Why we chose not to sleep train our baby
I found it daunting to become a parent and be responsible for keeping a little fragile human alive and healthy, let alone with the right skills, experiences and behaviours to set them up for success later in life. Wanting to do our best involved a lot of reading (mostly by my wife) – books, blogs, forums, anything. It was fascinating to see what is considered, expected or normal today, compared to previous generations, and also how polarised some of the views are.
One thing we found challenging was making a choice that happened to be the opposite of what near-everyone considers the norm: we chose not to sleep-train. People don’t ask “did you decide to do any sleep-training?”, they instead ask “sleeping through the night yet?” – the assumption being that of course that is your goal from as early as possible. Of course you will try whatever form of sleep-training seems preferable and if it’s not happening then it means you’re either not trying hard enough or you just have one of those babies, how unlucky for you. It felt frustrating to reply “No, not yet” to keep the peace and not antagonise other parents, when inside I wanted to say “No, we’re not doing that at all”.
We chose not to sleep-train because, having read literature on both sides, it seemed like the wrong thing to do to any baby, not just ours. However, because it’s a considered a given, it’s hard to even start a conversation about why it might not be a good idea without immediately putting others on the defensive.
When MusicFootballFatherhood circulated a newsletter a few months ago which included advice on a particular approach to sleep-training, I decided to try to get the opposite view represented. Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a British parenting expert supporting the notion that we should not be sleep-training at all. She goes into why on her blog and she has written a book on Gentle Sleeping techniques.
In the spirit of making informed choices, hearing both sides of an argument that’s hard to realise was there to start with, can be elusive – but important. I hope Sarah’s words from the point of view of an expert help in that regard.
Here’s number 1 from the list on Sarah’s ‘Ten Reasons to Not Sleep Train your Baby’ blog post:
1. Sleep Training Misunderstands Normal Baby Sleep
Those who advocate sleep training misunderstand what normal baby sleep should look like. Babies and young children do not sleep like adults, they are not meant to and for a very good reason. Nobody sleeps ‘through the night’, whatever their age. We all sleep in chunks of time called a ‘sleep cycle’. For young babies this is around 45 minutes long, for an adult roughly double that. At the end of each sleep cycle we may rouse a little, but not fully, and start a new cycle, unaware that we are transitioning between two cycles. Sometimes we wake fully and find it a little hard to get back to sleep. It is no different for babies. Only their sleep cycles are much shorter than ours and they have the potential to wake around 10-12 times per night. This may be exhausting for parents, however from the baby’s point of view it is a good thing. This frequent waking keeps them safe and protects them against SIDS/cot death. Encouraging deeper/longer sleep is artificial and can have negative consequences.
Babies also have under developed circadian rhythms, or body clocks. The chemical signals of sleep that make us feel alert or drowsy depending on the time of day. Under four months of age babies have no concept of night and day, beyond this their circadian rhythms begin to function on a fairly comparable level to that of an adult, however they are not quite the same and may still be having ‘midnight parties’ until they reach school age, when finally their circadian rhythm is fully established.
Simply put babies are not meant to sleep like adults.
Written by Yannis Lionis