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Sleep Training: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

What do the following have in common?

Lamaze classes.

Lactation support.

Newborn care classes.

All of the above are classes or educational services that are commonly offered to new, expectant parents (some, even in the hospital after giving birth). While these services are important, there’s one foundational element that’s overlooked, which impacts mom and dad far greater than whether they know how to change a dirty diaper: baby sleep.

Many parents likely anticipate the lack of sleep that comes with being a new parent, but I believe most new parents are taken by storm at how little their child sleeps and how that impacts their own mental well-being.

A few years ago as a new mom myself, I experienced this first-hand. My son Gabriel didn’t sleep at all. He woke up all throughout the night, his naps were horrible, and really, we had nothing going for us in terms of his sleep. Because of how clearly overtired he was, he was very cranky during the day, and it seemed like nothing would make him comfortable.

I was drained. Mentally and physically, I was exhausted. On top of the anxiety I was experiencing, I felt like I had lost myself. I know that becoming a new mom brings a new identity, but I wasn’t prepared for the extreme changes that came.

I went from having everything planned and structured to not having a minute for my self-care. Quickly, it got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore, and I started researching how to get my son to sleep longer stretches at a time.

And when I tell you my life changed when I learned about wake windows, put together a daytime schedule, focused more on naps, and helped him sleep independently in his crib, I mean that to the core of my being.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that my 2-year-old, who is now placed in his crib awake and relaxed and falls asleep within 10 minutes, is the same baby who woke constantly all night long and protested sleep so much.

The secret to getting my son to sleep better?

I realized that helping my son sleep more independently by sleep training him wasn’t selfish, and that by doing so, I wasn’t just helping him thrive. I was helping myself, also.

Setting the facts straight: What is sleep training?

If you Google the term “sleep training,” you will not only see strong opinions on the subject, but you’ll be overwhelmed with the conflicting information that’s out there.

Put simply, sleep training is getting your child to sleep independently without needing to be rocked or nursed to sleep.

Now, I’m not saying that rocking or nursing your baby to sleep is wrong. However, it’s not always sustainable. Whether you have other children and aren’t able to spend hours rocking your infant to sleep each night, or whether you’re like I was, overwhelmed beyond compare, unable to spend another night feeling exhausted and empty, if it’s not working for you, that’s okay.

There’s also the notion of “sleeping through the night,” which feels like the gold standard for parenting. If your child isn’t sleeping through the night, you may wonder what you’re doing wrong or whether something is wrong with your baby.

The truth is, no one sleeps through the night. All humans, adults included, wake up in the middle of the night. When you have a child who can fall asleep independently (a.k.a. they’re sleep trained), they are able to just go back to sleep without needing you to be there when they wake up.

On the flip side of this, children who rely on rocking or nursing in order to fall asleep won’t be able to fall back to sleep without those aides when they wake throughout the night. They simply don’t know another way. And since babies are unable to rock or feed themselves, they call out to you for assistance.

Isn’t Sleep Training Just “Cry It Out”?

Now that we know what sleep training is, it’s important to know what it isn’t.

As a new mom, I didn't know anything about sleep training. In fact, I thought Cry It Out was the only method there was. And I know I’m not alone in that assumption.

When many parents hear the term “sleep training,” they associate it directly with crying it out – putting your child to bed, closing the door, and not going back into the room until the next morning, despite any protests or crying.

This method is also known as “extinction,” and it doesn’t align with many family’s core values. The great news is, there are many sleep training methods, some that allow the parent to stay present in the room.

It’s important to note that there is no “one method fits all” approach to sleep training. You want to take a few things into consideration when deciding which sleep training method is right for you:

  • What are your family’s core values and parenting style? If the thought of not responding to your child’s protests at bedtime sets off all the alarms in your body, then a method like Extinction isn’t a good fit. On the other hand, if you’re okay with some protest and don’t feel the need to respond immediately to your child, a more moderate approach might be right for you.

  • What is your child’s temperament? Not all children are the same, and some methods will work better for your child depending on their temperament. If your child gets really worked up when they see you in the room, it might not be the best idea to select a method where you stay in the room the entire time. If your child needs more support and doesn’t do well alone, you might not want to select a method where you’re gone for a long period of time.

When I work one-on-one with families, these two points are considered greatly when it comes to selecting the right sleep training method for their family. While all sleep training methods can be effective, the success comes from the parents remaining consistent. And if you aren’t comfortable staying consistent with a particular method, then it’s not the right fit for you.

How a Sleep Consultant Can Change the Sleep Training Game

When you decide to begin sleep training, there are two hurdles that you may come to and feel stuck at: feeling confident in your plan and staying consistent.

Sleep training has many pieces – it’s not just the sleep training method that you choose. Understanding your child’s wake windows, knowing how much sleep they need, and creating an age-appropriate schedule are all important factors to have in place.

However, you might not have the time or energy to do all the research to gather that information. And that’s where a sleep consultant comes in and makes your load lighter.

When you work with a sleep consultant, all the guesswork is taken out, and you can focus on a plan that is personalized to your child. Having a plan that you can feel confident in is just one of the benefits of hiring a sleep consultant.

Another benefit of partnering with a sleep consultant is the fact that they can help you stay consistent as you implement your plan.

Here’s the thing: just because you decide to help your child sleep better doesn’t mean it’s going to be a fast, easy process. Sometimes, there’s trial and error. And sometimes, when you’re exhausted and frustrated with the lack of sleep you’re getting, it can be hard to stay consistent. Especially in the middle of the night.

The truth is, it will take some time for your child to adapt to their new routine, and during that time, staying consistent is vital.

If you’re in the trenches, feeling exhausted, frustrated, and helpless when it comes to your child’s sleep, I want you to know that it doesn’t have to stay that way forever.

Sometimes, having a partner to help guide you through these difficult days is exactly what you need.

If you know that your family would benefit from more qualitative sleep, I’d be honored to be that guide for your family and talk through any questions you have about sleep training. Let’s book a call today to talk about what is possible for your little one.

It might surprise you just how different your child’s sleep can be!


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