shouldn’t matter to anyone but you. But I do hope you feel empowered to make an informed decision and get the sleep you deserve. And I would love nothing more than to join you on this journey and do whatever it takes to help you reclaim the magic of motherhood.